Caution and Compassion: The Canadian Government and the Syrian Refugee Plan

Caution and Compassion

The Liberal Refugee Plan for Syrian Refugees (updated 27 November 2015)

by

Howard Adelman

John McCallum, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (IRC), just announced the Liberal plan to fulfil the promise to bring 25,000 government-sponsored refugees to Canada by the end of the year. Note the following differences between the campaign promise and the announced plan:

  1. December 31st is a hard target, but not an immoveable date.
  2. All 25,000 will be selected by the end of December and are in addition to the just over 3,000 Syrian refugees who have already arrived in Canada by 3 November 2015.
  3. Those include both government-sponsored refugees (GARs) and privately-sponsored refugees (PSRs) [There are also BVORs, blended visa office-referred program, that is, refugees where refugees identified for resettlement by UNHCR are matched with private sponsors, but six months of financial support comes from the government; since there are only an estimated 200-300 of these, to make things simpler, they have just been included in the GAR program.]
  4. The numbers targeted for the end of the year to be actually brought to Canada has been lowered to 10,000.
  5. The initial thousands of refugees will not only include government-sponsored refugees, but privately-sponsored refugees as well, drawn from the ten-thousand refugees already in the pipeline for private sponsorship.
  6. Of the 10,000, an estimated 8,000 will be PSRs to take advantage of the fact that these refugees have either been cleared for coming to Canada or are in the last stages of clearance.
  7. The balance of the promised 25,000 will be fulfilled in January and February of 2016 and the 15,000 will be composed of 2,000 PSRs and 13,000 GARs.
  8. The balance of 10,000 GARs would be brought to Canada at the latest by the end of 2016.
  9. Since, in the interval, there may be more private sponsorships, PSRs will take priority over GARs in coming to Canada, so that the number of GARs scheduled to be taken in  during January and February may be further diminished and spread out to facilitate the prompt intake of PSRs
  10. The 25,000 GARs by the end of 2016 will be a minimum figure, and, depending on how the program works, there may be many more brought to Canada.

To summarize:    Nov.-Dec.     Jan.-Feb      Feb.—Dec. 2016     Totals

GARS                     2,000               13,000         10,000 minimum    25,000 min.

PSRS                     8,000                 2,000            additional ???        10,000 min.

10,000               15,000                                              35,000

In effect, these changes make the deadline flexible as most have been urging, while, at the same time, sending out a signal of determination, momentum and a goal of re-establishing Canada’s reputation for helping refugees. It is clear that the new government of Canada wants to stress the urgency of bringing in the refugees and Canada’s fundamental commitment to refugees. Inserting the privately-sponsored refugees within the deadline, rather than afterwards, avoids even further private sponsorship frustration; they have been waiting months for the refugees they offered to sponsor. At the same time, the plan eases the burden on the government to find accommodation for so many refugees in such a short time. It is a program that combines caution with compassion.

 

The refugees will be selected from both camps and self-settled refugees in Jordan and from among lists of refugees already registered with UNHCR in Lebanon where there are no Syrian refugee camps. The government will also be settling refugees from Turkey, possibly because of pressures from Turkey if the news reports are at all accurate. I originally thought that there was, effectively, a division of responsibilities, with Europe taking many of the refugees in Turkey, the country with the largest number of Syrian refugees, where its government, rather than UNHCR, undertakes the registration. Canada would concentrate on Jordan and Lebanon, where the refugee populations make up a very high proportion of those living there. But apparently this may not be the case. Nor will it be the case that Turkey is so preoccupied with its shattered foreign relations with Russia, that it has no time to issue exit permits. In that regard, the disfunctionality of the government of Lebanon will remain an important obstacle.

Hopefully, the Canadian initiative will set off a precedent to inspire other countries to follow. Further, by taking refugees already registered with UNHCR, the refugees will have had one level of security clearance, though admittedly, a very inadequate one, before being given full and complete both health as well as security checks by Canadian officials before being transported to Canada.

Canada will not be relying on those UNHCR checks. It has sent a very large contingent of visa, CSIS and CBSA officers who are already in-situ in the countries targetted and already at work processing applications and interviewing refugees – in excess of 150 persons. The contingent of officers sent over is much larger than any of the organizations in the refugee support community had recommended or expected. It is expected to grow to as many as 500 people, especially because of the necessity of having full teams of health professionals in place to ensure there is no transmission of infectious diseases to Canada, especially TB. This means that processing times, which had been 11 months in Lebanon and 17 months in Jordan, will be drastically cut down. (The delay was 44 months for Syrian refugees in Turkey.) If 100 of those officers process 10-12 per day, and 100 of the officers are assigned to refugee interviewing, and if others are there for the security and health clearances and the backup of clerical work, then the 25,000 target for processing by the end of the year is doable.

The refugees will be subject to biometric fingerprinting and eye scans with the information sent to a shared intelligence system to double check that the applicants are not on an international cautionary or wanted list. Family history will also be taken in detail. The interviewers have now been trained to ask specific questions. Further, the officers have been given specific instructions that if they have the slightest hesitation about taking a refugee for security reasons, that person should remain on the list for future consideration, but not accepted at this time. If the refugees interviewed are taken from the UNHCR and have been in the camps for some years, they are the least likely to be risky.

But the real filter is another method. By focusing on families with children or single mothers with children, on women and others at risk, the security risk is virtually eliminated. LGBT individuals can be privately sponsored. The real problem, the one that has been there all along, is the future of children brought over at a young age or those born in Canada who become alienated from parental authority and susceptible to extremist entreaties when they are teenagers or in their early twenties. But that is a problem about integration, not selection. It is hard to imagine a more foolproof system of refugee selection to minimize the possibility that terrorists might enter Canada in the guise of refugees, a very low risk in any case.

There are two problems about the so-called security threat. First, there is the real threat, however very low, that terrorists would use this gateway to enter Canada. That risk has always been very tiny and has been grossly exaggerated by fear mongers. The perception of risk is being satisfied by the numbers of officers sent over, the methods being used for screening and the selection criteria.  It is also being satisfied by completing all processing overseas so that Canada does not end up with people selected whom Canada rejects because of security problems revealed after they arrive. In such a situation, Canada would not be able to send them back to a war zone and we would be stuck with hosting them even though they had not satisfactorily satisfied the security checks.

That makes the central problem one of perception of a security threat, a perception that might affect the way the overall program is received, the reception the refugees experience after arrival and the treatment Canadian extremists might mete out randomly against Muslims. So the different barriers – first UNHCR and/or host country, then Canadian security checks, but, most importantly, the restrictions on those who will really be eligible – only those who almost certainly could not be terrorists. As Justin Trudeau said in his interview afterwards with CBC, a major concern of the government was the issue of perception even more than one of an anticipated real threat. The fear, all along, was problematic, but it is important that the refugees be welcomed and received with a smile rather than suspicious glances.

hat about gays? More generally, what about members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual (LGBT) community? They are extremely vulnerable. What about a number of Yazidis, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Christians who have been afraid to register and be identified lest that be targeted for persecution by other refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. Canadian officers in the rush to get 25,000 to Canada by the end of February will not be hunting down Christian refugees in hiding for acceptance to Canada given the restriction of accepting only refugees already registered with UNHCR from Lebanon and Jordan. If privately-sponsored refugees include these people or members of the LGBT community, they will be subjected to the same security checks as anyone, but they will not, I repeat, not be excluded from acceptance into Canada. Since Canada will be targeting families with children, single parent families, women at risk, are single males of military age to be excluded as GARSs? Are single males who are gay to be excluded

The answer is a nuanced one and is not always well articulated. No category of persons will be excluded, whether based on religion, gender or sexual orientation. On the other hand, some groups of refugees will be given priority. That group will not in the first instance when speed of selection is critical include single males of military age unless they are part of a larger family unit or are vulnerable, such as gays.

The reality is that we are taking such a small percentage of the total refugee population and a zero risk policy of accepting those refugees who are most unlikely to be terrorists. That should silence those nay-sayers.  But no matter how many measures are put in place, the guarantees of the security of Canadians will not silence the Islamophobes who will find other reasons to doubt the effectiveness of the process.

One part of the plan not articulated adequately as part of the announcement, must be an integral part of the operation bringing these refugees to Canada. Syrian refugees heading to Canada will themselves be at risk from extremists. Certainly, the families they left behind may be subject to attacks if the identities of some of the refugees coming to Canada become well known. What I wait to find out on the security question is what type of security is going to be in place to protect the identity of the refugees whose families back home are at risk, to protect refugees before they leave, and when they are on planes destined for Canada.

The selection and security issues are at the fore in bringing these tens of thousands of refugees to Canada. But there are many other issues. Transportation is one of them. Thank goodness the idea of using cruise ships in the height of winter on the stormy north Atlantic was discarded, though I later learned that the idea remained viable for a week to answer the question of accommodation in the Middle East before sending the refugees onto Canada. The refugees are to be flown to Canada initially, when there are only small groups, on regular flights, and then on chartered flights as the program gets geared up. Military flights will only be used as a backup. I assume the difficulty in finding enough aircraft to bring the refugees in the five weeks remaining, especially over the Christmas season when aircraft are in very short supply, was also one reason, and possibly a determining one, in shifting the completion date to the end of February. If it was, then ignoring this as a reason while stressing the great care on the security issue may be justified. I still think it will be difficult to meet the target of 10,000 arrivals by the end of the year unless we are willing to pay a fortune for chartering aircraft over the busy Christmas season.

The transportation issue has not been adequately articulated in the media. First, because of problems of security, refugees in Lebanon will be flown to Amman. All flights to Canada with Syrian refugees from Lebanon and Jordan will depart from Amman airport. Further, refugees, when they are flown to Canada, will be sent directly on to their destinations if the flights are of short distance. They may be kept overnight if the connecting flights to their final destinations are Calgary or Vancouver. The most important part of the transportation policy is the change in the past pattern of refugees having to repay their transportation costs after one year in Canada when they most need all their resources to settle and integrate well; the transportation loans have been eliminated. Transportation to Canada will be paid by the government of Canada. Syrian refugees will not have to assume the debt as a transportation loan. Whether that policy is extended to other groups of refugees, we will have to wait and see.

One item I stressed in my meeting on Sunday morning with John McCallum, our Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, was the priority of having a communications strategy. As it turns out, the government has been far ahead on this problem. There have been conversations with mayors and premiers across the country. The issue was on the agenda of the Prime Minister’s meeting with the premiers and representatives from the territories. Today, there were briefing sessions with the media. There was a conference call for an hour across Canada with a dozen bureaucrats in Ottawa responsible for different aspects of the file and representatives from agencies across the country involved in sponsorship and/or settlement. The representatives of the NGOs were free to ask as many questions as they wanted. This weekend, a consultation meeting will be held in Ottawa that will include all stakeholders to help resolve a number of outstanding problems related to settlement and integration.

One of the problems that emerges from this extensive networking in developing policy as a consultative process, and one that is as transparent as possible, is that tentative proposals that are developed and proposed during this development of policy in motion get released and taken as government policy when the idea is discarded several days later – the use of cruise ships, the rumour that the refugees will be initially housed in army camps when only 1,500 places are being provided on bases as a reserve with an additional plan to make 4,500 extra spaces available if needed, the rumour that single male refugees would be excluded altogether when there are no exclusions, the belief that security and health processing would be divided between overseas pre-clearance and in-country checks. There is another problem when a plan is not fully developed and delivered from on high. The biggest one is that settlement agencies are desperately in need of funds to handle the enormous increase in inquiries, to hire and train staff to be ready for receiving the refugees. They will have to find interim funding until the government is able to allocate funds.

Once the overall plan was announced, the resettlement and integration part of plan can be discussed in detail with the settlement agencies. That part of the plan has not been refined. Until the plan is further developed and the specific needs known, a proposal cannot be put to the Treasury Board for approval of funds. Further, a process will have to be developed for the application for those funds and the distribution and monitoring of the monies. Luckily, and in contrast to the Indochinese Refugee movement, there are now 36 reception and settlement centres with a great deal of experience across Canada and processes already in place for distributing other funds.

It is also not clear if the provinces and municipalities will be expected to contribute monies over and above the $678 million budgeted by the federal government to be spent over six years. Further, since the real needs of the settlement agencies have not yet been submitted, since the estimates have been based on past practices, the figure has to be considered a best estimate at this time. But it is very different than the $1.2 billion budget rumoured just two days previously.

There are many other problems to be worked out. Victoria, B.C. does not have a RAP centre for receiving refugees, but the mayor has clearly indicated a desire to receive refugees for southern Vancouver Island and be part of the program. The government is committed to including all regions of the country which want to be part of the program and that have sufficient capacity in an existing settlement facility or wish to and have the capacity to develop such a facility. A number of NGOs have pressed the government to increase the shelter allowance given current accommodation costs across Canada. NGOs are eager to get the master distribution list, but until the consultation and Treasury Department approvals, that distribution list cannot be released as a final document.

The government has also learned from past experience. Sponsored families will not be sent to places in Canada where they will isolated from their fellow nationals. Each locality will be required to welcome a minimal critical mass of refugees. At the same time, given the history of antagonisms in Syria, it will be important that the government be careful and that families from antagonistic groups are not sent to a small centre.

The best result is that the refugee support community virtually unanimously greeted the announcement as a Good News Day. It is heart warming to see the government once again stepping up to bat to be a partner with civil society. I suspect the whole Syrian refugee movement is as important in defining Canada once again in terms that once made Canada a leading light in the international community, especially when the refugee initiative is complemented by other initiatives, such as the environmental proposals. The refugee program has been defined and broadcast as a National Project.

Finally, a great deal of credit has to given to the Canadian civil service and politicians across the country who have risen to the challenge of providing leadership. The civil servants have characterized the intensive and long hours of work that they have put in over the last few weeks, as exciting, exhilarating, but also exhausting. If the program works as well as the Indochinese refugee program, their effort will become high points in many of their lives.

 

The BBC Report: Genocide Denial – A

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

by

Howard Adelman

The BBC video is available at http://vimeo.com/107867605.

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: http://genodynamics.weebly.com/) 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 http://genodynamics.weebly.com) 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.

The Holiness of Numbers: Parashat Bamidar – Numbers 1:1-4:20.11.05.13

The Holiness of Numbers: Parashat Bamidar – Numbers 1:1-4:20               11.05.13

 

by

 

Howard Adelman

 

The Book of Numbers begins with numbers, the census of the numbers of Israelites before they enter Canaan. The first four chapters also name all the leaders of the tribes and clans and define the duties of those tribes in military terms and the role of an elite group, the Levites, in servicing the Tabernacle. The census as recorded is as follows:

 

All heads of households over 20 able to bear arms

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LEVITES

 

 

 

 

 

Divisions

 

 

Sons of

Aaron

Clans

 

 

Reuben

46,500

Judah

Judah

74,600

 

Gershon

Libni

 

 

Simeon

59,300

 east

Issachar

54,400

 

 West

Shimei

7,500

 

Gad

45,650

 

Zebulum

57,400

186,400

Kohath

Amram

 

 

Judah

74,600

Reuben

Reuben

46,500

 

 South

Ishar

 

 

Issachar

54,400

 south

Simeon

59,300

 

 

Hebron

 

 

Zebulun

57,400

 

Gad

45,650

151,450

 

Uzziel

8,600

 

Ephraim

40,500

Ephraim

Ephraim

40,500

 

Merari

Mahli

 

 

Manasseh

32,200

 west

Mannaseh

32,200

 

 North

Mushi

6,200

 

Benjamin

35,400

 

Benjamin

35,400

108,100

Non-Levites

 

 

Dan

62,700

Dan

Dan

62,700

 

Sons of

Moses

 

 

Asher

41,500

 north

Asher

41,500

 

 

Aaron

 

 

Naphtali

53,400

 

Naphtali

53,400

157,600

East

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Age 30-50

 

 

 

 

603,550

 

 

 

603,550

one month +

22,300

625,850

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

22,000

 

Levites

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

22,273

 

 

Note the following about the census:

1. This is, by and large, a military census, a count of men of fighting age over 20 years of age and able to bear arms. Women, children under 20 years of age, and old men unable to report for active military duty are all excluded.

2. The tribes are arranged into four military divisions, with the most numerous and most powerful division located to the east, the most dangerous side; the weakest division, that of Ephraim, is located on the west facing the Mediterranean indicating naval warfare was not part of this entourage.

3. God commands that the Levites, chosen from the first born of all the tribes, who are charged with maintaining the various aspects of the tabernacle, are not included in the census with the Israelites, not with the rest of the Israelites but with the Israelites period. 1:49 reads: “Do not on any account enrol the tribe of Levi or take a census of them with the Israelites.” These are God’s chosen, the first-born of all tribes and families and taken to serve the holy of holies.

4. The Levites are counted differently, for all first-born males over the age of one month are included.

5. Further, three different numbers are given for the number of Levites, a typical rounding off to the nearest one hundred (22,300) plus two outlier numbers, a rounding off to the nearest one thousand (22,000) and then a precise number – 22,273. No precise number akin to this is provided for the tribes and divisions assigned to military duties.

 

My thesis is simple; numbers are holy. Accurate counts and allocations of those counts are critical to political, economic and particularly military purposes. Numbers in service of God, estimated at about 2.5% of the male population in the age range of 20 to 60, may be dedicated to the holy of holies, but the numbers dedicated to the secular in life may not be the holy of holies, but they are holy. The census is holy, something Stephen Harper with his ostensible reverence for traditional religion seems to have ignored when he eliminated the compulsory long form census in Canada so that we only get a two-thirds voluntary return instead of the almost complete results heretofore obtained, a result with much crucial data missing.

 

Let me offer four examples in which I was involved with the holiness of numbers. The first occasion took place just after we set up the Refugee Documentation Project at YorkUniversity, the precursor of the Centre for Refugee Studies. The Begin government of Israel in Operation Peace for the Galilee had invaded Lebanon on 6 June 1982. Recall that in addition to all the raids and terrorist attacks into northern Israel from Lebanon, the trigger for the invasion had been the assassination attempt by the Abu Nidal Organization on the life of Shlomo Argov, the Israeli Ambassador to the UK.

 

I myself had experienced the effects of these terrorist attacks when I spent a sabbatical year in Israel at the time of President Sadat’s visit. Not only were buses carrying school children, including the No. 5 bus which one of my children normally took, blown up, but the Coastal Road Massacre took place planned by Abu Jihad and perpetrated by a terrorist group landing just north of Tel Aviv by sea from Lebanon. The raid was an attempt to undermine and destroy the Egyptian-Israeli efforts to forge peace. The terrorists shot up a car and took over two buses in which eventually 38 Israeli civilians, including 13 children, were killed, and 71 were wounded. In that car that the terrorists shot up from the bus was the brilliant floutist of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, Hanoch Tel-Oren, who was my eldest daughter’s music teacher. He was an American, originally from Arkansas. My daughter was then headed towards a career as a classical flute player. Tel-Oren’s arm was shot and he lost neural control over his fingers so that it was believed at the time that he would never again play the flute.

 

His fourteen year old son, Omri, who was already a clarinettist in the Jerusalem Youth Orchestra, was asleep in the back seat of the family station wagon; he was shot in the head and died instantly. My daughter, Shonagh, had grown close to both Hanoch and his wife, Sharon, also a floutist, and all the children. (They had seven in total but, if my memory is correct, they had five at that time.) In reaction to the trauma, my daughter, who was then two years older than Omri, never picked up the flute to play again. Recently, I tried to talk to her about the incident and she had only the scarcest memory of it. Shonagh became a painter in Israel and remains a painter now living in New York and well known for her pop-surrealist art.

Israel published a figure in late June 1982 that 19,000 had been displaced or been made homeless by the invasion. OXFAM UK published a figure in full page ads in the British newspapers appealing for funds and stating that 600,000 had been made homeless. In my research work I had become convinced that accurate figures of numbers of refugees could be obtained if proper scientific methods are applied. We went first to Israel and then got into Lebanon to test our hypothesis. We did not actually have to undertake a count as we thought. There were already twelve different counts – one by the Palestinian Teachers Association that was the most detailed, another by the Municipal Association of Lebanese Teachers. The Israeli count had been undertaken by a highly reputable scholar from TelAviUniversity who studied Bedouin. Unfortunately, his count contained an arithmetic error by 10,000; discovering that error won our way into Lebanon. As we also learned, in the effort to complete the study quickly, he had missed some pockets of refugees. The numbers of homeless in south Lebanon before the bombardment of the Palestinian camps in Beirut was really 40,000 but still far from the figure of 600,000 that OXFAM UK had published.

 

All of the twelve counts had been well done but each contained some errors and a few methodological problems, but the counts were easily reconciled to yield a correct figure that was subsequently used by all sides as well as by international agencies. The OXFAM figure of 600,000 had come from a distorted version of a report the Red Cross had published that 600,000 had been affected by the war. The Red Cross had, in fact, the most accurate figure of 40,000 homeless, though they were slightly embarrassed by their methodology – they counted the kitchen kits they distributed and multiplied by three.    

 

In another occasion to indicate the holiness of accurate figures, at the time of the multilateral peace talks, the Centre for Refugee Studies was asked by the Canadian government that was gavelling those talks to provide an accurate figure of the number of Palestinian refugees. The problem was that everyone knew that the original numbers of registered refugees with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency of 920,000 was inflated because of double counting and other problems. No one seemed to know the degree of inflation. A very ideologically-based count had been attempted in Joan Peters’ 1984 book, From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine. She had argued that the number of Palestinian Aabs who left Palestine in the 1948 war totalled only 540,000. Her figures were proven to be as fallacious as the original UNRWA figures and her methodological errors more heinous. We came up with a figure of 705,000 but subsequently came to the conclusion that the figure of 720,000 by the demographer, Janet Abu-Lughhod, was probably the more accurate one. That figure was the base line used by the states involved in the multilateral talks.

 

A third case involved the Rwandan genocide. An international consortium of 19 international agencies and 18 states had contracted with Astri Suhrke, the Norwegian scholar, and myself to write a report on the role of the international community in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. As part of that process, we tried to get some sense of an accurate figure of those moderate Hutus and Tutsis who had been slaughtered in just over ten weeks. We proceeded by largely auditing various counts that had been undertaken, though we did participate in one actual count of the numbers buried in a mass grave at Butare and counted 18,463 corpses. Our total came out to almost one million but in an international meeting in Geneva, in examining all the counts, it was agreed to use a figure of 800,000 slaughtered until a fuller, more comprehensive and more accurate count was obtained.

 

The fourth case was an offshoot of the Rwanda genocide. In 1996, the war had spread to Zaire, subsequently the Democratic Government of the Congo. When the Kabila forces backed by Rwanda and Uganda overran the refugee camps in Zaire, claims were made that a second genocide had been perpetrated and that 600,000 had died. These figures were based on the grossly inflated figures of those in the refugee camps, camps that were under the control of the ex-FAR and the militias who had participated in the Rwandan genocide. The figures were grossly inflated to obtain much greater humanitarian aid that could be sold on the black market and used to buy more arms.  As we tried to document (though 20,000-40,000 may have died – an enormous sum in itself), the figure of 600,000 was preposterous and a complete chimera as was the claim of a second genocide.

 

What about the numbers in Numbers? Are they fabrications intended to instil fear in the enemies of the Israelites or are they accurate figures? I am not a demographer. Nor am I a biblical scholar. Without a lot more research, I will not attempt to assess whether the numbers are or are not accurate. What I will claim is that numbers are holy and the foundation of the whole scientific realm of empirical accuracy. Holiness belongs to the secular as well as the sacred realm even if at the centre of the sacred realm is the holy of holies.  

 

As the mathematician Blaise Pascal who invented probability theory has written, numbers, however, holy have their limits. Numbers produce their own paradoxes. If an even number is defined as all numbers divided by two and an odd number is defined as every even number, plus one, is infinity an even or an odd number. There are similar paradoxes about zero. “We know the existence and nature of the finite, because we also are finite and have extension. We know the existence of the infinite, and are ignorant of its nature, because it has extension like us, but not limits like us. But we know neither the existence nor the nature of God, because He has neither extension nor limits.” At the extremes of the secular realm we find paradoxes, whether about those extremes or God who belongs beyond the extremes. When you get to the extremes or beyond them, reason is impotent. However, in the enormous secular realm between, there is a holy commandment – “Get your numbers straight.”