Summary: Not Guilty of Genocide Denial

Summary: Not Guilty of Genocide Denial


Howard Adelman

Are Jane Corbin, Allan Stam and Christian Davenport guilty of genocide denial with respect to the slaughter of Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994? Are they akin to David Irving’s denial of the Holocaust. He claimed that Jews were not killed to the extent members of the so-called Holocaust industry said. According to Irving, the vast majority of Jews died because of other motives and circumstances. Are Corbin, S&D akin to the Turkish government which has consistently denied that a genocide of Armenians took place before and during WWI? Are they similar to those who deny that the slaughter at Srebrenica did not constitute genocide or to those who insist that the government of Sudan should not be charged with committing genocide against the agriculturalists of Darfur?

No. Why?

There are many types of genocide deniers. I am a genocide denier when it comes to Darfur. I do not deny the extent of the slaughter. Nor do I deny that the events in Darfur constituted a crime against humanity. I disagree with the application of the term genocide to that slaughter because the intent of extermination was not there. Others who place the emphasis on the destruction, not only of the people physically, but also on the agricultural way of life of the Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit tribes, believe that the use of the term genocide is quite appropriate to what took place in Darfur. Though I disagree on the appropriateness of the use of the term, I am not labeled a genocide denier.
The latter is a case of academic disagreement over the breadth of the use of the term “genocide”. It is not a disagreement over what happened. Allan Stam and Christian Davenport offer a much narrower definition of genocide than even I do and, in doing so, minimalize the number of Tutsi killed for genocidal reasons. But they also minimize the actual numbers killed. Further, they muster a whole series of arguments for their conclusion that the Hutu killed constituted the much greater proportion of those slaughtered. They also suggest that it is the Kagame government that is guilty of denial because of its interest in promoting Tutsi deaths as a mode of covering up the role of the RPF in the death of tens or even hundreds of thousands of Hutu.

It is important to note that the charge of genocide denial is not really about differences over the breadth of the use of a concept. It is over how history should be memorialized, what should be memorialized, and why it should be memorialized. It is no accident that Jane Corbin begins her BBC documentary of the Rwanda genocide with the twentieth anniversary commemoration of the Rwandan genocide in Kigali. For Israel Charny argues that genocide denial is but the last phase of committing genocide by denying the victims their place in history and exonerating, or, at the very least, minimalizing the crime committed by the perpetrators. In the case of Rwanda, the effort at minimalizing is not intended to exonerate those who failed to intervene, for S&D find them, or, at least, the USA, guilty, not simply of criminal neglect, but of collaborating with the murderous opposition. The evidence is also used to charge Paul Kagame and the RPF with guilt for its failure to confront the genocidaires as the RPF pursued its war against the FAR. Was targeting the memorializing of the victims – a clear intent of the BBC documentary, an exercise of, at the very least, collaboration with genocide deniers? The effort to denigrate the recollection and ceremonies of remembrance at the very least feeds the agenda of the deniers.

However, there is a difference between minimizing a death toll absolutely and claiming the death toll seems smaller in relationship to a larger overall picture of death and destruction. However, neither Jane Corbin nor S&D claim that hardly any Tutsi were killed, or that they were killed simply in self-defense or as a result of the fog of war, or that there was no intent to exterminate the Tutsi in Rwanda. All three concede the numbers were large, though not nearly as large as previously claimed, that many Tutsi were killed deliberately as part of an extermination effort, and that a cabal of extremists was behind such an effort. It is over the latter issue that they seem to cross the border into denial because they engage in distraction and the use of red herrings by claiming that the Habyarimana government was not guilty of genocide even when no reputable scholar makes such a claim. But Corbin and S&D do not cross the line in denying that there was a large scale genocidal intent by authorities who controlled the levers of power – even as they claim that the scale was not nearly as large as the accusers make out.

Intention is as important in determining genocide denial as in determining whether an action constituted genocide. Corbin and S&D do not reveal telltale signs of the genocide denier such as decrying scientific analysis or blatantly misusing it to the extent of fraud. Their use of journalistic standards or of statistical analysis may be very faulty, but the errors arise more from a determination to establish originality than to corrupt the whole research process even as their scholarship and application of their methods are so questionable. They do not accuse scholars, who hold that genocide took place to a far greater extent than they grant, of being fraudsters – though they imply that Kagame is one. Nor do they insist that delving into the past is a waste of time and a distraction. Quite the opposite! They argue for more and better research into the issue. They certainly misuse history, omit key evidence and engage in a myriad assortment of distortions, but I would argue that this is due to their mathematically-based political science or journalistic pig-headedness.

The most telling evidence for the charge of genocide denial for many, however, is the way typical understandings are inverted. Instead of the normal range of interpretation of the meaning of genocide, their very narrow definition lies outside that range. Further, they claim that, rather than extremist Hutu being the greatest perpetrators, Kagame et al (Tutsi) are. Hutu, they insist, are, by far, the most numerous victims. This reversal, however, is not made in the name of denying that a genocide took place or that it was not extensive. It is made with the intent of minimalizing its extent by combining the fallacious historical interpretations and misuse of statistical evidence with narrow definitionalism that goes far beyond the normal range of meanings and interpretations considered acceptable for the application of the concept. If that is the case, isn’t this genocide denial?

Note the similarities and differences between the approach of S&D to the approach of the American government in the first few weeks after 6 April 1994. Then the American government refused to recognize that a genocide was underway. They did not want to incur the expenses nor engage in another rescue mission like the one in Somalia as portrayed in the movie Black Hawk Down. This was the so-called Mogadishu Syndrome. However, though the American leadership were in denial that a genocide was underway, and though their motives for denial were very suspect, they generally have not been accused of being genocide deniers.

Why not? If a motive of not wanting to be involved is responsible for one’s mind blindness, is this not genocide denial? The denial helped relieve them of any sense of responsibility for intervention. However, in the BBC documentary, and as also suggested by S&D, America’s and Britain’s current support for the Kagame regime is used to explain why the allegedly much greater evils committed by Kagame and his RPF cohorts are not confronted. America and Britain were in denial of one genocide in 1994; they are currently guilty of denial of crimes against humanity in 2014 committed by the other side according to Corbin and S&D. Just as Western governments usually refuse to endorse the Armenian genocide lest they alienate their ally, Turkey, they are now doing the same for Kagame’s crimes. In this mind-set, it is not Corbin and S&D who are in denial,
but Kagame’s supporters.

Is denial of a genocide because of inattention or self-interested motives genocide denial proper? If it is, then America and Britain were guilty then and are now guilty of denial of crimes against humanity. However, the failure to recognize a genocide or a crime against humanity, I argue, does not make one a genocide denier. And the effort to minimalize genocide by using the contrast of the crimes committed by the other side is also not genocide denial. Genocide denial is a deliberate effort to relieve the killers of responsibility and to blame the victims. The creators of the BBC documentary and S&D do not do either.

The logic of their minimalization is not the logic of deniers. The logic of Corbin and S&D is determined by an effort to claim originality, not to abuse victims further or relieve perpetrators of guilt. They may practice poor journalism. They may betray scholarly and research standards. But they are not deniers, even though they attribute the vast majority of deaths to non-genocidal motives, a common effort of deniers. They do not blame the Tutsi citizens of Rwanda for their victimization, but, instead, blame Kagame for instigating the genocidaires and for failing to intervene to protect the victims in his pursuit of victory. Further, though they claim that most deaths were the result of the fog of civil war and though they claim that the perpetrators of the genocide were motivated by the invasion of 1990 and the suspicion that Tutsi citizens in Rwanda were or could be a fifth column, they do not use that numerical comparison, however much it is mistaken, or the overdetermination of the motivation of the perpetrators, to excuse their actions. They concur that the Rwandan genocide was planned and directed by extremists who gained control of the central government, the media, the army and the armed militias.

They do not seem to be motivated by an eagerness to deny or even minimize the genocide, though the effects of their work do precisely that. Their vested interest is their professionalism, not the message of denial or even minimalization, even if the latter is the result of their sloppy work.

One last but not irrelevant note on the massacres perpetrated by the RPF at Kibeho. The BBC documentarians are on the side of the maximalists who claim that those slaughtered by the RPF in emptying the IDP camp of over one hundred thousand was four thousand and not the official figure of 300+ claimed by the government. In my own investigation (“Preventing Massacre: The Case of Kibeho.” in The Rwanda Crisis: Healing and Protection Strategies, Sally Gacharuzi, ed. Kensington, MD: Overview Press, 1997), I suggested a figure of about 800. I may have been wrong in my conclusions about numbers. But I do not believe I was wrong about the context, the situation and the motives. A colleague very recently wrote me that she had been at a conference and ran into someone who had been with one NGO and with others from MSF at Kibeho along with 15 Ghanaian peacekeepers. They were amidst lots of Hutu civilians in the camp when it started raining, turning the hills into muddy slopes. The Hutu started running for shelter under the trees. The RPF soldiers thought the civilians were running away and started shooting. This set off a much greater panic. More flight further exacerbated the level of shooting by the RPF.

Whatever the number of dead, this is a very different account than a tale which insists that Kagame deliberately ordered the killing of Hutu civilians. For if one takes into account the fact that genocidaires were hiding amidst the one hundred thousand Hutu civilians, that they had weapons, that they were using coercion and fear to keep the Hutu in the IDP camp, that the NGOs repeatedly agreed to disperse the residents and escort them back to their homes but also continually postponed the date of initiation, that during the week of the slaughter there was a serious communication error among the peacekeepers, the NGOs and the RPF, and the heavy rains that had turned the hills into muddy slopes obscured what was happening, all of which may explain why the slaughter cannot and should not be characterized as a deliberate effort to kill Hutu displaced persons. This does not exonerate the RPF from a charge of negligent homicide, but it does argue against a charge of deliberate murder.
Similarly, though Corbin and S&D have committed a myriad of errors that undermine their professionalism, they are not guilty of genocide denial. They just come very close.

Part IV Genocide Denial – B: Conceptual and Historical Biases

Part IV Genocide Denial – B: Conceptual and Historical Biases


Howard Adelman

The BBC video is available at


The charge of genocide denial has been used to shut up critics by the Kagame regime. Well over 200 such critics have been jailed for terms of from 5-10 years to life imprisonment. Those charged included the leader of the opposition in Parliament. But the ferocity and murderous outreach of the Kagame regime cannot be used to distort what happened and feed the maws of waiting genocide deniers. At the very least, Stam and Davenport are guilty of this.

Dr, Andrew Wallis, author of Silent Accomplice: The Role of France in the Rwandan Genocide, has been the most devastating critic of the BBC documentary and of Stam and Davenport (S&D). S&D’s research “wasn’t used for another 10 years. No one would touch it and there are reasons for that. It’s not the people are covering up anything; it’s just that their research is full of holes. No scholar wants to associate themselves with work which is incompetent. I wouldn’t want to associate myself with such work, and indeed most scholars will not want to touch this research”. Is Wallis correct? If so, what are the implications?

The Conception of Genocide and Methodology

S&D wrote that, we adopt a position where the physical elimination of a group with a cohesive identity is the objective of the activity, and that the perpetrators of this behavior involve the state and/or its affiliates or agents.” Destruction of a culture is not included in this interpretation of the concept, only physical elimination – totally appropriate to this case because Tutsi and Hutu share the very same language and culture. For S&D, the motive can only be eliminating that group, not money, revenge, or pre-emption, a definition contrary to almost all genocide scholars who recognize that within a state-sanctioned genocide campaign, a complex of motives may be at work when individuals kill members of the targeted group. Further, in the S&D interpretation, the murder must be by the state, its employees and agents; killings by “volunteers” co-opted by militias to carry out the slaughter are excluded. Finally, a definitive determination of genocide requires not only premeditation, but a precise method of accomplishing the goals; but evidence for this, such as the contract to a French firm to excavate a very large hole with no apparent construction purpose, three weeks before the genocide broke out. That large excavation was soon used to throw in over 17,000 corpses of those killed at the technical school in Butare.

This very narrow definition of genocide a priori means that the majority of those killed could not have been eliminated by government forces or its agents since the government lacked the manpower to both fight the RPF and carry out such an extensive genocide. The discovery of lists of those targeted would provide definite proof, S&D suggest, but no lists have been found. Not having found lists of names of those targeted, there is no evidence of genocidal planning they conclude. In the Holocaust, the six million killed were not on a targeted list. As S&D have also written, Rwanda then was largely an oral society so how useful would a list have been to the many ordinary Rwandans co-opted or coerced into carrying out the killing.

A writer may refer to the genocide in Rwanda as a singular event, as the authors themselves sometimes do, though they disparage such usage, but, as they also make clear, this does not mean that a genocide cannot be parsed in both space and time and by different agents and groups of victims. Yet the authors give themselves special credit for breaking genocide down into component parts as if no one else has done this. Such an analytic conceit does not encourage adequate consultation of the works of other scholars and interferes with the quality of their research.

S&D did examine the literature to understand that autocratic in contrast to democratic regimes, especially those which keep close control over the population, in a context of domestic economic and political (both internal and external) crises, regime change and civil war, all enhance the possibility of genocide. However, at other times they will take self-evident truths as if they are amazing new foundations for research. Such propositions as,Causal effects of the accelerants and retardants will vary across the nation-state in question.” These are given a hefty weight of originality that is totally undeserved. More significantly, they say the killing in Rwanda is not akin to the Holocaust, but was more like the earthquake expected as a result of the San Andreas fault. The entire team, of which Astri and I were a part, proved the opposite – the genocide was a planned event and not at all akin to a natural phenomenon like an earthquake. S&D never consult this literature or even cite it in their bibliography.

The primary interest of S&D was never in genocide per se; their focus was on violent conflict of all kinds. If the genocide is viewed in the usual way, then the violence of other kinds becomes marginal, ill-suited to their larger academic agenda. This means that they will even include researchers of violent conflict using statistical analysis covering even forced displacement, such as my former post-doc student, Susanne Schmeidl. Her work was used as a reference for comparative genocide, which she has never done or professed to do. (Their reference is: Schmeidl, Susanne (1997) “Exploring the Causes of Forced Migration: A Pooled Analysis, 1971-1990.” Social Science Quarterly 78: 284-308.) This means that they have an academic interest in expanding those killed by other forms of coercion and violence and minimizing the numbers killed because of genocidal intent.

Scholarship focused on statistical and comparative studies of genocide and violence in general can be very valuable. But when it demonstrates only the most superficial acquaintance with substantive historical and anthropological in-depth analyses and specific policy studies, then quantitative studies can develop serious blinkers to its own false premises given the love affair with its process of data gathering and analysis.

S&D are admirers of the work of Helen Fein on genocide. Whatever quarrels top scholars of the Holocaust, especially noted historians like Michael Marrus, have had with Helen Fein’s quantitative methods, she did provide a model for dis-aggregating motives and factors conducive to enhancing genocide. However, she never set as her task minimizing the number of genocidal killings in the Holocaust as the definition adopted by S&D does.

Finally, Kagame may use all kinds of rituals, ceremonies, halls of remembrance and publicity about the genocide to solidify his rule, intimidate and even assassinate his critics, but hyping genocide for political purposes does not mean the actual genocide should be minimized and trivialized by critics.

Historical Background

Let us then turn to the evidence S&D offer, misrepresent and ignore, beginning with their sketch of the history of Rwanda. Neither is a historian. Yet, with a very few exceptions, Stam manages to offer a succinct and reasonably accurate history of Rwanda – at least until he gets to the late nineteen eighties when he discusses the economic pressures that the West placed on President Habyarimana in 1988, with the implication that this was done in concert with Paul Kagame to weaken the regime. After that, the errors and omissions begin to pile up like the bodies of murdered Rwandans.

  • When the Tutsi elite fled Rwanda after the assumption of power of the Hutu in 1959, then again in 1962, and thousands were killed, it was not simply because the Tutsi did not want to live under Hutu rule; though not a genocide, Hutu were killing the former ruling Tutsi to eliminate their rivalry and to prevent their return by force
  • Although, after his coup in 1973, Habyarimana ran a reasonably honest government with relatively modest allocations to the military compared to other African states, Rwanda in 1988 was in an economic bind with state expenditures far in excess of income because coffee (the main export crop of Rwanda) as well as tin prices had collapsed
  • The IMF (International Monetary Fund) put pressure on Habyarimana to cut government expenditures
  • The motives for this were purely economic, though some interpret the implementation of the policies recommended by the Chicago School of monetarists to be simply a vehicle for enhancing American economic imperial control
  • There is no evidence whatsoever of Kagame or other members of the Rwandan Tutsi exile community, having any direct influence over these international decisions, or on the West’s pressure for Rwanda to move to a multi-party system of government more akin to a democracy
  • Kagame, like other Tutsi exiles then living in Uganda, helped Yoweri Museveni in his overthrow of Obote; Kagame did become head of Ugandan intelligence; however, Tutsi in Uganda only decided to return to Rwanda when the efforts of Museveni to persuade his Parliament to grant the Tutsi citizenship in Uganda failed – a critical piece of history again omitted in the S&D account
  • President Habyarimana, though he had a deserved reputation of treating the Tutsi in Rwanda much better than his predecessor after he obtained power in a coup in 1973, would not permit the Tutsi stateless exiles to return to Rwanda, a very important fact in understanding the adoption of coercion by the RPF, a fact omitted in Stam’s sketch
  • In the S&D potted review of Rwandan history, they claim they naively initially accepted the belief that the Rwandan government under Juvenal Habyarimana was said to have the obje)ctive of eradicating the Tutsi. No reputable scholar that I know of made such an assertion. Quite the contrary. Most scholars claimed that when Habyarimana first came to power in a coup in 1973, he protected Tutsi. Further, though he denied the Tutsi in exile a right to return to Rwanda, even when the invasion took place, his political policies were in tension with those of his wife and other members of the extremist Akazu faction in the MRND. Habyarimana himself was rarely accused of having genocidal intentions, though he was often accused of catering to the extremists
  • S&D omit the fact that Paul Kagame received his first military training abroad when, in 1986, he went for nine months to Cuba where his propensity for puritanism was reinforced and where he learned a great deal about what Mao Zedong (Mao Tse Tung) called “mass lining”, the method used to co-opt a population through the use of media and public ceremonials
  • Kagame, along with three other Tutsi Rwandan military leaders from Uganda, formed the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriot Front (RPF) and adopted the option of returning by force
  • Just after he was married to his wife Jeanette, a marriage attended by Roger Winter, then Executive Director of the U.S. Committee on Refugees, Paul Kagame disagreed on the timing of the invasion (in one version of his personal history); he went into self-exile in the USA and enrolled, with the help of Museveni, in the Joint American-Ugandan Combined Exchange Training Program to study at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas; there is no evidence that the US selected Kagame for training because he was identified as a future African leader
  • Paul and Jeanette Kagame had only been in Fort Leavenworth a relatively short time when the RPF invaded Rwanda on 1 October 1990 with a military force estimated to have been 5,000 under the leadership of Kagame’s colleague, Fred Rwigyema, who had been Deputy Minister of Defence in the Ugandan government; when the invasion was stopped in its tracks by Habyarimana’s FAR with the help of the French and the backup of Belgian forces, Rwigyema and another co-leader who formed the RPF, were both killed; Stam is simply wrong when he says that Kagame led the invasion of Rwanda
  • What was the motivation for the invasion? According to S&D, “(I)f there was no political violence before the international invasion, then how should we frame what takes place after 1989?  Were the Tutsi in the country somehow communicating that life for them was unlivable and the RPF were simply responding to this call?” Why that speculative question? There is a general scholarly consensus that, relative to his predecessor, Habyarimana did not persecute Tutsi. Further, the RPF was not primarily motivated to invade Rwanda because of how Habyarimana was treating Tutsi citizens of Rwanda, but because:b) they did not want to remain stateless;
  • c) they could not prevail upon Habyarimana – especially given the extremists in his party – to permit their return
  • a) they could not get citizenship elsewhere, even in Uganda where they had served Museveni loyally;
  • There is an inconsistency in the writings of S&D for they sometimes refer to the war in Rwanda from 1990 to 1994 as a civil war and at other times as an interstate war; the latter is the general position of genocide deniers who view the RPF as an extension of American imperialism and, on the regional level, of Ugandan imperialism
  • S&D do characterize the 1990 invasion of Rwanda as akin to the American-led invasion of Iraq in 1991 though, other than the term invasion, there is no parallel to exiles using force to win a right of return and an American-led attack on Saddam Hussein’s fictional nuclear program, unless, of course, one wants to allude to a common possible imperial conspiracy at work
  • Kagame was then called back to Africa to take over leadership of the RPF and he led the remnant of 2,000 rebels to the Virunga mountains and rebuilt the RPF by 1991 to its original strength; in 1992, the RPF numbered 12,000, in 1993 at the time of the Arusha Accords in August, 20,000, and by April 1994 when the civil war resumed, Kagame commanded a force estimated at 25,000 (not 50,000 as Stam contends) in opposition to the FAR that had grown from 7,000 to 30,000 but was better equipped than the RPF
  • Kagame and the RPF were accused of killing Rwandan Hutu civilians – from 25,000 to 100,000 – in the territories they conquered between 1991 and 1993, but Stam leaves out the fact that, though the RPF was led and manned by a large majority of Tutsi, it also consisted of Hutu opposed to Habyarimana’s rule, including the president of the RPF, Alexis Kanyarengwe, a former ally of Habyarimana
  • Roger Winter, who had a stellar reputation for integrity and honesty, when he was in Rwanda, was asked to investigate stories of RPF atrocities; he visited the north and reported back that he found no evidence of RPF atrocities, and, given the puritanism and discipline Kagame instilled in his forces, the likelihood of rogue RPF soldiers undertaking killings on their own seems minimal
  • According to S&D, U.S. and U.K. governments were guilty of inaction in Rwanda when a military intervention to protect the Tutsi was in order.  That inaction was the result of actively standing by Kagame, shielding his 1990 aggression from international action, vastly expanding his RPF into the armed force that overthrew the Habyarimana government and conquered the Rwandan state, and preventing the ICTR from bringing any indictments against Kagame’s RPF, even getting ICTR chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte in 2003 fired as a “Special Investigator”; no evidence is provided to support any of these implicit or explicit allegations
  • When the RPF was in control of the north of the country, were there revenge killings? Was there killing of captured FAR troops? Were there killings of Hutu leaders in the north? I do not know, but other than the rumours of RPF atrocities, allegedly traced back to the UNHCR, which refused to confirm or deny the rumours, rumours that induced hundreds of thousands of Hutu to flee the northern captured territories, I have not seen any hard evidence of massive atrocities committed by the RPF; there certainly could have been, even though such atrocities would be totally inconsistent with the military doctrine Kagame instilled in his forces to concentrate only on fighting the FAR, a policy that would later mean, as S&D correctly point out, that Kagame never diverted his forces to save Tutsi citizens of Rwanda when he was driving the FAR and the Interahamwe out of the country in 1994
  • Though the BBC documentary makes clear that the director and producer endorse blaming Kagame for the downing of Habyarimana’s plane on 6 April 1994 that triggered the coup and the genocide, S&D, as far as I could find out, do not take a position on this issue and do not disparage standard accounts of assigning responsibility for this incident to Hutu extremists who faced a loss of power and privileges when Habyarimana finally agreed to implement the Arusha Peace Accords
  • For S&D, the government of Habyarimana could not have been guilty of planning the assassination of the Tutsi without the Tutsi members of the government knowing about it, but, in fact, that government never did plan the extermination of the Tutsi; it was the extremist leaders of the coup that did
  • S&D claim that Bill Clinton had to have known about the genocide within six days of the massive genocide breaking out on 6 April 1994, whereas our research found that although he could and should have known, we found no evidence that he did know

Does such a conceptual narrow presumption and so many egregious historical errors constitute genocide denial?

Tomorrow: An examination of the statistical evidence.

The BBC Report: Genocide Denial – A

The Rwandan Genocide Revisited:
Part IV: The BBC Report – Genocide Denial – A


Howard Adelman

The BBC video is available at

In a rare joint sitting of Rwanda’s two houses of parliament this past Thursday (23 October 2014), the legislators condemned the BBC for broadcasting the documentary accusing Kagame of both being a major cause of the Rwanda genocide and for being responsible for downing President Juvenal Habyarimana’s aircraft on 6 April 1994 when he was returning from the Tanzanian peace talks with the Tutsi RPF rebels. There, Habyarimana had finally agreed to implement the Arusha Peace Accords.

Parliament banned the BBC from Rwanda and accused the documentary makers of genocide denial, a charge which BBC, as expected, denied. Interestingly, Paul Kagame in an interview, at Chatham House after the BBC program was broadcast, did not at first appear to call for censorship of the BBC for its broadcast. Kagame said, “The BBC can say whatever they want to say. They don’t have to say or do, whatever they do or say, because that is right. They say or do whatever they say and do because they can.” Though to some he appeared to be defending BBC’s right to broadcast, he was actually asserting that what BBC broadcast was not right and the BBC only broadcast what it did because it could get away with it – with the implication that such behaviuor would not have been permitted in Rwanda.

While I am very critical of the documentary and see it as a very well-made piece of schlock with some very interesting interview segments, the producer and director are not guilty of genocide denial. But they come very close. A genuine case can be made that they crossed the line. It is not because of the accusations leveled against Paul Kagame. It is because of the way the program played with numbers.

Those killed in the genocide are generally believed to have been mostly members of the minority ethnic Tutsi group, though the slaughter included the killing of moderate Hutus as well as random killings for an assortment of reasons. The documentary, The Untold Story, interviews and endorses the views of a pair of US academics, Dr. Allan Stam, currently Dean at the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia, and Dr. Christian Davenport of the University of Michigan. (See their web site: Stam was previously Director and a Professor at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. Both are reputable and widely recognized as scholars.

That does not mean that all their work is excellent, though some certainly has been highly regarded. I met Allan Stam at the International Studies Association meeting in 2004 when he was awarded the Karl Deutsch Award for his scholarly contributions to that date on the origins of war and on democracies at war. The body of work did not include his research with Davenport on the Rwandan genocide, though his work had begun before that date and the year before he had received a National Science Foundation Grant to undertake research on “Mass Killing and Oases of Humanity: Understanding Rwandan Genocide and Resistance”. Thus far, none of the results have been published in either an academic journal or as a book, though publication in the near future has been promised. Given the sensation aroused by the BBC documentary, such a book could garner high sales as a trade rather than an academic publication.

Though not yet published, the data gathered and a number of relevant references, including criticisms of their work for the BBC and on the BBC documentary, have been included on their web site. They offer three reasons for their failure to publish after 14 years of work on the topic: 1) Their attempt to be as accurate as possible; 2) criticisms they encountered surprised them and set them back; 3) the fact that, nevertheless, they have posted their research online and in a transparent way. They should be congratulated for the latter; it makes it much easier to offer a critique. They include a very useful list of a large number of commentaries on the BBC broadcast. They do not offer the explanation offered by Filip Reyntjens (who is also used in the BBC documentary) that the research was too inadequate to be worthy of scholarly publication.

As far as the killers, Stam and Davenport reiterate that the murderers “were a group of extremist Hutu members of the Rwandan Armed Forces [the FAR], the Presidential Guard, national police, the ‘Zero Network death squads’ as well as affiliated militias: the Interahamwe and Impuzamuga.” Because I and most other scholars contend that the militias were primarily responsible for most of the actual killing, I use the simpler designation, the FAR and the Interahamwe militias whereas they refer to FAR+. The killers targeted Tutsi to exterminate them.

In the BBC documentary, and in their research, the controversy is about those killed not about the killers. The pair claimed that most of those killed were not Tutsi but Hutu. “(O)ur best estimate of who died during the 1994 massacre was, really, an educated guess based on an estimate of the number of Tutsi in the country at the outset of the war and the number who survived the war. Using a simple method —subtracting the survivors from the number of Tutsi residents at the outset of the violence — we arrived at an estimated total of somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000 Tutsi victims. If we believe the estimate of close to 1 million total civilian deaths in the war and genocide, we are then left with between 500,000 and 700,000 Hutu deaths, and a best guess that the majority of victims were in fact Hutu, not Tutsi.”

If the hundreds of thousands of Hutu allegedly slaughtered by Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) which won the civil war both in Rwanda and, after the war, in the Congo, the implication is that the Akazu, the party intent on the extermination of the Tutsi, were but a pinprick in their slaughter of Tutsis compared to the massacres of Hutu committed by both the extremist Hutu Akazu and the predominantly Tutsi RPF. As Stam and Davenport claim. “there was clearly a genocidal campaign, directed to some degree by the Hutu government, resulting directly on the deaths of some 100,000 or more Tutsi.” (my italics)
The number of Tutsi was first said to be 300,000 to 500,000, then reduced to 300,000, and then to 200,000. Then the number of those deliberately killed by the Akazu was reduced to a guess of approximately 100,000. The last figure was offered without explanation, without an examination of the mass graves, without an examination of all the evidence that countered such a claim. This may not be genocide denial, but it is on the same plain as those who whittle the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust down to 1,000,000 to 1,200,000.
This is when the scholarship could be accused of crossing the line into denial. Over 460 graves with more than 20 in each grave does not support a thesis that 90% of those killed were not products of genocide. Stam and Davenport insist that the correct comparison is not the Holocaust but the civil wars in England, Greece, China and Russia where civil order broke down and ethnic-based violence took place combined with random rather than intentional slaughter. However, unlike those civil wars, and characteristic of Rwandan society in general, and in spite of the presence of extremism, civil order did not break down, even in the refugee camps.

The authors make numerous errors in their account, some of which I will enumerate at greater length tomorrow and the next day. As a single example of error, they are just incorrect that Romeo Dallaire claimed that the plan to exterminate the Tutsis had been hatched in 1988. No source is cited for such a claim. For good reason. Dallaire claimed that the genocide was planned two years before the actual mass slaughters occurred in 1994 and not two years before the invasion began in 1990. Trial runs of mass killings averaging 300 Tutsi took place over that two-year period. There is no evidence presented that the planning started six years before or that Dallaire made such a claim.
While Stam and Davenport may be stars in the quantitative world of current American political science, they are terribly inaccurate in their specific citations. Further, for those who claim that their research is “evidence-based”, where is the evidence that approximately 100,000 Tutsi were killed for genocidal reasons. That is not even a best or an educated guess. It is speculation based on whimsy. I cannot find a reasonable basis for such a calculation after several reviews of their documentation on their site.
Even Filip Reyntjens, who defended the BBC program in which he appeared and criticized its critics, wrote, “I do not need to dwell on the second claim considered untenable by the signatories (in a letter written by many experts criticizing the program). I agree with them that the figures provided by Professors Stam and Davenport on Tutsi and Hutu killed in 1994 do not appear to be based on solid research. At least the data they have published (not in a scientific journal or book, but merely on their website are insufficient to support their claim, which flirts with genocide minimisation or denial.”

However, let’s first examine the case they make. I will save the systematic rebuttal for two subsequent blogs. Stam and Davenport followed the lead of Alan Kuperman (now at the University of Texas in Austin who first gave his provocative paper as a young scholar at the 1998 or 1999 International Studies Association conference). Kuperman made a name for himself by attacking the position that the intervention of a peace force could have stopped the genocide. He did so by tracking the battles and showing that Tutsis were mostly slaughtered just before the RPF made significant advances. (See Alan Kuperman (2000) “Rwanda in Retrospect,” Foreign Affairs, Jan/Feb.) As he wrote, “even a massive Western intervention could have saved only a quarter (around 125,000) of the Tutsi lives lost in the massacres.”

Note that he had concluded that 500,000 Tutsi had been killed in the genocide. But, as he argued, “Intervention may be better late than never, but it requires military effort on a scale and for a length of time that will make most developed countries’ military staffs and politicians blanch.” (See Alan Kuperman’s book published in 2001, Genocide in Rwanda; another scholar, Jeffrey Herbst in his essay “The Unanswered Question: Attempting to Explain the Rwandan Genocide,” used the same figure of 500,000 as the number of Tutsi killed by the genocidaires.)

Countering the claim that 5,000 U.N. troops could have halted the Rwandan genocide in its tracks is one thing. Alison Des Forges vigorously attacked Kuperman for his thesis in a subsequent issue of Foreign Affairs. She also challenged Kuperman’s claim that Clinton not only did not know of the genocide until two weeks later, but that he could not have known, a nonsensical claim as Des Forges made very clear. Such a mistake is common among academics. However, the Stam/Davenport claim that only about 100,000 Tutsi were targeted and killed for genocidal reasons is another order of error altogether.
The two American scholars do not use the usual tactic that the numbers slaughtered totaled far less. Even Alison Des Forges, one of the very early and extremely reputable scholars who documented the genocide, had insisted that the total number was 540,000 of whom an estimated 500,000 were Tutsi. However, at a meeting in Geneva attended by a number of scholars on the genocide, we reviewed the various figures and the evidence for them. We agreed at that time to use a figure of 800,000 as the most reasonable estimate of those killed. We did not distinguish between Tutsi and Hutu killed, but presumed from all our studies that the vast majority were Tutsi, the product of mixed marriages or moderate Hutu. The American scholars insisted that the overall number killed was slightly over a million, not 800,000. Further, and this is the controversial part, the vast majority were Hutu. Only 200,000 (at most 300,000, though at another point they said at most 500,000) of the one million death toll in Rwanda had been Tutsi and only half of that 200,000 had been killed in genocidal motivated slaughters.

The vast majority of Stam and Davenport’s statistical work was used to aggregate the total of one million and not disaggregate that total. The Rwandan government, as well as myself, agree with Stam and Davenport with the revision of the total upward. Subsequent to the Geneva meeting, Astri Suhrke and I reviewed our figures. Our estimates were based on mass grave sites and sample reviews of three sites and a very detailed counting at one site, the technical school in Butare where all those gathered at the school to flee the massacres were gathered, then slaughtered over a 3-4 day period. Over 17,000 killed were buried in one mass grave which had been dug by a contractor three weeks before the genocide commenced on 6 April 1994. The bodies were unearthed from that one mass grave not long before we visited the site and were laid out on the benches and tables of the school.

The most searing experience I had in conducting our study of the involvement of non-Rwandans in the killing was confirming the count. Because the bodies had been packed together so densely, they still had most of their flesh. The smell was overwhelming. A half-crazed woman wandered around the site, but at that time it was only managed by one person. An observer could even see how some were killed, especially women; long wooden spears had been stuck up their vaginas to penetrate their hearts.

I, for one, audited the official count of the bodies unearthed in that one grave by counting the bodies in four different school buildings. The official figures provided were accurate. When we audited two other killing sites, we came to concur with the government figure that over a million had been killed and began to use the figure of 800,000 to 1,000,000 as the number that were slaughtered. Fearing accusations of exaggeration, given the agreement we had made in Geneva, we did not simply use the one million figure. Further, we had never properly audited the total. But I was convinced that the revised government figure of over a million was the accurate one. The two Americans scholars agree. So I am pleased that Stam and Davenport concur that the total figure of those killed was over one million.

However, I am not pleased or at all persuaded by their disaggregation of that figure. Stam and Davenport claim that, “Essentially, research on the topic of Rwandan casualties has relied upon eye-witness testimony via survey, census and interviews.” What about the data from the mass grave counts? Even in the documentary, Jane Corbin uses the figure of 15,000 killed in the massacres at the school Murambi though official figures are much higher with estimates of 40,000 to 65,000. Wikipedia uses the highest figure. “On April 16, 1994, some 65,000 Tutsis ran to the school. After the victims were told to gather there, water was cut off and no food was available, so that the people were too weak to resist. After defending themselves for a few days using stones, the Tutsi were overrun on April 21. The French soldiers disappeared and the school was attacked by Hutu Interahamwe militiamen. Some 45,000 Tutsi were murdered at the school, and almost all of those who managed to escape were killed the next day when they tried to hide in a nearby church.”

It is not very important that Stam and Davenport ignore our scholarship since Astri and I were far more focused on the role of external actors. However, American anthropologists specializing on Rwanda, numerous historians and political scientists, particularly European ones, who are recognized authorities on Rwanda, are never cited and not even listed in their bibliography. But even if one simply adds up a few mass graves, the total easily far exceed a figure of 100,000 Tutsi killed through genocidal actions. Adding them all up leads to a figure of at least 500,000-700,000 Tutsi killed.

The Americans argued that large numbers of Hutu killed had been murdered for six different reasons. First, many members of the killing militias were non-locals who could not distinguish in many cases between a Hutu and a Tutsi, even if in his own district he could identify who was either a Tutsi, a Hutu, or, for that matter, a Twa, the tiny minority descended from the original inhabitants of the area. Secondly, the cover of war was used systematically using the mass killing to settle political, economic and personal scores. “(T)here was a large degree of random political violence taking place or what is referred to as ‘wilding’ (Fujii; Hatzfield). In this situation, ordinary/non-government affiliated Rwandans (both Hutu and Tutsi) squared off against other Rwandans (both Hutu and Tutsi) in an attempt to exact revenge for personal wrongs, financial gain or collective hatred – some ethnic, some political and some idiosyncratic in nature.” Third, many Hutu were killed who tried to protect or hide neighbours. In one case that I personally investigated, the body of a Tutsi killed by the militias had lain in the middle of the road for several days. A neighbour of the individual killed eventually went out to cover the body with an old coat. A member of the Interahamwe militia spotted him. That Hutu, appalled at the indignity of his neighbour left to rot in the middle of the road, was instantly killed. Fourth, many Hutu were simply killed in the fog of war. Fifth, moderate Hutus who were charged with supporting the RPF (and hence Tutsi rule according to the extremist ideology) were deliberately killed. Finally, the American scholars charged the RPF with killing large numbers of Hutu after they conquered a territory to impose their rule. This does not even include the number of Hutu killed in the Congo in the war that broke out there in 1996. Those estimates vary from 20,000 to 60,000.

I do not think that anyone disagrees with the classification of the reasons for those killed, but simply the distribution of the total numbers among those classes. The distribution Stam and Davenport arrived at just does not fit with what we observed, what we counted and what the vast majority of scholars have concluded who have studied the genocide. Their failure to question their own calculations adequately, their consistent insistence that is blind to their own fundamental errors, their seemingly unshakable belief that, through their quantitative analysis, they were correcting the errors of previous scholars, ended up producing results that were derided as genocide denial. Though that derision may be undeserved, it is understandable given the falsifications of the record resulting from their quantitative studies, about the disaggregation of those totals arrived at through inference, illogic and very questionable assumptions.