The Rwandan Genocide Revisited: Part I The Context of a Recent BBC Report

The Rwandan Genocide Revisited: Part I The Context of a Recent BBC Report
by
Howard Adelman

In 1995, I and a Norwegian colleague, Astri Suhrke from the Chr. Michelsen Institute in Bergen, wrote an international report on the international response to the Rwandan genocide. The research and report were sponsored by a coalition of 19 international agencies and 18 governments. The second of four parts of the investigation that we wrote was called “Early Warning and Conflict Management re the Rwanda Genocide” and the whole report was published in 1996. A copy of the synthesis of the whole report can be found at: http://www.oecd.org/derec/50189495.pdf.

The report was cited in a number of articles and books, including our own edited book, The Path of a Genocide. The Rwanda Crisis from Uganda to Zaire (London: Transaction Publishers) in which we published the infamous cable by General Romeo Dallaire (11 January 1994) warning of an impending mass slaughter, and in a much more recent 2009 article, “The Rwandan Genocide: Why Early Warning Failed,” by Gregory Stanton in the Journal of African Conflicts and Peace Studies 1:2, September (6-25).

There have been a number of academic disputes about the genocide, though no scholarly denials that the genocide took place. One dispute is over the numbers killed by an extremist Hutu group called the Akazu, and the make-up of those numbers, namely how many of the victims were Tutsi and how many were Hutu. To what degree was Kagame, and his overwhelmingly Tutsi fighting force, which had invaded Rwanda and was engaged in a civil war with the regime, responsible, first, for not preventing many deaths and, second, for committing atrocities on their own account? To what degree and in what ways were external actors – the UN itself, the US, Belgium, France – responsible for failing to prevent or mitigate the genocide?

This year on the twentieth anniversary of the genocide, the BBC, a highly respected and very responsible player in the media world, published a revisionist review of the Rwanda genocide
http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/The-BBC-and-the-Rwandan-Genocide-20141011-0029.html. The headline summary read: “The untold story is that of the crimes committed by the winners in the Rwandan civil war, and especially the crimes committed by the biggest winner who took all, Kagame, Rwanda’s president for the past 20 years.” This immediately made me suspicious, in spite of BBC’s renown for its objective journalism and the reputation of Jane Corbin, the producer and presenter, who individually possessed impeccable credentials as a journalist.
First, that story of Kagame and his troops performing atrocities, had not been unreported, but, in fact, had been a constant charge from the time we did our research until the contemporary period. If that was the main charge, then the BBC story, whether accurate or not in the body of the piece, was not accurate in entitling the narrative, “Rwanda: The Untold Story”. Our book documented those charges of atrocities committed by Kagame; Astri Suhrke and I found them to be true but very grossly exaggerated.

Further, the BBC Report said that, “Up until now, in Western media, scholarship, and commentary, the Hutus as a community have been held solely responsible for the Rwandan genocide of 1994, and Kagame held up as Rwanda’s saviour.” Neither we, nor any of the scholars with which I was associated, held that the Hutus as a community were responsible for the genocide. Rather, we all insisted that it was an extremist group of Hutus and definitely not the Hutu community as a whole. Further, Astri and I were focused on disproving the charge that the Hutu extremists were solely responsible. We documented the errors, failures and willful stubbornness and mindblindness that made various international actors complicit in what occurred. Third, we never – nor did any one of a number of first class scholars involved in the study of the genocide – called Kagame Rwanda’s saviour. Astri and I did say that Kagame and his troops brought the Rwandan genocide within Rwanda to a stop with the victory in the civil war. Whether Kagame back then or since was the saviour of Rwanda is a very different claim and one which neither I nor most of my esteemed colleagues ever made, though there were a plethora of disputes over his ruling style and the consequences.

For example, the BBC documentary claims that many of Kagame’s allies were subsequently driven out of the country by the regime and many were assassinated. Though Kagame initially drove defectors from the regime into exile, subsequent to that period, many assassinations have been documented, though not by Astri and myself at that time or since. However, we did deal in detail at the time with the charge that Kagame and his troops killed 600,000 Hutus who had fled to the Congo following his victory in July 1994 after Kagame invaded the Congo in 1996. The BBC report cites with approval the charge of Marie, a Hutu survivor whose family she claims sheltered Tutsis (possibly true), that Kagame and his forces indiscriminately hunted her family and the hundreds of thousands of those Hutu civilians who had not participated in the genocide in the jungles of the Congo.

In our report, we claimed that Kagame’s forces were focused, not on the killing of civilians, but on uprooting and destroying the remnants of the former Hutu Rwandan army and of the interhamwe militias which had also fled to the Congo. In the process, they did indiscriminately kill troops in the military that had not participated in the genocide. More importantly, they did kill a large number of civilians, We concluded from our examination that the number killed was 60,000, a very large number indeed, but not comparable to the 600,000 that Kagame was charged with killing at the time.

Perhaps our numbers were wrong. Perhaps our analysis had been wrong. Perhaps evidence subsequently emerged that the numbers were, in fact, higher. However, that requires research and evidence. Claiming that the tale of civilian atrocities in Congo by the Kagame regime was an untold story when, in fact, the charge of 600,000 deaths by the Kagame regime was the dominant claim, especially by a large number of NGOs, at the time. Our position was the minority one. The untold story was too frequently told without adequate evidence, documentation or analysis.

The BBC documentary claimed that the Gersony Report on these atrocities was suppressed. Certainly, it was never officially published. But if it was suppressed, how did we come to read and criticize it? The report circulated unofficially very widely. Working for the UNHCR, Robert Gersony, who initially had been sympathetic to the Kagame rebellion, a position that subsequently lent more credibility to his claims, in his draft report repeated and endorsed claims by many NGOs that Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (the RPF) had been responsible for mass indiscriminate killings both within post-genocide Rwanda and in the Congo after Kagame came to power. The issue was whether the report was NOT officially published because of repression of the findings or because the methodology and results were found to be wanting.

We argued that large scale atrocities of women and children, the sick and the elderly, did take place, but not nearly on the scale that NGOs consistently reported. The claim was made that within Rwanda, local Hutu residents and entire families were gathered in community meetings on one pretense or other and then locked in, assaulted and killed in large numbers. (The Report, 118-124) When the Gersony team visited 41 communes and 9 refugee camps, they concluded that within Rwanda in Kibungo, Butare and Kigale, the regime had killed between 25,000 and 40,000 Hutu and Tutsi. We examined in detail one of those assaults and we concluded that, although a large number of civilians were killed when Kagame’s forces repressed a rebellion during heavy rain, and that the control of the rebellion had been poorly handled, the claims that 800 civilians had been killed in that assault were grossly exaggerated.

Further, those stories eerily mirrored the tales of Hutu extremist atrocities in the genocide. We could not find evidence that the round-ups of civilians had taken place. Further, though we criticized some of the methods used in the process of re-education and rehabilitation of returning Hutus from the Congo, the conduct of these meetings and of the Rwandan community trials – the gachacha courts – further belied most of the charges. The conclusions of the Gersony Report of occurrences within Rwanda could possibly have been true, but the evidence we examined undermined the credibility of those conclusions and fit in too well with the Hutu revisionist claim that, on the one hand, denied the genocide, and, on the other hand, claimed that it was Kagame that had perpetuated a genocide.

We did find evidence that civilians had been killed in large numbers in the Congo, but again, not nearly to the degree claimed and not in this manner. The civilians were being “protected” by the ex-FAR and the former militias. In assaults on the former Rwandan army and on the militias, Kagame’s troops did not pay much attention to discriminating between civilians and militants. Many civilians died and to the extent that discrimination was not practiced between civilians and military, these deaths were indeed indiscriminate. That is not the same as an indiscriminate attack that is directed solely at civilians.
In my work on the numbers displaced and made homeless in Lebanon following the Israeli invasion in 1982, I found the OXFAM claim that 600,000 had been made homeless to be preposterous. The number is southern Lebanon, excluding Beirut, was 40,000, a number we established by auditing twelve different collections of data. That number of 40,000 was accepted by all sides. In many humanitarian crises we have found that numbers are often grossly exaggerated. NGOs – with perhaps the exception of the ICRC and Doctors Without Borders. Most NGOs do not have a record of accurate demographic reporting. After all, demography is not their prime mission and they have a strong interest in enhancing the numbers in distress. This does not take away from the excellent work they do, but skepticism needs to be brought into play about numbers generally released by many humanitarian agencies.

Reports on numbers based solely on interviews with those affected reveal an adequate way to determine numbers killed or displaced or the motives for that killing and displacement. Victims, or those who feel themselves victimized, are not the best source for objective information, though victims’ organizations often produce very accurate information when specifically set up and tasked to do so – as was the case with the Palestinian teachers in Lebanon gathering figures of the numbers made homeless in Lebanon in 1982. But all evidence from interviews must be corroborated by various sources of objective evidence from number counts in graves to conducting an actual census of survivors. Nevertheless, I do admit that colleagues, whom I enormously respect – Alison des Forges and Gerard Prunier – lent considerable credence to the findings of the Gersony Report at the time. But it is not clear why the BBC twenty years later does, especially when virtually no hard evidence has emerged to corroborate Robert Gersony’s initial findings.

Since 1994, organizations, such as the BBC in 2014, claim to have discovered, uncovered or unearthed the long repressed Gersony Report – see for example ProxyLake in 2010 – “Unearthed ‘Gersony Report’ the UN said never existed”. And it never did exist as a UN document. For Gersony had not insisted as part of his contract that anything he wrote that he would be free to publish as we had insisted given standing academic norms. The UN could have distanced itself from the report and refused to publish it but given Gersony permission to publish it independently and, therefore leave it open to public criticism. By not permitting the Gersony Report to be published at all, and while many actually read it and the report circulated widely, this process merely lent the report a mythic quality to its findings that I believe was totally undeserved.

Tomorrow, I will turn my attention to the BBC Report itself.

In 1995, I and a Norwegian colleague, Astri Suhrke from the Chr. Michelsen Institute in Bergen, wrote an international report on the international response to the Rwandan genocide. The research and report were sponsored by a coalition of 19 international agencies and 18 governments. The second of four parts of the investigation that we wrote was called “Early Warning and Conflict Management re the Rwanda Genocide” and the whole report was published in 1996. A copy of the synthesis of the whole report can be found at: http://www.oecd.org/derec/50189495.pdf.

The report was cited in a number of articles and books, including our own edited book, The Path of a Genocide. The Rwanda Crisis from Uganda to Zaire (London: Transaction Publishers) in which we published the infamous cable by General Romeo Dallaire (11 January 2014) warning of an impending mass slaughter, and in a much more recent 2009 article, “The Rwandan Genocide: Why Early Warning Failed,” by Gregory Stanton in the Journal of African Conflicts and Peace Studies 1:2, September (6-25).

There have been a number of academic disputes about the genocide, though no scholarly denials that the genocide took place. One dispute is over the numbers killed by an extremist Hutu group called the Akazu, and the make-up of those numbers, namely how many of the victims were Tutsi and how many were Hutu. To what degree was Kagame, and his overwhelmingly Tutsi fighting force, which had invaded Rwanda and was engaged in a civil war with the regime, responsible, first, for not preventing many deaths and, second, for committing atrocities on their own account? To what degree and in what ways were external actors – the UN itself, the US, Belgium, France – responsible for failing to prevent or mitigate the genocide?

This year on the twentieth anniversary of the genocide, the BBC, a highly respected and very responsible player in the media world, published a revisionist review of the Rwanda genocide
http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/The-BBC-and-the-Rwandan-Genocide-20141011-0029.html. The headline summary read: “The untold story is that of the crimes committed by the winners in the Rwandan civil war, and especially the crimes committed by the biggest winner who took all, Kagame, Rwanda’s president for the past 20 years.” This immediately made me suspicious, in spite of BBC’s renown for its objective journalism and the reputation of Jane Corbin, the producer and presenter, who individually possessed impeccable credentials as a journalist.
First, that story of Kagame and his troops performing atrocities, had not been unreported, but, in fact, had been a constant charge from the time we did our research until the contemporary period. If that was the main charge, then the BBC story, whether accurate or not in the body of the piece, was not accurate in entitling the narrative, “Rwanda: The Untold Story”. Our book documented those charges of atrocities committed by Kagame; Astri Suhrke and I found them to be true but very grossly exaggerated.

Further, the BBC Report said that, “Up until now, in Western media, scholarship, and commentary, the Hutus as a community have been held solely responsible for the Rwandan genocide of 1994, and Kagame held up as Rwanda’s savior.” Neither we, nor any of the scholars with which I was associated, held that the Hutus as a community were responsible for the genocide. Rather, we all insisted that it was an extremist group of Hutus and definitely not the Hutu community as a whole. Further, Astri and I were focused on disproving the charge that the Hutu extremists were solely responsible. We documented the errors, failures and willful stubbornness and mindblindness that made various international actors complicit in what occurred. Third, we never – nor did any one of a number of first class scholars involved in the study of the genocide – called Kagame Rwanda’s savior. Astri and I did say that Kagame and his troops brought the Rwandan genocide within Rwanda to a stop with the victory in the civil war. Whether Kagame back then or since was the savior of Rwanda is a very different claim and one which neither I nor most of my esteemed colleagues ever made, though there were a plethora of disputes over his ruling style and the consequences.

For example, the BBC documentary claims that many of Kagame’s allies were subsequently driven out of the country by the regime and many were assassinated. Though Kagame initially drove defectors from the regime into exile, subsequent to that period, many assassinations have been documented, though not by Astri and myself at that time or since. However, we did deal in detail at the time with the charge that Kagame and his troops killed 600,000 Hutus who had fled to the Congo following his victory in July 1994 after Kagame invaded the Congo in 1996. The BBC report cites with approval the charge of Marie, a Hutu survivor whose family she claims sheltered Tutsis (possibly true), that Kagame and his forces indiscriminately hunted her family and the hundreds of thousands of those Hutu civilians who had not participated in the genocide in the jungles of the Congo.

In our report, we claimed that Kagame’s forces were focused, not on the killing of civilians, but on uprooting and destroying the remnants of the former Hutu Rwandan army and of the interhamwe militias which had also fled to the Congo. In the process, they did indiscriminately kill troops in the military that had not participated in the genocide. More importantly, they did kill a large number of civilians. We concluded from our examination that the number killed was 60,000, a very large number indeed, but not comparable to the 600,000 that Kagame was charged with killing at the time.

Perhaps our numbers were wrong. Perhaps our analysis had been wrong. Perhaps evidence subsequently emerged that the numbers were, in fact, higher. However, that requires research and evidence. Claiming that the tale of civilian atrocities in Congo by the Kagame regime was an untold story when, in fact, the charge of 600,000 deaths by the Kagame regime was the dominant claim, especially by a large number of NGOs, at the time. Our position was the minority one. The untold story was too frequently told without adequate evidence, documentation or analysis.

The BBC documentary claimed that the Gersony Report on these atrocities was suppressed. Certainly, it was never officially published. But if it was suppressed, how did we come to read and criticize it? The report circulated unofficially very widely. Working for the UNHCR, Robert Gersony, who initially had been sympathetic to the Kagame rebellion, a position that subsequently lent more credibility to his claims, in his draft report repeated and endorsed claims by many NGOs that Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (the RPF) had been responsible for mass indiscriminate killings both within post-genocide Rwanda and in the Congo after Kagame came to power. The issue was whether the report was NOT officially published because of repression of the findings or because the methodology and results were found to be wanting.

We argued that large scale atrocities of women and children, the sick and the elderly did take place, but not nearly on the scale that NGOs consistently reported. The claim was made that within Rwanda, local Hutu residents and entire families were gathered in community meetings on one pretense or other and then locked in, assaulted and killed in large numbers. (The Report, 118-124) When the Gersony team visited 41 communes and 9 refugee camps, they concluded that within Rwanda in Kibungo, Butare and Kigale, the regime had killed between 25,000 and 40,000 Hutu and Tutsi. We examined in detail one of those assaults and we concluded that, although a large number of civilians were killed when Kagame’s forces repressed a rebellion during heavy rain, and that the control of the rebellion had been poorly handled, the claims that 800 civilians had been killed in that assault were grossly exaggerated.

Further, those stories eerily mirrored the tales of Hutu extremist atrocities in the genocide. We could not find evidence that the round-ups of civilians had taken place. Further, though we criticized some of the methods used in the process of re-education and rehabilitation of returning Hutus from the Congo, the conduct of these meetings and of the Rwandan community trials – the gachacha courts – further belied most of the charges. The conclusions of the Gersony Report of occurrences within Rwanda could possibly have been true, but the evidence we examined undermined the credibility of those conclusions and fit in too well with the Hutu revisionist claim that, on the one hand, denied the genocide, and, on the other hand, claimed that it was Kagame that had perpetuated a genocide.

We did find evidence that civilians had been killed in large numbers in the Congo, but again, not nearly to the degree claimed and not in this manner. The civilians were being “protected” by the ex-FAR and the former militias. In assaults on the former Rwandan army and on the militias, Kagame’s troops did not pay much attention to discriminating between civilians and militants. Many civilians died and to the extent that discrimination was not practiced between civilians and military, these deaths were indeed indiscriminate. That is not the same as an indiscriminate attack that is directed solely at civilians.
In my work on the numbers displaced and made homeless in Lebanon following the Israeli invasion in 1982, I found the OXFAM claim that 600,000 had been made homeless to be preposterous. The number in southern Lebanon, excluding Beirut, was 40,000, a number we established by auditing twelve different collections of data. That number of 40,000 was accepted by all sides. In many humanitarian crises we have found that numbers are often grossly exaggerated by NGOs – with perhaps the exception of the ICRC and Doctors Without Borders. Most NGOs do not have a record of accurate demographic reporting. After all, demography is not their prime mission and they have a strong interest in enhancing the numbers in distress. This does not take away from the excellent work they do, but skepticism needs to be brought into play about numbers generally released by many humanitarian agencies.

Reports on numbers based solely on interviews with those affected reveal an adequate way to determine numbers killed or displaced or the motives for that killing and displacement. Victims, or those who feel themselves victimized, are not the best source for objective information, though victims’ organizations often produce very accurate information when specifically set up and tasked to do so – as was the case with the Palestinian teachers in Lebanon gathering figures of the numbers made homeless in Lebanon in 1982. But all evidence from interviews must be corroborated by various sources of objective evidence from number counts in graves to conducting an actual census of survivors. Nevertheless, I do admit that colleagues, whom I enormously respect – Alison des Forges and Gerard Prunier – lent considerable credence to the findings of the Gersony Report at the time. But it is not clear why the BBC twenty years later does, especially when virtually no hard evidence has emerged to corroborate Robert Gersony’s initial findings.

Since 1994, organizations, such as the BBC in 2014, claim to have discovered, uncovered or unearthed the long repressed Gersony Report – see for example ProxyLake in 2010 – “Unearthed ‘Gersony Report’ the UN said never existed”. And it never did exist as a UN document. For Gersony had not insisted as part of his contract that anything he wrote that he would be free to publish as we had insisted given standing academic norms. The UN could have distanced itself from the report and refused to publish it but given Gersony permission to publish it independently and, therefore leave it open to public criticism. By not permitting the Gersony Report to be published at all, and while many actually read it and the report circulated widely, this process merely lent the report a mythic quality to its findings that I believe was totally undeserved.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s