Eritrean and Sudanese Refugee Claimants in Israel

There are about 36,000 Eritrean and Sudanese refugee claimants currently in Israel. Israel claims that the vast majority are illegal migrants or, as Prime Minister Netanyahu (Bibi) calls them, “infiltrators.” T’ruah, an Israeli human rights NGO, claims the reverse, that they have mostly fled oppression and forced military service (Eritrea) for a safe haven in Israel. Israel was one of the first countries to ratify the Refugee Convention in 1954 and, therefore, had agreed not to refoule refugees if they had a legitimate fear of persecution. To assess the application of this criterion, some background might be helpful.

In the early 2000s, Sudanese fled to Egypt as refugees. By 2005, 30,000 had registered for asylum status there, but there were tens of thousands more in the country who had not been registered. In November 2005, a Sudanese asylum sit-in crisis took place in which the majority of the 4,000 protesters were women and children. Over six weeks in a park near the Mohandessin mosque in Cairo, the participants in the sit-in grew to 4,000 just when Egypt had taken steps to deport 640 Sudanese “illegal migrants.” UNHCR offered to organize a voluntary repatriation to Sudan, given that the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Army had signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement on 9 January 2005.

However, UNHCR, which had suspended its asylum hearings after the peace agreement had been signed, was unsuccessful in mediating the dispute in which Sudanese refugee claimants were protesting the dire social and economic problems they faced in Egypt and the insecurity of their status. Overwhelmingly, the Sudanese were unwilling to return to Sudan given that they faced a worse and more dangerous situation there. Further, the agreement the year before (the so-called four freedoms agreement), guaranteeing Sudanese in Egypt freedom of movement, residence, work and property ownership, had never been implemented. The Sudanese were still treated as foreigners with no rights to stay.

The government turned on the refugees using water cannons and batons. On 30 December 2005, thousands of riot police attacked the refugees to end the protest in the camp and killed at least 20, though Boutros Deng claimed that 26 Sudanese were killed, including two women and seven children. Egyptian human rights and refugee organizations claimed the total was much higher and that over 100 were killed. Though no survey is available, most of the public seemed to support the police and called the Sudanese dirty, rowdy criminals and stealers of jobs.

The Eritreans had a slightly different history. They were not fleeing ethnic cleansing and possible genocide, as the Sudanese did from Darfur, but an extremely oppressive regime that made military service compulsory and indefinite following the 1998-2000 war with Ethiopia. Deserters were treated harshly and subjected to indefinite prison terms. Those who fled initially made their way to Sudan and then to Libya. In Libya, they were mistreated and enslaved. By 2006, they had shifted to Egypt, but given that they were subjected to the same conditions as the Sudanese, they and the Sudanese headed for Israel in the belief that this nearby democratic country would treat them better, especially since Jews had suffered so deeply and so many had been refugees.

Between 2008 and 2010, traffickers had taken control of the flow and enslaved or ransomed the “refugees.” In 2009, Israel created its own refugee determination system. Israel also closed its border. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel interviewed survivors among those enslaved by the traffickers and estimated that as many as 4,000 died between 2008 and 2012. However, getting past the traffickers did not end their quest to reach the Promised Land. For example, in October 2012 a group of Eritrean refugees with little food or water had been stranded at the border between Egypt and Israel for over a week.

However, 36,000 Eritreans and Sudanese managed to reach Israel. Contrary to some claims, there was no necessity that Egypt as the first country in which they arrived had the obligation to process them as refugee claimants or that Israel had the right to send them back to the country of first asylum to have the claims processed in Egypt. The first country rule is an EU edict and not part of international law.

Israel responded to the influx by building an impenetrable border fence and detention facilities. In processing the claims, only 4 Sudanese and 10 Eritreans were granted refugee status, or .01% of Eritrean claimants compared to a success rate in Canada of 85-90%. The Israeli government also initiated efforts to deport those that had arrived in Israel as “economic migrants” and “infiltrators.” In spite of the Israeli effort, more kept coming, but in significantly reduced numbers. Some moved on from Israel to other destinations. Nevertheless, by the end of 2017, Israel hosted a population of 40,000 Sudanese and Eritreans without access to health benefits or a legal right to work, though most were employed in the underground economy, mostly in hotels and restaurants. In 2016, the Israeli government introduced a 20% withholding tax on their wages.

This past November, Israel announced that it had arranged to relocate these “illegals” to an African nation widely rumoured to be Rwanda and perhaps Uganda. The internment camp at Holon would be closed. The government gave the “illegals” 90 days to leave voluntarily with a grant of $3,500 or face forceful deportation. A minority of Israelis reacted by initiating a sanctuary movement as well as one of civil disobedience and non-cooperation with Israeli expulsion efforts; a group of pilots announced that they would not fly the refugees back to Africa.

At the end of January 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Rwandan President Paul Kagame met in Davos. Purportedly, they finalized their agreement to secretly transfer thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers from Israel to Rwanda. Though some claimants took up the offer of a $3500 grant to help in relocation, most refused. When the Israeli-Rwandan deal became public this past week, Rwanda was embarrassed by the alleged agreement to receive the expelled refugee claimants in return for a reimbursement of resettlement costs. The country (and Uganda) denied that they had signed any such agreement.

In the midst of the past three months, Israeli courts entered the fray. In response to a case filed by the Tel Aviv University Clinic for Refugee Rights, a special Jerusalem appeals court for refugee issues ruled that flight from service in the Eritrean army was a justified ground for claiming refugee status even though British and Danish courts had ruled that it was not. Further, any argument that insisted that granting refugee status to so many Eritreans would threaten the Jewish character of Israel could not be used to make a refugee determination. A stop order was placed on the deportations. In response, the Israeli government requested, and was granted, an extension in the case of asylum seekers from Darfur and Nuba. The High Court of Justice endorsed granting male migrants of working age a “choice” of either deportation with a $3,500 grant or internment in Israel.

In the diaspora, many liberal Jews mobilized to help the refugee claimants working on two tracks – lobbying the Israeli government to drop the policy and negotiating with their own governments to at least take some of the refugees. The effort was successful in Canada when the private sector stood up to the plate to sponsor the refugees and the Canadian government, strongly influenced by a brief of a former Justice Minister, Irwin Cotler, agreed to allow 2,000 to be resettled in Canada in 2018. As a follow-up, in a totally surprising move, this past Monday a separate agreement was announced between the Israeli government and the UN wherein the UN would arrange for the resettlement of 16,250 refugee claimants to other countries over five years while Israel agreed to allow an equivalent number to remain with resident permits. Netanyahu said that he would now scrap the controversial plan to deport the Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers given the unprecedented understanding with the UN.

Within a few hours, in the face of a backlash from his base, Netanyahu reversed course, first suspending the agreement and then cancelling it. Even more oddly, seemingly out of nowhere, Netanyahu blamed the NGO, New Israel Fund (NIF), for sabotaging the deal, but no explanation accompanied the charge. The following day, Prime Minister Netanyahu, in an absolutely unprecedented action in Israel, claimed that NIF had put pressure on Rwanda to withdraw from the deal, but offered no evidence. NIF insists that it has been totally transparent and never did what Bibi claimed. Netanyahu, however, promised that parliament would set up a committee to investigate the NIF and its involvement in sabotaging the deal.

The puzzlement is that this leaves Israel in a far worse position. First, Bibi’s attack on the NIF resulted in an enormous swelling of support for NIF and for the refugees. The support came both from Israel and abroad. It even came from south Tel Aviv that had been undergoing a process of gentrification over the last decade and from which area a delegation met Netanyahu on Tuesday. South Tel Aviv is the area where most of the “infiltrators” live because they have access to the bus station, social services set up by Israeli volunteers and companies seeking casual day labourers. With permanent status, the Eritreans and Sudanese would more likely disperse through the country.

The government’s black eye is even much darker. The Rwandan and Ugandan governments, embarrassed by the whole affair, announced that they had no signed deal with Israel. Further, in openly acknowledging that Israel could not sent the “infiltrators” back to their home countries, the government implicitly conceded that the Eritreans and Sudanese were refugees in some deep sense.

In the meanwhile, the debate continues in Israel with those opposed to the refugee claimants accusing them of being illegal migrant workers and infiltrators who, in Israel, undermine Israeli social life. The defenders of the claimants insist that the vast majority are fleeing oppression and, in Eritrea, endless forced military service. Quite aside from the debate over the refugee claims process, Israel introduced another dimension, its long continuing war with Arab states and the antipathy towards Israel of those states and members of the population. Israel claims the need both to preserve its Jewish character as well as preventing Muslims from entering Israel and undermining the ethnic balance. Tough measures towards asylum seekers (or infiltrators) are necessary, the government declared ignoring a long Jewish tradition, for many, the essence of the Jewish character, to helping those in need.

Netanyahu’s reputation has suffered even more than Israel’s. Yossi Verter wrote:

“In the face of all of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s past capitulations, it was the most disgraceful, the most transparent. In comparison to all his reversals, it was the quickest, the most humiliating. The man had already taught us a chapter on zigzags and back-and-forths – in the story of the Western Wall egalitarian prayer space and the metal detectors at the Temple Mount, for example – but this time he outdid himself, in both speed and flexibility. A contortionist could only dream of having such a liquid backbone.”

However, the result, though embarrassing to the government and especially Netanyahu that finds himself boxed in, still leaves the so-called illegals without security or a clear road to the future. One advance: Israel released the asylum seekers who were interned for refusing deportation to Rwanda.


With the help of Alex Zisman


Corporeality I: The Body Politic and Diplomacy – External Affairs


Corporeality I: The Body Politic and Diplomacy


Howard Adelman

“Howard, you’re never going to be a diplomat.”

Not that I had ever aspired to be one, but why? Why not me? When a Canadian ambassador addressed me with this comment, Canada was then gavelling the Multilateral Refugee Working Group (RWG) negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians in the early 1990s before the Oslo peace process unravelled with the collapse of the Camp David and Taba peace talks and the al-Aqsa intifada took their place. (Cf. David Goldberg and Tilly Shames (2004) “The ‘Good-natured Bastard’: Canada and the Middle East refugee question,” Israel Affairs: Special Issue: Israel in the International Arena, 10:1-2, 203-220) Though the focus was on the Palestinian refugees before the millions of Syrian refugees became the poster children for Middle Eastern displacement, the RWG performed another role. It served not simply as the venue for advancing the discussion on the Palestinian refugee issue, but as a front for the bilateral talks and a safe place out of the spotlight to debate hot process issues, such as PLO participation and Palestinian representation and identification as a separate delegation independent of the Jordanian one. I was present as a technical adviser.

Could I not become an ambassador because I was too forthright, because I lacked the smooth etiquette of even a junior in the foreign ministry? Either of these elements would have disqualified me, but that was not the explanation the ambassador offered. “You’ve been educated as a philosopher. Ever since Descartes, philosophers have been trained to think in terms of clear and distinct ideas. However, diplomacy relies upon equivocation. Diplomats have to use language that means different things to the different parties in the negotiations.” He was only being partially satirical.

I would not qualify for a number of reasons. On Friday I wrote about Jethro in the Torah and his meeting with Moses and Aaron as an example of the following characteristics of a diplomat:

  1. Courtesy – Jethro notified his hosts of his arrival to ensure that he was welcome by the leader of the people – something which Netanyahu did not do when Ron Dermer, his American-born Israeli envoy to the U.S., cooked up the scheme with the House of Representatives Republican Majority Leader, John Boehner, to have Netanyahu address a joint session of Congress without informing the President;
  2. Recognition – Moses and Aaron (not Aaron alone) went out to greet Jethro on what was the tarmac at the time and demonstrated that the head of a nation should greet a visiting envoy;
  3. Respect – Moses did so by showing the visiting diplomat the highest regard in both his words and body language;
  4. Jethro was a formidable diplomat because he was a very careful listener and not only heard Moses’ long tale about the Israelite escape from Egypt, but was able to summarize the narrative so that Moses and Aaron could recognize how close Jethro had been listening;
  5. Jethro demonstrated that he also understood the Israeli position by providing an empathetic summary of the Israelite perspective without ever actually endorsing it;
  6. Jethro demonstrably came with only one goal in mind – reconciliation and peace;
  7. The one attitude that was absolutely verboten was arrogance;
  8. Jethro was the exemplar of the refusal to use force or his position of authority to persuade Moses and Aaron, but relied on words alone to influence his son-in-law;
  9. Jethro went further and demonstrated his initiative and creative imagination by sacrificing to the Israelite God for the role He played in freeing the Israelites from Egypt, something which the Israelites themselves had not yet done;
  10. Finally, both Moses and Jethro understood the important role of breaking bread together in a festive meal as a way to cement a relationship.

How do the current parties in Middle East negotiations measure up to these standards? David Remnick, outstanding editor of The New Yorker, in an article on Secretary of State John Kerry in the final double issue for 2015 entitled, “Negotiating the Whirlwind” (pp. 66-77), offered a number of insights into Kerry’s attributes as a negotiator, though the focus was on the possibility of making a break through on Syria rather than Kerry’s role in the last failed effort to get the peace negotiations off the ground in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Kerry is portrayed as having the following characteristics:

  1. He is a man of exemplary courage “undaunted by risk” having won three Purple Hearts and both a Bronze and a Silver Star in the Vietnam War in spite of George W. Bush’s toadies’, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, attempts to besmirch that military record, the ultimate in irony, for George W. Bush sat out the war stateside as a member of the Texas National Guard;
  2. Though without question a man of the establishment, Kerry demonstrated a different kind of courage in standing up against the received wisdom as a leader of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War  and became for me personally at that time a real hero;
  3. He is unwilling to go for the jugular if the cost might be undermining the whole diplomatic effort;
  4. His overriding character as a negotiator is that he is tireless and doggedly relentless;
  5. He seems to suffer a more serious handicap than being a philosopher dedicated to clear and distinct ideas for he is prone to verbal logorrhea and a propensity to be rhetorically undisciplined;
  6. Further, instead of being a master of equivocation, he is infected with the disease of the wasp establishment in the United Sates and a betrayal of his forgotten Jewish grandfather as he has mastered the precise contradictory trait of using unboundaried rhetoric to describe raw reality, but doing so in “upholstered platitudes ;“
  7. He has an abounding faith in the value of personal relationships;
  8. He believes in the power of persuasion and the importance of influence, though always with the American qualifier of carrying a stick in the other hand;
  9. He contrasts with Barack Obama’s skepticism because he exudes a “sentimental optimism;”
  10. Like Jethro, he does understand and has mastered the art of building trust by both understanding the Other and demonstrating that understanding in dealing with contentious parties.

How do these characteristics fit the attributes most desirous in a diplomat such as the exemplary Benjamin Franklin? Courage is irrelevant, absolutely necessary when it comes to fighting a war, but irrelevant at the negotiating table. Nor does being an angry young man and an anti-establishment warrior qualify one as a diplomat speaking from personal experience. Third, tireless optimism is no substitute for caution and careful analysis, but actually gets in the way of the latter two prerequisites for diplomacy. Being relentless may be necessary for a Churchill, and his bulldog, when fighting a life-and-death war against the Nazis, but is irrelevant in diplomatic negotiations and may, as Remnick writes, be like the car buyer who enters the automobile showroom and lets the salesperson know that he is determined not to leave until he has purchased a car.

Kerry with his weak command of linguistic skills has shown that he lacks mastery of the core tool of a diplomat, absolute proficiency in the use of language which must be clear and concise as well as always coherent and non-contradictory. Equivocation is one thing; padded platitudes are another, especially when, instead of demonstrating being in touch with reality, they reveal detachment from it. When this is compounded with a record of contradictions – supporting Bush’s foolish war in Iraq but then voting against appropriations for reconstruction – this is not an outstanding record of achievement to waltz on the stage of foreign diplomacy. This may be the result of relying too much on advisers. This is not helped when later one avoids responsibility for taking that advice and remains critically bitter about the advice Robert Shrum gave him not to take on and challenge the calumnies of the Swift Boat Veterans.

Personal relationships, as Jethro and Moses demonstrated, are key to foreign relations, but as Kissinger noted, Kerry’s “unbounded faith” in the value of such relationships may be misplaced. However, his belief in the power of persuasion, in spite of carrying a big stick, his belief in putting that big stick behind his back instead of waving it in the air, and his comprehension in demonstrating empathetic understanding are exemplary, though marred somewhat by his sentimental optimism unbecoming of a diplomat.

How do those skills and weaknesses reveal themselves when attacking some of the major diplomatic challenges of our time? Cuba was clearly Obama’s doing, largely due to insistence of the Cubans, but this put Kerry’s nose out of joint. One cannot imagine Aaron being disturbed because Jethro as a foreign diplomat wanted to deal directly with Moses. A second success, certainly in my eyes, was the conclusion of the nuclear arms talks with Iran. Kerry’s persistence, his efforts to build personal relationships, his mastery of the material and the core issues while communicating a complete understanding of the position of the Iranians, his refusal to play the military card, all contributed to his success. But with the Iranians, not with his former colleagues in the Senate who were well aware of his unwillingness to trot out America’s military might, of Kerry’s unwillingness to go for the jugular as revealed in his handling of the election results in his contest with George W. Bush, of his sentimental optimism and his unbounded faith in personal relationships. They may have loved John Kerry as a colleague but they distrusted him as a tough negotiator. Well you can’t please everyone all the time, and perhaps never given the force and irredentism of populist Republicans these days.

A lesser known success was Kerry’s efforts to broker a compromise with the contenders for leadership in Afghanistan. When the election results threatened to undermine the country’s feeble democracy, Kerry negotiated a compromise between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani stretching personal relationship diplomacy almost to the breaking point, but sufficient to keep the government together, an absolute prerequisite in fighting the war against the Taliban.

But look at the failures – Egypt, Libya, the partial alienation of Saudi Arabia. But these may have had more to do with Barack Obama than with Kerry, a topic which I will take up tomorrow.  The most outstanding failure was the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, but this was not a failure of negotiating skills, but of wasting diplomatic capital on a quixotic effort driven by that sentimental optimism and absolute faith in himself if only he could get both parties into the same room. Here taking huge risks was folly for the probability of a fearful Mahmoud Abbas taking the necessary risks for peace can be compared to that of Arafat whose courage amounted to the sliver of a new moon while Abbas’ willingness to take a risk was hidden behind the moon in eclipse. With Abbas on one side and, a bullying, blustering unreliable bull shitter like Netanyahu on the other (I told you I was unsuited to diplomacy), the chances of getting even the wisp of victory out of the negotiations was even less than the chance of winning over a billion dollars in the recent lottery draw in the United States, especially given the intractable positions on both sides.

But the problem goes even deeper. The late intervention in the Balkans and the Dayton Accords were not, as Kerry claimed, a diplomatic success, except in the eyes of Richard Holbrooke and other Americans for it left the shattered parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina patched together like a smashed teacup with the shards glued back together, but in a form useless as a teacup because it will not hold any hot water for long. And Rwanda was not a failure of America to intervene, but a failure of the Clinton administration to support and allow the UN peacekeepers already there to be reinforced and do their jobs. Kerry may demonstrate a capability in empathetic understanding but it is not matched to the same degree in objective understanding.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Tomorrow: Barack Obama as a Political Leader and Diplomat.

Shame and Humiliation Part IV of V: Reintegrative Shaming

Shame and Humiliation

Part IV of V: Reintegrative Shaming


Howard Adelman

In this already overlong essay, I feel a need to still cover two other areas: current attempts to merge a shame system with a justice system and the rule of law, and, secondly, with the examination of Christianity as a shame culture in contrast to rabbinic Judaism. I will examine the issue of Christianity as a shame culture in tomorrow’s final part of this essay.

Restorative justice, mainly as an application or in the form of criminologist John Braithwaite’s shaming theory, is an effort to posit shame as a form of justice not simply parallel but superior to our traditional guilt/innocence legal system. As I have indicated, a pure guilt culture sees shame as demeaning. Reintegration shaming views shame as a means of redemption. Reintegration shaming targets the offender rather than the offence. As I have described, ever so briefly, a guilt culture focuses on the act committed and does not target altering the character of the offender. The rehabilitation is a matter for the offender and other institutions in society.

Though the theory was published in 1989, I really only encountered Braithwaite’s model when I went to Australia as a research professor for three years between 2005 and 2008. However, in the aftermath of the co-study with Astri Suhrke of the Rwanda genocide and the role of bystanders on behalf of an international consortium of counties and international agencies, I had encountered the theory in practice in relationship to the gacaca courts established in Rwanda to handle the vast bulk of the cases of those who had been accused of participation in the 1994 genocide. A few high profile cases were handled by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and many more serious cases by the Rwanda national legal courts or by military courts for a very few officers, but the vast bulk of cases were handed over to the gacaca courts.

I had, of course, heard about such processes as part of the justice system of aboriginals in Canada, especially when I was chair of a commission on nuclear energy and one of the four other panellists was an aboriginal shaman who introduced me to the concept of circle justice. But the Rwanda courts, and Bill Schabas’s 2005 study of those courts (“Genocide Trials and the Gacaca Courts,” Journal of International Criminal Justice, 3:4, 879-895), were my first detailed exposures to a system of justice based on a traditional model of community justice. This form of justice combines community shaming with a justice process based on shaming in front of both the victim and the community, with a confession wrought out of the perpetrator followed by publicizing the name of the offender. I admit that I was initially very impressed, though a few studies connecting the gacaca court system to a shame culture initiated my wariness. (See the very short 2000 piece by Mark A. Drumbl that preceded Schabas’ piece, “Punishment, Post-genocide: From Guilt to Shame to Civis in Rwanda,” New York University Law Review 75:5.)

The gacaca courts seemed to have the following advantages:

  • Once the process was initiated, justice was rendered in a reasonably brief time while allowing both the accused and the victims to have their say, and further, and more importantly, to allow the victims and the bystanders to affect the outcome
  • In contrast to legal trials where a person is tried by either a judge or a cross section of peers chosen at random, the people’s “jurors” in gacaca courts consisting of 24 volunteers at the foundational cell level in Rwanda were elected by the community ostensibly as persons of high integrity (inyangamugayo) based on maturity (age), nationality, absence of a prison record or suspicion of participation in the genocide, possessing a reputation of honesty and not being ideologues or supporters of the genocidaire doctrine, trustworthy as distinct from honest (i.e., reliability, though truth telling may an indicator), and did not censor or repress their thoughts in public; achievement of a specific educational level was not required and judges only received 36 hours of training
  • The economic costs were minimal compared to the enormous costs of the international criminal court in Rwanda that tried only 52 individuals over a dozen years and cost over a billion dollars with only 65 charged, just over fifty trials conducted (7 cases were transferred to the Rwanda court system and 6 charged remain fugitives), and almost all trials are now completed (1 is still under appeal)
  • The penalties in most cases of the gacaca courts side-step incarceration in favour of simple public exposure and shaming, or alternatively or in addition, longer term methods of debasement and lowering the status of an offender in and to the community by subjecting him or her to public shaming; it is the equivalent of walking around with a scarlet letter or, in contemporary terms, a judge requiring any vehicle driven by a convicted drunk driver to bear a label on its front and rear bumpers indicating that the driver has been convicted of drunk driving
  • The form of the trial does not begin with the assumption of innocence or the treatment of each offender in a different way according to the degree of offence – analogously to having different types of trials and different ranges of outcomes for those charged with genocide or mass murder, murder, manslaughter or culpable homicide, according to the seriousness of the crime; instead of a goal of making the punishment fit the crime, the premise of the system tries to make the process of justice itself fit the crime
  • The “labelling” is intended deliberately to lower the ostensibly inflated image the offender has of his or herself through advertising that neither the community nor the offender can avoid in contrast with a guilt system intended to grant self-respect to the accused whatever the accused has done
  • The system addresses the matter of community healing and views the offence committed as shattering the organic nature of the community more even than the specific offence committed against a particular individual
  • The system relies on denunciation rather than arrest, arraignment before a court and requiring a prosecutor, an official of the court, to convince a judge in the first instance that the matter is worthy of a trial
  • Denunciation always seems to reveal a much broader participation in an offense than that assumed by our guilt-based system of law that begins with the presumption of innocence (In Rwanda, the original cohort of the accused was 100,000; it eventually grew to over one million, 12.5% of the Rwandan population or about 50% of the adult male population, though many of those only committed property crimes and not murder.)
  • The focus emphasis is placed on reconciliation rather than punishment

My questions focus on several issues:

    1. Does the system accomplish what it claims?
    2. How much abuse is the system subject to compared to a guilt-based system based on the rule of law?
    3. What ultimate virtue or set of virtues does the system aim at instilling in the perpetrator and in those members of the community negatively affected by the actions of the offender?
    4. What vices are reinforced?
    5. What general principles are instantiated by the system?
    6. What general principles are negated by the system?

In general, after studying various reports and papers on the Rwanda gacaca courts – I did not myself make any direct study – I found the following general characteristics:

  • The system relied primarily on confession for the bulk of convictions, partly because the system operated on rewarding confessors with much lower sentences, but the number might have been even higher had not perpetrators been intimidated by threats from other genocidaires, particularly those who served at a higher level
  • Confessions and apologies that seemed effective were: sincere; acknowledged the fault and made no excuses; were followed by promises not only not to repeat the event, but to do all in his or her power to see it is never repeated; though the confessions and apologies may be sincere, many, if not most, victims interpret them to be insincere and self-serving, especially when the formula for getting a sentence significantly reduced is well known, and, in any case, the crime is perceived to be just unforgiveable
  • Many confessions did not come close to reaching the standards for recognizing apparent sincerity and deep remorse free of excuses, but were rewarded with significantly reduced sentences anyway, thereby evincing a cynical view of the process; where they were not rewarded, the perpetrators gave evidence of even more aggression, only held in check by fear of what would happen to them; there are claims that most perpetrators are simply sorry they did not complete the job
  • Where some efforts have been made to verify the testimony of the victims, though the accused may have been involved, the stories are often confused, shot through with events taken from elsewhere, but evince a very precise and strong characterization of the actual pain and suffering
  • Testimonies of those who give evidence and seem to suffer from logorrhea predominate; evidence of those who choose to forget are sidelined
  • Rape victims, as in many cases in western criminal trials, often feel they have been doubly victimized, but this feeling is exaggerated by the community nature of gacaca trials, the propensity to hand out significantly reduced sentences in cases of confession, and the strong emphasis on shaming which captures the rape victims in the backwash
  • Gross aggrandizement of those held to be guilty and the consequent number of victims, in part raised because the confessional mode always seemed to add additional co-agents
  • Magic rather than science as a ground for evidence, that is, reference to rituals, gestures, symbols and language reminiscent of paranormal influences are taken on the same basis as objective evidence
  • Performative rather than simple descriptive speech is privileged, that is, language that is committed to changing social reality and not simply depicting it
  • Instead of being ideologically neutral, or, at least, attempting to be objective, the process is infused with and reinforces an ideological perspective and emerges more as victor’s justice, especially when alleged crimes committed by the RPF are not generally put on trial
  • The three goals, 1) justice meted out to the offender; 2) restorative justice won by the community and for the victims; and 3) prevention of recurrence, appear to be irreconcilable
  • Instead of enhancing trust in the community, distrust is both ever present and repressed, and there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that the system enhanced fear and mistrust
  • In consequence of the previous observation and the emphasis on restorative versus criminal justice, restoration may in reality only be superficial, especially when sentences like community service are either not carried out in practice, are foreshortened or implemented only half-heartedly
  • Depending on the distribution of power in the community, it appears that, rather than the community as a whole being served, different parts of the community benefit, ironically, especially genocidaires, but in some other cases, either victims or the bystanders, those that stood by in silence and least of all, people who tried to help
  • Both security and justice suffer in contrast to apparent reconciliation; insecurity rises because of both general mistrust and the hard fact that perpetrators are eventually set free
  • Finally, instead of reconciliation being achieved, the five ostensible root causes are either reinforced, repressed or relieved:
  1. Fear in the Tutsis because they doubt the depth of the reconciliation; fear by the Hutus because they interpret what has taken place to have been only a case of victor’s justice, but not one they want to or can challenge as long as Paul Kagame holds power;
  2. If economic differences between Tutsis and Hutus were a factor in the genocide in a society with a very dense population and relatively little arable land, these pressures have been greatly relieved by the extraordinary economic advances of Rwanda and the enormous increase in urbanization, all a result of something other than the gacaca shame system, and all developments which undermine a shame culture;
  3. Education and new laws, not the gacaca system, has made hate speech, racism and even the distinction between Hutu and Tutsi illegal, though everyone continues to know who is a Tutsi or who is a Hutu, but they are often wrong now when they live in the anonymity of cities as opposed to living in the countryside intermixed on the same hill;
  4. The culture of obedience to state power and authority that Gerard Prunier stressed in his study of the genocide has been reinforced by Kagame’s system of government, and, if valid, reinforces fears that the conditions have been set for a reoccurrence of the genocide;
  5. What about the culture of impunity that Prunier also stressed? It depends on the person writing. If they favour a shame culture, impunity has been reduced because so many people were able to be handled by the gacaca system. But if you favour a system of law-based criminal justice, then impunity seems to have been reinforced. This suggests that ideology is more at work in the role of interpretation than any empirical evidence.

In sum, whatever position you hold, results seem very mixed with respect to: making the society whole again through the temporary use of stigmatization; the long term goal of forgiveness; the effort at true fairness but riddled through with all kinds of unfairness; the dependence on lowering the self-esteem of the perpetrator both in his/her own eyes and the eyes of the rest of the public; the belief that exposure of the shame and public humiliation are the way of escape from the vicious circle; the evidence that the shame is neither fundamentally resolved, since the perpetrators do not really seem to take responsibility either for the crime committed or for bringing about a cure. All of these factors suggest that the value of a shame culture and its hybrid connection with a justice system have been, at the very least, grossly exaggerated.

This suspicion is reinforced in the follow-up studies of the application of John Braithwaite’s theory in the justice system in Australia, mainly in the evidence that the application of the theory does not seem to have affected the rate of predatory crime when compared to other jurisdictions that do not rely on or use the model. In my review of the literature, shaming seems only to have a temporary and no long term effect, except to drive the feeling of negative self-worth even deeper. Further, the consequences never seem to be proportionate to the offence, either greatly exaggerated, especially when the offence in the scheme of things is relatively inconsequential, and greatly reduced in cases of very serious offences. Minor offences leave long-lingering badges of dishonour while accessories to murder are welcomed back into the community, especially when the offences committed have been committed by a wide section of the community as distinct from a single individual upon whom the spotlight of shame has been aimed.

Shame, which has as its goal the alteration in the self-identity of the individual, has the least effect on that target. Even when characterized as a sin, as I will try to demonstrate in the next blog, where the sinners have been apparently brought before the judgement of God, as in the story of Adam and Eve, they resort to disguise, to projection, to displacing blame and allowing the failure to disrespect themselves as embodied individuals. Propensity to do harm or sin merely emerges in more destructive pathways. The reality is that, whether it is a guilt system, a shame system or a hybrid one that tries to marry guilt to a predominantly shame system, the only good effect is when justice is blind and, thus, fair. The justice in a guilt system only comes about when it is perceived to be fair. And if a shame culture tries to ensure fairness, it increasingly leaves behind the requirements of ensuring shame, for publicity, not blindness, is at its core.

Wedded to the process of fairness must be raising the self-esteem of all stakeholders, whether perpetrators, victims or either passive or active bystanders. Guilt seems far more effective in achieving the latter than shame, while shame as a technique seems far more effective in bringing a community together. Any system of shame cannot be correlated with reducing the likelihood of re-offending. The explanation can be understood in terms of different religious traditions.

Tomorrow: Part V of V: Judaism as a Guilt Culture and Christianity as a Shame Culture

II: Samantha Power and Rwanda – Authority and Impotence

II: Samantha Power and Rwanda – Authority and Impotence


Howard Adelman

In Evan Osnos’ article on Samantha Power, David Rothkopf, the editor of Foreign Policy, who is a very prolific author and had just published National Insecurity (2014), was quoted on Samantha Power as follows: “Here is the person who wrote the best-reported, analyzed cri de coeur on genocide, in an Administration that has effectively said, in the face of humanitarian disasters, we’re going to do very little, whether it is the continuing catastrophe in the Democratic Republic of Congo or Syria or the brewing problem with Rohingya – Muslims persecuted in Burma.” Note Rothkopf’s careful depiction of Samantha’s famous 2002 book, not as the best, which is the way the quote is often recalled, but as the “best-reported” book. Further, Rothkopf does not even say it is the best-reported analysis of genocide, but it is the cri de coeur that has been analyzed and been widely reported. And the end of the quote is precious; it is a stiletto indictment of the Obama administration for both hypocrisy and passivity. (I will expand on this at the end and in later blogs.) The issue is not Samantha Power’s acuity and ability at dissection, but her ability to cry with utter outrage and get widespread coverage while not being dismissed simply as a bleeding heart.

The quote aptly captures the strength of the book. It is not a careful dissection of genocide or of particular genocides. It is not good scholarship. It is a moving account driven by a powerful moral impetus that captures and captivates the reader while, at the same time, providing a heartfelt rather than pugilistic advertisement for herself. I will not dissect and analyze her whole book. Instead I will focus on her one chapter on bystanders to the Rwanda genocide, a subject on which Astri Suhrke, a Norwegian colleague, and I undertook the first international analysis.

Yesterday, in dealing with Evan Osnos’ essay on Samantha Power in the recent New Yorker that focuses on the relationship between influence and power, I concentrated not so much on her influence on those in power but on the influences on Samantha – psychological, personal, political, experiential. I stressed the importance older men might have assumed in that development. Samantha certainly sought out such links. In one very minor example that I know from my son, Jeremy, who wrote a biography of Albert Hirschman (which, coincidentally, Samantha Power’s husband, Cass Sunstein, reviewed extremely favourably in the New York Review of Books), Samantha had sent Albert at the institute for Advanced Study in Princeton a signed copy of her 2002 book with a fairly fawning note that she had been personally very much influenced by and very appreciative of Albert’s 1970 book, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. In her intellectual development, she had always been torn between the pole requiring loyalty in service of an administration and adopting a role trying to influence an administration (that is, exercise a voice).

In Osnos’s article there is a discussion of the problem of the Obama administration not hearing her pleas over the three years of the Syrian crisis. Her answer was that, as long as she was heard, even if not listened to, as long as she could possibly influence policy, she would serve the administration. It was clear that she had paid no real attention to the issue of “exit” in Hirschman’s book even though, as a journalist, she had urged resignation for morally committed but frustrated individuals in an earlier crisis. She had praised the actions of a young foreign-service officer who had resigned from the National Security Council to protest the U.S. invasion of Cambodia in 1970. She lauded his moral sensibility and his choice of “exit” as the correct one. But when it came to her own choices, exit, loyalty and voice were not the three points of a triangle. Rather voice and loyalty were simply poles of a dichotomous tension. It seems clear that she herself had never seriously considered the option of an “exit”.

The issue raised above should not be confused with a sense of post-service loyalty following exit that restrains the exercise of voice. After one exits from a position of authority, civic duty requires a respectful period of silence. In an op-ed, Samantha’s husband, Cass Sunstein, praised George Bush for resisting all efforts to induce him to comment on Obama’s foreign policy. But Leon Panetta, Obama’s former CIA director and Secretary of Defense, in his book Worthy Fights, and Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense under both Bush and Obama, in his book, Duty, had no such compunction. Panetta revealed private debates that were expected to remain private, at least for the term of the president. Gates charged Obama with losing his way and that the White House was “so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests.”
In an interview promoting his book, Gates concluded that, with respect to Afghanistan, Obama “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.” As Cass Sunstein argued, “former Cabinet members owe a duty of loyalty to a sitting president, not least because they have been able to participate in internal discussions. In those discussions, officials generally deserve to be able to speak on the understanding that what they say will not appear in a book — certainly not while the president remains in office.” When you first exit from office, both voice and influence are temporarily trumped.

Confidentiality and loyalty do have limits. If a former official was exposed to genuine wrongdoing — for example, in the form of illegality, as opposed to policy disagreements — he or she may have a duty to speak out. Neither Panetta nor Gates point to any such wrongdoing. They did lack grace; gracelessness is indeed an insufficiently acknowledged vice. But Samantha is guilty of the opposite – not simply fawning loyalty at the sacrifice of principle, but becoming an apologist and spin doctor portraying disastrous policies as valiant efforts. (I will return to develop this theme in subsequent case study blogs.)

Hence, Samantha’s focus on loyalty and voice to the exclusion of exit. This is as an example of her simplistic and dichotomous thinking, the thinking of a moralist, even when dealing with Albert Hirschman who was anything but one. In 2002, Samantha and my path crossed over this issue, but focused specifically on Rwanda. I and my Norwegian colleague, Astri Suhrke, in 1995, with the help of a team of eighteen other researchers, had written an in depth study for an international consortium of 19 states, including the USA, and 18 international agencies, on the role of bystanders in the Rwanda genocide. Samantha’s book had not yet been published when we met, but she had written an article in The Atlantic in 2001 that presented an early version of her book chapter on Rwanda

From that article, it was clear she had not relied on French, Belgian or the other scholars who wrote companion volumes to ours on the actual conduct of the genocide, but had relied on Philip Gourevitch’s bracing, very moving and well-written, though also not always accurate, account in The New Yorker. (See his subsequent book, We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families.) Samantha was writing, not so much about the course of the genocide itself, but the role of bystanders, the very topic we had studied and recorded in such detail.

Her focus was the United States, not the role of other states – France, Belgium, Canada, or international agencies, primarily the UN. She asked: “Why did the United States not do more for the Rwandans at the time of the killings? Did the President really not know about the genocide, as his marginalia suggested? Who were the people in his Administration who made the life-and-death decisions that dictated U.S. policy? Why did they decide (or decide not to decide) as they did? Were any voices inside or outside the U.S. government demanding that the United States do more? If so, why weren’t they heeded? And most crucial, what could the United States have done to save lives?” In fact, most of the questions she raised remained unanswered in her chapter on Rwanda. Her general interpretation alleged that the inaction was primarily due to a lack of focus on the ground in Rwanda and a failure to communicate what was happening to the highest level. When she joined the Obama administration, this interpretation – or misinterpretation – became the foundation of how she personally carried out her role upon moving next door to the pinnacle of power.

She began by an initial falsehood. “So far people have explained the U.S. failure to respond to the Rwandan genocide by claiming that the United States didn’t know what was happening, that it knew but didn’t care, or that regardless of what it knew there was nothing useful to be done.” But our study had offered none of these answers. In our initial account, we had explained that the Mogadishu syndrome, as we had dubbed it, the American experience in Somalia in 1993, made so vivid by the film, Blackhawk Down, had traumatized the US with respect to intervening in Africa. Later, based on further research, but much before Samantha Power undertook her research between 1998 and 2001, we had revised our original thesis to argue that the October 1993 Somalia incident was not the instigator for turning a blind eye to intervention, but the nail in the coffin of intervention that had already been set in place as a result of the Clinton administration’s struggle with Newt Gingrich’s Congress over funding. Bill Clinton had already determined to limit his exposure to criticism from the Republicans about wasteful expenditures in overseas ventures. The Administration determined not to become involved in funding peacekeeping ventures, let alone deploying any peacekeepers.

Admittedly, Samantha had the advantage of just having accessed previously classified US documents that we had not seen, but, as we had said in our report, American administration personnel had been extremely open with us, including a key person in the CIA, a State Department analyst who shared with us a report he had prepared on the run-up to the genocide, and the American ambassador in Rwanda. We had also exchanged with our colleague, Michael Barnett at the University of Wisconsin, his knowledge and inside information as a member of the United States UN delegation; he had been responsible for the Rwanda file when he was on a one year leave from the department. His book, Eyewitness to a genocide: The United Nations and Rwanda discussing the United States and the UN roles, appeared the same year as Samantha Power’s book, to general academic acclaim, but none of the wide publicity that Samantha’s much more anecdotal account had received. He had already published an article that she could have accessed while she was undertaking research for her book.

Samantha drew the same conclusion that we had much earlier and Michael had drawn contemporaneously with her book. The U.S. government “knew enough about the genocide early on to save lives, but passed up countless opportunities to do so.” What she had presented as an original finding was the consensus of earlier studies, not an amazing and original insight. Samantha also echoed our earlier conclusion that the U.S. not only failed to send troops, but “led” in the effort to remove most of the UN peacekeepers, an account we corrected in subsequent studies well before her interpretation had been published. She made this claim in spite of the evidence already published by representatives on the UN Security Council and the fact that, although the United States was a leading voice, and Michael Barnett had joined the chorus of non-interventionists, the majority of the Security Council were of the same mind. This interpretation was also the one made by both the Nigerian and the New Zealand delegates on the Security Council who had opposed the draw-down of peacekeepers.

The issue was not an error in interpretation, but that the error was made in spite of other prior scholarship that undercut that analysis, positions which the writer failed to acknowledge and challenge. The problem was not that she wrote a journalist account, but that she wrote one claiming original scholarship without evidently reading the other scholarship available. Further, the important focus was to tell a moral tale of virtually exclusive American perfidious behaviour.

Samantha was correct that the U.S. aggressively undermined the effort to send reinforcements once the genocide became widely known three weeks after it started. For example, as we had documented, the U.S. had agreed to supply armoured personnel carriers once the UN reversed its draw-down policy, but the U.S. military ended up in a dispute with the UN that lasted five weeks over who should pay the costs of painting the vehicles in the white and blue of the UN. It is also true, as we documented, that the U.S. had assiduously refused to use the term “genocide”, however, not because use of the term would obligate the United States to become involved in the genocide as Samantha claimed in a very prevalent misunderstanding about international law, but becaause the use of the term might encourage public pressure, which was unwelcome, to get the administration to act. But, in general, Samantha was correct: “staying out of Rwanda was an explicit U.S. policy objective.”

Samantha, however, made other mistakes. She claimed that during the “first three days of the killings [6-9 April 1994] U.S. diplomats in Rwanda reported back to Washington that well-armed extremists were intent on eliminating the Tutsi.” There are two things wrong with this assertion. First, months before, primarily through Canada’s General Roméo Dallaire’s January cable to the UN, U.S. diplomats had been informed of these extremist intentions. In fact, even before Dallaire wrote his infamous cable, a lowly policy analyst in the U.S. State Department had written virtually the same thing in his report. On the other hand, in spite of pleas from the political officer in the Swiss delegation in Rwanda and from the Papal Nuncio in Kigali, the American ambassador in Rwanda, David Rawson (who happened to be one of the rare diplomats in Rwanda who spoke Kinyarwanda because he had been the son of a missionary in Rwanda and Burundi and had also written a PhD thesis on Burundi), had been very complacent about the events building up to the genocide and had been blindsided and struck silent by the events as they unfolded when the genocide broke out on 6 April 1994. Further, in the first days, senior American officials simply viewed what was taking place as a coup. President Clinton on 6 April 2014 said that he was “shocked and deeply saddened … horrified that elements of the Rwandan security forces have sought out and murdered Rwandan officials.”

In the first few days after the outbreak, all diplomats in Kigali, not just the Americans, were primarily concerned with getting their diplomatic corps and their families, as well as the ex-patriates out of the country. With rare exceptions, they were not focused on the atrocities taking place but on exit. The diplomats in Rwanda were far too busy dealing with the exodus to undertake a political analysis of what was taking place in Rwanda. As President Clinton himself said on 8 April 1994, “I just want to assure the families of those who are there that we are doing everything we possibly can to be on top of the situation to take all the appropriate steps to try to assure the safety of our citizens there.”

As far as the American press is concerned, the first report of the atrocities taking place in Rwanda in North America – earlier accounts appeared in the Belgian and French press – was three weeks after the genocide started. It was an op-ed in The Globe and Mail by Alison des Forges who later that year published the classic Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda under the auspices of Human Rights Watch. Samantha does not cite any of the press reports in the first three days that she claims, “spoke of the door-to-door hunting of unarmed civilians”, though, of course, there had been reports of the hunting down of the moderates in the government by the extremist military and Hutu militias. But that could be a military coup, not genocide. Samantha is correct that, by the end of the second week, Alison, and others, badgered the U.S, government insisting that a genocide was underway in Rwanda.
If Samantha had read Michael Barnett’s critical analysis of his own work at the UN, it is clear that he, and many others, did allow genocide to happen, but they did not do so passively; they actively urged that the U.S.A. not become involved. So why did Samantha come to conclude, in line with her future husband’s views but before she ever knew him, that “without strong leadership the system will incline toward risk-averse policy choices”. Our study had concluded that the American leadership was actively promoting risk-averse policy choices as were many others lower down in the hierarchy. Barnett’s impressive study was an analysis of why this was the case.

Samantha also wrote that, “We also see that with the possibility of deploying U.S. troops to Rwanda taken off the table early on—and with crises elsewhere in the world unfolding—the slaughter never received the top-level attention it deserved.” The fact is that deploying American troops to Rwanda was not even a consideration. The subject was never on the table. This was a UN peacekeeping force. Americans did not provide UN peacekeepers. They just helped pay the costs. And America was no longer willing to pay those costs. That had been the established policy a year before the Rwanda genocide broke out.

The United States was not inattentive because the deployment of American troops was an undesirable consideration. That possibility was never considered. The American government was deliberately inattentive. As one CIA policy analyst told the UN when American surveillance photos of Rwanda were requested, “We do not have any. Why should we waste our money taking aerial pictures of Rwanda? It is not a security interest of ours.” Americans were not, as Samantha claimed, asserting that they were doing all they could or should. The issue was not the choice among possibilities, as the title of Osnos’ article suggests, but choices among very different objectives which issued from moral norms. American officials were insisting that they were doing all they were willing to do, a very different proposition than all they could or should do, for it was not a proposition based on moral imperatives but on realpolitik.

A reporter had asked Samantha after she had been instrumental in creating the new Atrocities Prevention Board (APB) in the White House, how the Board’s work became operational in crises like Syria or the Central African Republic. Samantha, then Ambassador to the UN, answered that the board was “a symptom of his [Obama’s] larger commitment” to discover new tools to bring to bear on these crises. As tools she mentioned sanctions on people using new technologies to commit atrocities, the Rewards for Justice for tipsters to help arrest Joseph Kony or focusing on the Central African Republic “that history shows would not necessarily rise within a bureaucracy on their own”. Of course. Joseph Kony has not been arrested. The sanctions on users of technologies preceded the creation of the APB. Finally, the precise problem was that the Board was just symbolic. There was so little evidence that anything had been delivered on the ground, but more on this in later blogs.

Contrast the APB with a program funded mostly by the American government – FEWER, the Forum on Early Warning and Early Response under the auspices of IGAD in East Africa. I have been unable to find out whether she knows about this early warning system and the parallel early warning system in West Africa, CEWARN. The latter led to the arrest of Charles Taylor and prevented the resumption of a civil war in Liberia. FEWER led to preventing low level outbreaks of atrocities in the criminally-organized tribal rustling of cattle, but has thus far been ineffective either in inter-state or large-scale inter-ethnic conflicts within states such as in Kenya and, more recently, in South Sudan. There have been concrete operational successes by American-funded programs that she could have cited, but they both preceded and had nothing to do with the high profile symbolic APB and its enormous focus on bureaucracy rather than detailed work on the ground.

When she almost boasts about the administration uncovering the Christian-Muslim violence unfolding in CAR, I want to scream. Much to our surprise, this was the first revelation of our first early warning trial run in Nigeria in the late nineties. Tom Axworthy told us that he could not renew our funding because the results did not present any findings that were “actionable” by the Canadian government. When Samantha boasts that, “We’re trying to get an African Union force in there [CAR] as quickly as possible and to sound the alarm in venues like this one,” I want to guffaw, for the African Union, with American financial support, has been active in early warning and intervention for over a decade. As much as I am a supporter of Barack Obama, there is little evidence, unfortunately, that his administration has done anything significantly different or on a larger scale in this arena. I would have loved to be proven wrong in probing Samantha’s accomplishments, but the evidence is not there and she has done little to supply it.

The fact is, Samantha is just dead wrong. Rwanda did not fall through the cracks in the bureaucracy during the Clinton administration as she contends. It is an example of sloppy research and analyses leading to misplaced policies. The focus on organization, messaging and constituencies of this administration may be very useful for spin, but it does almost nothing to help the people on the ground and ameliorate the humanitarian disaster in Syria and Iraq, CAR or South Sudan. What is the good of hearing the complaints of the NGOs if there is nothing that comes out the other side? Further, the problem in Rwanda was not that Alison des Forges lacked access, but that there were other agendas; the ears of government were deliberately closed.

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 V Genocide Denial – D: Statistical Analysis

Part V Genocide Denial – D: Statistical Analysis


Howard Adelman


The BBC video is available at


The most important effort of Allan Stam and Christian Davenport (S&D) was not spent on conceptualization or on history, but on their statistical analysis. In that effort, the most significant part was not the aggregation of numbers to establish that just over one million people were killed in Rwanda – a figure I for one accept and which is not very controversial – but the disaggregation of that total to make the following claims:

  1. Far more Hutu than Tutsi were killed;
  2. The number of Tutsi killed was 200,000;
  3. Only half that number were killed with the intent of extermination.

This revisionist thesis of the proportion of Hutu and Tutsi killed has to be suspect. It would mean that the three mass graves that we investigated of over seventy identified at the time with thousands buried (see the 1995 Lansat map below – less than 5% of the sites of mass graves) held 33% of the Tutsi victims, a preposterous assumption. The absurdity can be put another way. Those three graves held two-thirds of the S&D proposed 100,000 Tutsi murdered for genocidal reasons. And we only examined areas that had recently been excavated to assess accuracy of counting, not totals; more were uncovered later. We had no doubts that virtually all those killed in those three sites had been Tutsi who had been forced together in churches and schools and systematically slaughtered over a period of days.

This is a 1995 Landsat TM mosaic for the country of Rwanda after the genocide.

The national border in the Lansat map is shown in white. Genocide sites of mass graves (“lieus publics“) are shown in blue. Memorials (“lieux de culte“) are shown in red. Resistance sites (“collines de résistance“) are depicted in green.

The Rwandan government’s documentation centre tried to identify as many of the victims as possible using photos, audio-visual interviews, and other official records based on methods pioneered in the Israeli memorial in Jerusalem at Yad Vashem. We never examined the vast majority of sites. In the BBC documentary, Murambi is identified as a site where 15,000 Tutsi were killed. The official numbers are actually 45,000 killed there and 20,000 killed trying to escape. Nor did we examine sites at Nymata, Ntarama, Bisesero, Nyanza and Nyarabuye. We did not go through the Aegis Trust interviews, but only read early summaries of a small number of individual interviews. Further, 85% of graves were classified as mass graves if they only held 20 people, while we focused on the 15% of the 466 sites where corpses were calculated in the hundreds and thousands.

Our excuse in not being as thorough as we would have liked is because that was not the focus of our study. Yet we seem to have paid attention to sources that S&D did not, though they claim in their study that they had access to a wide variety of documentation in Rwanda. Further, they had access to much more sophisticated sources that were developed subsequently to our study. The surprise is that they did not use these to attempt to falsify their own presumptions.

In their methodology employing event cataloguing, in which they coded the events during the 100 days of massacres using indicators such as time, place, perpetrators, victims, the weapons used and the particular form of military action, and correlated them to discover a pattern, they claimed to uncover an original interpretation – that the violence did not take place all at once but took place in a sequence, though they did not initially make any claims about the pattern of that sequence. The truth is that every single scholar who studied the genocide has said that the killing did not take place all at once. Alison Des Forges in the first large scale study documented that sequence and explained it in part mostly because of the politics of place. For example, the prefecture in certain places like Butare refused to go along with the genocidal campaign of the new military government run by extremists. The prefect was eventually dismissed from his post and the genocide subsequently went forth in that area.

The two academics argued (not in the BBC program but in their scholarship) that the vast majority of the population had been on the move in 1993 and 1994. It is true that, as we and many other had documented, large numbers of Hutu in territories conquered by the RPF fled the advancing military force, believing the extremist Hutu propaganda that they would be slaughtered. Others were on the move because they were forced by the killing machine of the militias into schools and churches to be slaughtered. The number S&D offer is 450,000 to 750,000. This too was not a new revelation, only the twist S&D gave it that there was at least as many Hutu and Tutsi in these mass graves. S&D created maps that showed that, while killing took place in different parts of the country, it did so at different rates and magnitudes. Again, this was not a new discovery, though using dynamic and layered mapping to show it was helpful. But as I have shown, more static maps without the temporal dimension had previously been created.

The conclusion that most of the over a million killed in the genocide were Hutu is contentious at the very least. The calculation is not based on any dissection of those killed to determine who was a Hutu, who was a Tutsi and who was of mixed background, or who was Twa for that matter. It was primarily based on the argument that the number of Tutsi in Rwanda at the beginning of the war was only 500,000. S&D use a figure of over 300,000 Tutsi who survived the war. (Gérard Prunier claimed the figure to have been 130,000, though others claimed 150,000), Therefore, according to S&D, only 200,000 were killed. The other over 800,000 had to have been Hutu.

According to S&D, the number of Tutsi in the country prior to the war was only 500,000. Tutsi made up only 6.5% of the population, whereas demographer William Seltzer using the same faulty 1991 census data, arrived at a figure of 657,000 or 8.4% of the population, again versus a large number of scholars critical of the 1991 census who focus on the “hidden” or self-disguised Tutsi, and estimated that Tutsi constituted 12-14% of the population. The total pre-genocide population in 1990 was said to be over 7.12 million in 1990 and by 1994 before the genocide was said to have reached 7.6-8 million. Critics assert that the number of Tutsi was underreported in that census and in the prior census of 1978 because the Habyarimana government wanted to minimize the importance of Tutsi in the population.

Whether or not census data were purposely altered to reduce the number of Tutsi, the figures underestimated the Tutsi population because an undetermined number of Tutsi arranged to register as Hutu in order to avoid discrimination and harassment. Although many Rwandans know of such cases, there is at present no basis for estimating how many Tutsi were counted as Hutu because of this. Nevertheless, the 1991 data show Tutsi as forming 8.4 percent of the total population, not 6.4%. This figure seems to accord with extrapolations from the generally accepted census data of 1952, taking into account the population loss due to death and flight during the 1960s and the birth rate, which was lower for Tutsi than for  .

If the 14% figure is used out of a total of 7.8 million, then the pre-genocide Tutsi population was almost 1,100,000. If the 12% figure is used out of a total of 7.8 million, then the pre-genocide Tutsi population was 936,000. If the 8.4% of the 7.8 million population is used, then the pre-genocide population was over 650,000. If the number of Tutsi survivors is 150,000, then the number of Tutsi killed would be 950,000 based on the pre-genocide figure of 14%, 786,000 based on the pre-genocide figure of 12%, and 500,000 based on the pre-genocide figure of 6.4%. This excludes those of mixed parentage who constituted a significant part of the Rwandan population who were also targeted by the genocidaires. S&D offer an even lower percentage of the population of Tutsi in Rwanda before the genocide and a much higher number of survivors. They justify the latter by misrepresenting their source, which used the figure of 300,000 to refer to both Hutu moderates who survived and Tutsi. Combining the misrepresentations of both the original Tutsi population (diminished) and the number of Tutsi survivors (enhanced), leads to their conclusion that only 200,000 Tutsi died. Of these they guess – not estimate – that Hutu were targeted as Tutsi and that, of the 200,000 Tutsi, only half were targeted.

S&D, in spite of their insistence on being evidence-based and their stress on quantitative analysis based on data, ignored most of the caveats and guidelines in the William Seltzer and Margo Anderson 2001 classic paper, “The Dark Side of Numbers: The Role of Population Data Systems in Human Rights Abuses”. More specifically, the use of the 1991 census is usually accompanied by a disqualifier about its unreliability vis-à-vis the distribution of the population between Hutu and Tutsi.

One fundamental error is that S&D use as their base line the 1991 Rwanda census. Even though many demographers use the 1991 census, the vast majority, including William Seltzer, consider the 1991 census as unreliable, especially with respect to the number of Tutsi. The government of Habyarimana had a vested interest in minimizing the count of the numbers of Tutsis in the country to offset the accusations against him by the extremists that he was soft on the fifth column within the country. The Tutsi themselves had a vested interest in disguising their identity since anti-Tutsi extremism was already mushrooming in Rwanda in 1991 following the RPF invasion. As Alison Des Forges wrote, “Whether or not census data were purposely altered to reduce the number of Tutsi, the figures underestimated the Tutsi population because an undetermined number of Tutsi arranged to register as Hutu in order to avoid discrimination and harassment.”

In contrast, S&D claim that they used other sources to confirm the accuracy of the 1991 base line as their foundation. “(W)e took information from before the questionable census of 1991 and projected forward diverse population growth rates (which is standard practice in demography) and found figures that were comparable to what was discussed in 1991 therefore allowing us to use it in our estimations.” They then compounded their error about the ethnic disaggregation of the pre-genocide data with misrepresenting their sources as referring to Tutsi survivors, whereas the definition included Hutu political survivors. To be charitable and unwilling to claim bad faith, the two were so busy counting trees that they missed seeing the forest, an inversion of a more typical error.

Further, did the RPF kill up to a 150,000 Hutu within Rwanda? Or did the RPF’s aggressive pincer- like military advance propel the FAR into killing as many Tutsi as possible before they were forced to withdraw. And, as S&D so correctly point out, the RPF had a singular focus on winning the war, not on saving Rwandan Tutsi. As so many scholars have concluded, the genocidaires made their priority killing Tutsi, not winning the war.

However, the two American scholars had a different message; they concluded that a significant proportion of the killings took place in RPF controlled territory, a much more expansive thesis than simply arguing that pogroms against the Tutsi were provoked by the RPF, initially by their invasion in 1990 and then by the flight, forced displacement or ethnic cleansing – depending on how you interpret the Hutu population movement in the territory it captured. Kuperman’s conclusions may at first appear to be similar to S&D’s since S&D imitate and expand upon his methods. However, S&D state that, “The killings in the zone controlled by the FAR seemed to escalate as the RPF moved into the country and acquired more territory. When the RPF advanced, large-scale killings escalated. When the RPF stopped, large-scale killings largely decreased.” However, in Kuperman’s book and articles, he noted that some of the initial massacres took place in southwest Rwanda furthest from the RPF front line. Yet S&D claim that the data revealed in their maps was consistent with FAR claims that it would have stopped much of the killing if the RPF had simply called a halt to its invasion. The illogic of such a conclusion is astounding!

The data indicates no such thing. It is an inference. Many others could be made using the same data. If I drink four glasses of gin on ice one day and get drunk, then drink four glasses of rum on ice the second day and get drunk, then four glasses of scotch on the rocks on the third day and get drunk, then four glasses of rye whiskey on ice on the fourth day and get drunk, can I conclude that the it was the ice that made me drunk? Further, even if one assumes that the RPF advances instigated an increase in the pace and amount of killing, this does not mean that the RPF was responsible for the increased numbers killed. The correlation could have been the result of FAR trying to finish its work before fleeing.

S&D had a second string in their quiver echoed in the BBC documentary. Their thesis was a counter to the regime’s contention that the civil war was continued to stop the genocide. However, every decent scholar that I have read knows and writes that the RPF was single-mindedly focused on defeating the FAR and the Interahamwe militias. Stopping the genocide was a by-product of that success. The faster defeat came, the quicker the slaughters would stop. The strategy of using a pincer movement against a stronger, more numerous and better equipped military foe would almost certainly have imploded if the RPF diverted their energies to countering the genocide directly. The RPF had a much stronger explanation for not dispersing their troops to stop the genocide, quite aside from Kagame’s willingness to sacrifice Tutsi lives for his goals. The Kagame regime may now say that the invasion was intended to stop the genocide, but that was one of the overall goals and not the intent of specific operations. The RPF victory did bring an end to the genocide even if that was neither a prime original intention nor a continuing immediate objective.

Though S&D – and many other scholars – hold Paul Kagame to be guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, they do not deny that a genocide took place. They do not deny the enormity of the genocide targeting Tutsi. Unfortunately, accusations against Kagame and genocide denial often go together and the two charges are often compressed into a single claim. S&D do not argue that the genocide did not take place, merely that it was only part of the story. “We have never denied that a genocide took place; we just noted that genocide was only one among several forms of violence that occurred at the time.”

It certainly was. But in their own calculations, mass graves consisted of 400,000 to 750,000 corpses, with most scholars leaning towards the upper end. To get around this problem, S&D claim that half the bodies in these mass graves were Hutu, but they provide no evidence for their claim except that this would have to follow from their other false premises instead of falsifying the conclusions based on those false premises. However, such a claim is so inconsistent with direct observations and testimony of survivors that it is a wonder that they can hold their heads up and make such a claim.

Thus, though they claim that their data is “only as precise as their background data,” their inattention to that background data is grossly negligent. Then they admit that, “Sometimes relative accuracy…is better than absolute accuracy.” Their final estimate of the Tutsi population in Rwanda in 1990 is based on an educated guess, not a reasonable calculus, and the estimated percentage of that population killed is an outright guess.

Further, if their estimate of the total number killed is over 1,000,000, and if the totals of the disaggregated ranges range from 625,000 to 1,350,000, it would be extremely difficult to arrive at a figure of 100,000 Tutsi killed. The calculation would be as follows:

S&D                             HA

Range                          Mid-point     Hutu   Tutsi

Those individually named                               25,000 – 100,000          62,500     50,000 12,500

Those killed at roadblocks                               25,000 – 100,000          62,500     31,250  31,250

Mass killings                                                     400,000 – 750,000         575,000    57,500 517,500

Local violence                                                    25,000 – 100,000          62,500       31,250  31,250

RPF violence (an admitted total guess)       100,000 – 150,000       125,000    125,000        0

Totals                                                               575,000 – 1,200,000       887,500     245,000 580,000

The large spread in the ranges already make the figures very suspect. Guessing those killed by the RPF with no foundation is a statistical prohibition. The first estimate of numbers slain by the RPF was made by Gersony in his supposedly suppressed 1994 report. He concluded that the RPF killed between 25,000 and 45,000, not 100,000 to 150,000. Seth Sendashonga, former minister of the interior and an early member of the RPF, estimated that the RPF in Rwanda killed some 60,000 people between April 1994 and August 1995, with more than half killed in the first four months of that period. He never suggested that many were killed under the earlier occupation. Further, these much lower estimates could include persons killed in the course of combat, both civilians and militia.

The total figures cannot be reconciled. Analyzing any suggests a different distribution. Named lists consisted mostly of moderate Hutu rather than Tutsi. On the other hand, S&D’s suggestion that, since the killers in the Interahamwe largely could not read the ID slips of paper, since it was often dark at roadblocks, therefore the proportion of those killed at those roadblocks should be taken roughly as the Tutsi and Hutu proportion of the population or, at most, equal numbers of each. This is pathetic reasoning. However, for the sake of argument, use the equal figure. On the other hand, the vast majority of those murdered en masse were Tutsi – I presume above 90%. Assume equal numbers were killed in local violence, again an assumption that veers strongly in favour of enhancing Hutu totals. There is no way one can arrive at a figure that a majority of those killed were Hutu. The calculations are totally misleading. Even in S&D’s best case, almost two-thirds had to have been Tutsi. And if the grand total is upped to one million, at least 630,000 Tutsi were killed in the genocide.

However, this is a mugs game that ends up mostly with guesses, perhaps some educated ones, when counting bodies in mass graves is probably the best indicator of the number of Tutsi killed since evidence indicated the vast majority of these were Tutsi. And that yields an even higher total than 630,000.

How do S&D reduce their total to 100,000 Tutsi killed through a deliberate genocide? They argue that those killed were a mixed category of all other types of random killing, revenge killing, mistaken killing, etc., but do not disclose anywhere that I could find the basis for such reasoning. Further, the counts of the mass graves, a source they seem to totally dilute with the use of those other methods, belie such a conclusion. They never seem to question the reliability of witness testimony, the results from interviews and focus groups, which they used as an important method in their calculations. How many Germans after WWII admitted to participating directly or indirectly in the slaughter of the Jews? Or even admitted they knew of the death camps? More importantly, look at how many said that most of those killed were results of war and violence and not deliberate efforts at extermination. If the “evaluation of killing designated by territorial control” concludes that the vast majority of those killed resided in FAR controlled territory and not in either the battle zone or the RPF-controlled areas, then the real issue is disaggregating that figure. The authors have no methodology that can do that with any degree of rigour.

If “we cannot be clear on how much of the violence (i.e., what proportion of all acts considered were legally classified as genocide), and that is because making such a judgment requires extremely detailed information about the victims, the perpetrators and their motives, motives, naturally being the hardest to document as they reside within an individual’s mind,” then presumably that should make us very cautious about reaching a number like 100,000, especially when the authors have used the very narrowest definition of genocide, one that excludes actions by non-state actors, such as so-called voluntary militias under the control of extremists, and especially when the authors ignore most other sources of information about the perpetrators and their motives.

Their reasoning is just fallacious, quite aside for the myriad of unsupported assertions. Most scholars refuse to accept the questionable 1991 census as a base line. The large team we worked with uniformly rejected such a presumption. Further, S&D conflate the criticism of the 1991 census data with the argument that this data was needed to enumerate and/or identify targeted Tutsi victims. As they say elsewhere in their work, the identification of the Tutsi targeted for killing was carried out by locals based on intimate local knowledge of who was a Tutsi and who was a Hutu. This had nothing to do with the issue of large numbers of refugees on the move. Those refugees were overwhelmingly Hutu fleeing areas conquered by the RPF.

Deliberate misrepresentation of ethnicity complicates assessing how many of the victims were actually Tutsi. At a reburial ceremony for a family slain during the genocide, the only two survivors, both priests, talked separately to S&D’s researchers. One maintained that his family was Tutsi, but claimed to be Hutu looked like Tutsi, while the other declared that the family was really Hutu, but was said to be Tutsi by neighbors who coveted their wealth. All this can be admitted without the need to deform the overall proportions so as to minimize the number of Tutsi in the population prior to the genocide and maximize the number of survivors.

Does this gross misuse of statistics and numbers constitute genocide denial?





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.