A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and it is invariably people with very little knowledge who regard Human Rights Watch as a credible voice on the Great Lakes Region. The well informed know that the Manhattan-based advocacy group is hopelessly compromised by deep-seated bias and that its doctrinal hatred of Rwanda’s post-genocide government is matched only by its loathing of Israel.
The distinguished former US diplomat, Richard Johnson, this year published an exposé on the subject of HRW’s swivel-eyed lunacy on Rwanda that was as detailed as it was devastating (The Travesty of Human Rights Watch on Rwanda). Mr Johnson has made his critique available for free online displaying the kind of transparency HRW is notorious for avoiding.
Johnson explains that HRW’s anti-Rwanda stance stems from a clear ideological position, even if it assiduously refuses to own up to it. He makes clear the linkage between HRW and a disgruntled faction of the Rwandan diaspora that he describes as:
“…Rwandan Hutu who continue to draw a permanent fault line between purported Hutu and Tutsi communities, to hold that this alleged fault line must define Rwandan politics, and to hope to return to power, have done none of the soul searching done by post-Holocaust Germans.”
HRW’s discourse has been an important part of their life-support system, particularly over the past twelve years. This discourse — what is said and left unsaid, what is highlighted and what is downplayed, what is averred and what is implied — can best be understood as four commands addressed to the post-genocide Rwandan government:
- Let the genocidal parties back in.
- Do not outlaw their ideology.
- Don’t hold more than a few perpetrators accountable, and forget about their foreign accomplices.
- Admit that you are no better than they.
This passage absolutely nails it.
For reasons that ought to be self-evident, Rwandans opted in the aftermath of the genocide to embrace a shared national identity (as Rwandans) at the expense of ethnicity (Hutu, Tutsi or Twa), and this is enforced by laws that ban the formation of political parties on the basis of tribe (as well as religion or regional interests), and outlaws the promotion of ethnic divisions in the public square. Human Rights Watch — along with a small cabal of self-appointed Africa ‘experts’ who make careers out of attacking Rwanda without ever setting foot here — vehemently rejects this choice. In their limited imagination, HRW insists that the effect of de-emphasising ethnicity is to shut the majority group (i.e., Hutu) out of power. They have swallowed hook, line and sinker the fallacious argument promulgated by a small but vocal group of self-exiled malcontents that Rwanda is, and shall always be, a society defined by tribal allegiance and only anexplicitly Hutu majority government has any claim to legitimacy. Ipso facto, any other form of government cannot be legitimate and must only exist through authoritarian means. (As to whether their preferred approach to governing Rwanda would risk another genocide against Tutsis, Human Rights Watch is silent).
When people wonder how HRW’s view of Rwanda is so at odds with how Rwanda actually is, this explains it. The Human Rights Watch theory of Rwanda demands that the Government is portrayed in the most negative possible light. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence of progress in the form of national reconciliation along with significant social and economic advancement in Rwanda, it has become an ideological necessity for Human Rights Watch and fellow travellers to demonize the government in Kigali, come what may.