Open letter to the BBC over Genocide Denial


Mr. Tony Hall, Director-General of the BBC, Broadcasting House, Portland Place,
London. W1A 1AA

October 12, 2014.

Dear Sir,

We the undersigned, scholars, scientists, researchers, journalists and historians are writing to you today to express our grave concern at the content of the documentary Rwanda’s Untold Story (This World, BBC 2 Wednesday October 1), specifically its coverage of the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi.

We accept and support that it is legitimate to investigate, with due diligence and respect for factual evidence, any crimes committed by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), and to reflect on the contemporary political situation in Rwanda. However, attempts to examine these issues should not distort the reality of the 1994 genocide. It is not legitimate to use current events to either negate or to diminish the genocide. Nor is it legitimate to promote genocide denial.

The parts of the film which concern the 1994 genocide, far from providing viewers with an ‘Untold Story’ as the title promises, are old claims. For years similar material using similar language has been distributed far and wide as part of an on-going ‘Hutu Power’ campaign of genocide denial. At the heart of this campaign are convicted génocidaires, some of their defence lawyers from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), and their supporters and collaborators. These deniers continually question the status of the genocide and try to prove – like the programme – that what it calls the ‘official narrative’ of the 1994 genocide is wrong. The BBC programme Rwanda’s Untold Story recycles their arguments and provides them with another platform to create doubt and confusion about what really happened.

Three of the untenable claims made in the programme are of the utmost concern: the first is a lie about the true nature of the Hutu Power militia. The second is an attempt to minimize the number of Tutsi murdered in the genocide, and the third is an effort to place the blame for shooting down President Habyarimana’s plane on April 6, 1994 on the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).

First, the programme allows a witness to claim that ‘only ten percent of the Interahamwe (militia) were killers’. In fact, the majority of Hutu Power militia forces – estimated to have been 30,000 strong – were trained specifically to kill Tutsi at speed, and indoctrinated in a racist ideology, part of genocide planning. There is eyewitness testimony by several militia leaders who cooperated with the ICTR.

Second, the programme attempts to minimise the number of Tutsi murdered, a typical tactic of genocide deniers. The false figures cited are provided by two US academics who worked for a team of lawyers defending the génocidaires at the ICTR. They even claim that in 1994 more Hutu than Tutsi were murdered – an absurd suggestion and contrary to all the widely available research reported by Amnesty International, UNICEF, the UN Human Rights Commission, Oxfam, Human Rights Watch, Africa Rights, a UN Security Council mandated Commission of Experts and evidence submitted to the ICTR and other European courts who have successfully put on trial several perpetrators.

Third, the film argues that the shooting down of the plane on April 6, 1994 was perpetrated by the RPF. This same story was promoted by Hutu Power extremists within a few hours of the president’s assassination and promoted ever since by génocidaires and a few ICTR defence lawyers.

The film pays no heed to a detailed expert report published in January 2012 by a French magistrate Judge Marc Trévidic. This contains evidence from French experts, including crash investigators, who proved scientifically that the missiles that shot down the plane came from the confines of the government-run barracks in Kanombe on the airport’s perimeter – one of the most fortified places in the country, and where it would have been impossible for the RPF, armed with a missile, to penetrate.

Within hours of the president’s assassination, in this carefully planned genocide, roadblocks went up all over Kigali and the Presidential Guard started to target every member of Rwanda’s political opposition. These momentous events are barely mentioned.

The members of the Hutu and Tutsi pro-democracy movements were hunted down and killed, including Rwanda’s Prime Minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, and ten UN peacekeepers from Belgium who were protecting her. These opposition politicians separately threatened the Habyarimana regime for advocating power-sharing and paid for their courage with their lives. Ignored in this film are the Hutu Power attempts to divide the internal political opposition along ethnic lines.

Political violence in the film is seen only in the context of a ‘civil war’ between the RPF and the Habyarimana government, a smoke screen, used then and now, to hide the systematic killing of Tutsi carried out by the Hutu Power Interim Government and its militia.

The film-maker, Jane Corbin, who presented the programme, even tries to raise doubts about whether or not the RPF stopped the genocide. The authority on this subject is Lt.-General Roméo Dallaire, the Force commander of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), and present in Rwanda throughout the genocide. Dallaire is categorical. ‘The genocide was stopped because the RPF won and stopped it’, he says.

Corbin ignores the testimonies of direct witnesses to what happened in 1994: Dallaire and his volunteer UN peacekeepers, Philippe Gaillard and the medics at the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Dr. James Orbinski of Médecins Sans Frontières. Years of research and writing by academics and other experts along with hours of films by journalists who work for the BBC – all of this eyewitness testimony is dismissed as if fraudulent.

In broadcasting this documentary the BBC has been recklessly irresponsible. The programme has fuelled genocide denial. It has further emboldened the génocidaires, all their supporters and those who collaborate with them. It has provided them the legitimacy of the BBC. Denial of genocide causes the gravest offence to survivors. For them, the genocide is not a distant event from 20 years ago but a reality with which they live every day.

The denial of genocide is now widely recognised as the final stage of the crime. One of the world’s preeminent genocide scholars, the US Professor Greg H. Stanton, describes ten stages in genocide: classification of the population; symbolization of those classifications; discrimination against a targeted group; dehumanisation of the pariah group; organisation of the killers; polarisation of the population; preparation by the killers; persecution of the victims; extermination of the victims; and denial that the killing was genocide.

Denial, the final stage, ensures the crime continues. It incites new killing. It denies the dignity of the deceased and mocks those who survived. Denial of genocide is taken so seriously that in some European countries it is criminalized. In 2008 the Council of the European Union called upon states to criminalize genocide denial.

The 1994 genocide of the Tutsi should be treated by all concerned with the utmost intellectual honesty and rigour. We would be willing – indeed see it as our duty – to meet with journalists and to debate in a follow up programme the serious inaccuracies in Rwanda’s Untold Story.

We hope that the BBC management will quickly realise the gravity of the genocide denial in Rwanda’s Untold Story. We call upon the BBC to explain how the programme came to be made and the editorial decision-making which allowed it to be broadcast. In the course of any internal BBC enquiry we hope all relevant documents from the This World archive and from senior editors involved in approving the programme will be released for study.

Rwanda’s Untold Story tarnishes the BBC’s well-deserved reputation for objective and balanced journalism. We urge the BBC to apologise for the offence this programme has caused for all victims and survivors of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.


  1. Professor Linda Melvern
    Author, A People Betrayed: The Role of the West in Rwanda’s Genocide; Conspiracy to Murder
  2. Senator Roméo Dallaire Force Commander, UNAMIR
  3. Professor Gregory H. Stanton President, Genocide Watch
  4. Mehdi Ba
    Journalist and Author
  5. Bishop Ken Barham
  6. Margaret Brearley Independent Scholar
  7. Gerald Caplan
    Author, The Preventable Genocide
  8. Professor Frank Chalk
    Professor of History/Director, Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, Concordia University, Co-author, ‘Mobilizing the Will to Intervene: Leadership to Prevent Mass Atrocities’ (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010)
  9. Phil Clark
    Reader in Comparative and International Politics, SOAS, University of London
  10. Boubacar Boris Diop, Sénégal. Author, Murambi, the book of bones
  11. Jean-Francois Dupaquier Author and Expert
  12. Hélène Dumas,
    Diplômée de l’IEP d’Aix-en-Provence (2003), Docteur en histoire de l’EHESS (2013)
  13. Professor Margee Ensign
    President, American University of Nigeria
  14. Tim Gallimore
    Independent genocide researcher
  15. Peter Greaves
    Former UNICEF staff member
  16. Fred Grünfeld.
    Emeritus professor in International Relations, Human Rights and the Causes of Gross Human Rights Violations, Universities of Maastricht and Utrecht, Netherlands. Author, The Failure to Prevent Genocide in Rwanda: The Role of Bystanders, 2007
  17. Helen Hintjens
    Assistant Professor in Development and Social Justice, International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) The Hague
  18. Georgina Holmes
    Lecturer International Relations,
    University of Portsmouth/Royal Holloway, University of London
  19. Richard Johnson
    Author, The Travesty of Human Rights Watch on Rwanda
  20. Eric Joyce MP
  21. Ambassador Karel Kovanda (ret).
    Czech Representative on the UN Security Council, 1994-95
  22. Françoise Lemagnen
    Chief Executive, Survivors Fund (SURF)
  23. Ambassador Stephen Lewis.
    Former Canadian Ambassador to the UN.
  24. Alan McClue
    Visiting Fellow, Bournemouth University/Cranfield University
  25. Roland Moerland
    D. Researcher and Lecturer in Supranational and Organizational Criminology, Department of Criminal Law and Criminology Maastricht University, The Netherlands
  26. George Monbiot Author and Journalist
  27. Jacques Morel
    Author, La France au coeur du génocide des Tutsi (2010)
  28. Barbara Mulvaney
    International Law Consultant; Former Senior Trial Attorney – Bagosora et al., United Nations International Tribunal for Rwanda
  29. Jude Murison
    School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh
  30. Peter Raymont
    President, White Pine Pictures, Toronto, Canada
  31. Professor Josias Semujanga
    Professeur titulaire, Département des littératures de langue française, Université de Montréal, Quebec
  32. Jonathan Salt
    Managing Director of Ojemba Education
  33. Keith Somerville
    Senior Research fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London; Lecturer in Communications and Humanitarianism, Centre for Journalism, University of Kent
  34. Patrick de Saint-Exupéry Author and journalist
  35. Dr James M. Smith CBE CEO, Aegis Trust
  36. Rafiki Ubaldo Journalist
  37. Andrew Wallis
    Author, Silent Accomplice: The untold Story of the Role of France in the Rwandan Genocide, I.B.Tauris, 2014
  38. Lillian Wong, O.B.E.
    British Chargé d’Affairs in Rwanda 1994-1995

7 thoughts on “Open letter to the BBC over Genocide Denial

  1. Many thanks to these scholars for expressing the concern at the content of the BBC documentary “Untold Story”. The documentary fuels genocide denial and it’s offence to survivors. BBC must to apologise

  2. Thanks scholors,authors for the appeal to end and fight against genocide denial. Lets together say NEVER AGAIN.

  3. BBC staff need at do some homework about the Genocide if they can’t read they can watch “Hotel Rwanda” and “Sometimes in April”. This Document is a joke, reckless misinformation, unacceptable from a corporation such as BBC. BBC need to apologized the People of Rwanda.

  4. I wish to add my voice to the views expressed in this letter and I am happy to see that its eminent sponsors, some of whom I have worked with in the past, had the moral courage to come out and put their opposition to the BBC Documentary on the record.I am not Rwandan, but I had the opportunity of working in Rwanda and alongside Rwandans involved in addressing roots and consequences of the 1994 genocide.

    Let me associate myself with the view put forward in this letter that there is nothing wrong with demanding certain standards from the Government of Rwanda, standards of accountability, democracy and justice which the Rwandans themselves have said time and again that they want to hold themselves to. The Government of Rwanda has tasked itself to uphold these standards and it is therefore legitimate to examine and discuss its record and discuss any shortcomings together with a view to moving the country, and the continent of Africa, forward.

    However, to create a narrative negating the 1994 genocide and worse, to ignore its social and historical roots as well as its systematic and systemic planning and orchestration is not only professionally and intellectually dishonest but also morally wrong. The reorganization of the administrative, law enforcement, military, paramilitary and communications infrastructure to plan and carry out genocide in 1994 has been well-documented by a wide range of international organizations, researchers and agencies including the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). The data and analysis of these efforts to eliminate whole sections of Rwandans, efforts which began several years before the actual genocide features very little in the BBC Documentary thereby leaving viewers unfamiliar with Rwanda, and with the tragic events of 1994, a partial picture at best. Even more concerning is the minimal attention given to earlier genocides, mass killings, forced expulsions and zoning of victims which took place in 1959, 1963, 1991 and 1993.

    Because of these omissions this documentary fails to give serious and unbiased attention to the fact that the 1994 genocide in Rwanda was not merely an event; it has deep historical roots and requires diligent and honest research and dispassionate, scientific analysis and discussion. An institution as powerful and well-respected as the BBC, an agency which for the past 6 decades has played an invaluable role in the struggle to preserve human rights and human dignity, surely has the moral responsibility to conduct the kind of investigation that will bring these elements to light.

    Let me conclude by repeating that the effort to probe the performance of the Government of Rwanda, which seems to be the primary goal of this documentary is legitimate but it should not be mixed with the social and historical roots of genocide in Rwanda (and in the Great Lakes region for that matter), its ideological underpinnings and the architectures that were employed to carry it out. To do that, would be to dishonor the victims and defeat the goal of reconciliation in Rwanda.

    I hope the BBC will entertain a follow up program as requested by the eminent authors of this letter.

  5. If possible I would like to belatedly add my name to those in support of this letter. For contextual information, I have been to Rwanda, and have spoken with a mixture of senior political, social, edcuational, religious and justice figures; as well as conversing with a great many ordinary Rwandan citizens both in the streets of Kigali and further afield in places like Musanzi and Nyanza. I have also been inside Mpanga prison and spoken with convicts, and visited Ingando TIG camp to talk with those who are carrying out community service after being released from prison. These are just perhaps a third or a quarter of the examples I can cite as to where my knowledge has been built not only from textbooks and reports, but from first-hand experience and asking my own questions after thorough prior preparation and investigation. The BBC ‘documentary’ in question is one that from the position of a neutral academic who prides himself in the ethics of researching and concluding based on a balance of sources and correct use of evidence, I find at best to be offensive and at worst to be a real danger of destabalising international relations.

    Allan T. Moore
    Lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice
    University of the West of Scotland

    Member of the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS)

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