By Michael Ngabo
During, before and after the week of the 17th Commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, deniers of this heinous crime were once more at it trying to belittle or water down the Genocide against the Tutsi.
One of their intentions is of course to discourage the survivors of the Genocide as well as the Government that stopped the killings. Realising that they had only destroyed the body, the genocidaires and their apologists want to also destroy the spirit of those who survived the Genocide.
By denying the Genocide and getting support from some Western academics and journalists, the genocidaires are sending a message to the survivors that they could kill them once more and get away with the crime, through denial.
Having stopped the Genocide, the Rwanda Patriotic Fore (RPF) led Government has successfully rehabilitated not only the devastated political and socio-economic life of the country but also the survivors of the Genocide as well as the perpetrators.
The reconciliation policy has reaped big; both the perpetrators and the victims are peacefully living side by side. It is this undying spirit that the deniers want to destroy.
Denial, however, is not new in the history of Genocides, since those who plan and execute Genocide also find ways of trying to deny the crime. To clearly comprehend what Genocide denial is, it is important to approach the subject from a conceptual level.
Genocide denial occurs when an act of Genocide is met with attempts to deny the occurrence of the crime. The key claims of Holocaust deniers for example are that ‘the German government had no official policy or intention of exterminating Jews’; ‘Nazi authorities did not use extermination camps and gas chambers to mass murder Jews’; ‘the actual number of Jews killed was significantly lower than the historically accepted figure of 5 to 6 million’; and that ‘the Nazi treatment of Jews was no different from what the allies did to their enemies in World War II’.
Most Holocaust denial claims imply, or openly state, that the Holocaust is a hoax arising out of a deliberate Jewish conspiracy to advance the interest of Jews at the expense of Palestinian rights.
According to an internationally recognised expert on the Genocide against the Tutsi, Gerald Lewis Caplan, reinstate the word the Genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda is morally equivalent to denying the Holocaust.
The strategies used by the deniers of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi are not any different from those used by the deniers of the Holocaust.
French author and physician, Yves Ternon says that the denial of the Genocide against the Tutsi happened even before 1994, ‘whereby the genocide ideology
appeared in various forms as denial of reality.’
In 1994, the perpetrators denied the events and the causes or circumstances that led to the Genocide. The
denial of the Genocide against the Tutsi is in a way a continuation of the same but using different weapons.
Whereas in 1994, it was machetes, guns and other
physical tools, today it is speeches and writings that cruelly cut through the hearts of the survivors of the genocide against Tutsi.
Those who deny the 1994 genocide against Tutsi do it deliberately, knowing what they want to achieve. Denying the crime inflicts psychological torture on the victims, thereby delaying their healing or permanently impairing the process.
The deniers are vehemently opposed to the commemoration of the Genocide commonly known in Rwanda as the mourning period, stretching through the month of
April to July.
They try to prove in their writings that the Genocide against the Tutsi never happened. They argue about numbers, contesting the 2003 census of Tutsis killed, pointing out that the number was not one million but much less. Some put the number at 800,000, some at 500,000 and others even reduce it to around 280,000, a number that is buried at Kigali Memorial center alone. Others talk of a civil war in which Tutsis killed Hutus and Hutus killed Tutsis.
Gerald Caplan says that deniers of the Genocide against the Tutsi usually manifests a mixture of self-serving and perverse motives and that they fall generally into two categories.
First are Hutu Power sympathizers and outsiders with close ties to the long-serving Rwandan regime whose extremist core planned the Genocide. Second are newcomers to Rwanda whose first introduction was as attorneys (or their associates) for those accused of Genocide being tried by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
And that although all accused everywhere should have the right to a rigorous defense, some among this group made the giant leap from arguing that their clients were innocent of the crime of Genocide to arguing that no Genocide had actually taken place.
In Canada for example, the most notorious non-Hutu denier has been Robin Philpot, yet his only link to Rwanda is his brother John, who was a defense lawyer at the ICTR for one of the Genocide convicts. Others deny the Genocide to cover up the role of some countries and organizations who were involved in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
These include French Judge Bruguiere, former UNAMIR chief Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh, former Australian investigator Michael Hourigan and American academic Christian Davenport.
Interestingly, each of these cites the others as their proof that the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi was nothing but an American imperial plot. Caplan points out that the biased reports against the Government of Rwanda by human rights organizations have also provided an unqualified level of legitimacy to the deniers’ malicious intentions.
All these deniers are to a certain extent dangerous to the healing and reconciliation process in Rwanda, but the most deadly denier of the Genocide against the Tutsi today is Hotel Rwanda’s ‘hero’, Paul Rusesabagina. The film “Hotel Rwanda” has made him a ‘hero’ of the Genocide, a ‘righteous man’ who saved Tutsi lives at great personal risk.
That he now uses his manufactured heroism in various forums to water down the Genocide against Tutsis claiming that both Hutus and Tutsis killed, makes him the most deadly of the other deniers.
Most of the deniers are former genocidaires, some being protected by political and religious allies of the old regime, others walking freely in Europe and other parts of the world, peddling their poison.
Gerald Caplan rightly points out that all these Rwandans and non-Rwandans cherish a fantasy of someday reviving the ‘Hutuland’ and the ‘demographic democracy’ that prevailed from 1959 to 1994.
It is important to note that the Governments of that period were exclusively composed of Hutu males.
There are also those who have acted on behalf of the defense at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), but have gone beyond defending their clients to denying the Genocide. The most notorious among these is the American lawyer, Peter Erlinder.
Some simply hate President Paul Kagame and what he stands for; including well-known Western academics who have managed to recruit some African scholars into their society of deniers, thus making sure that the negative impact will spread throughout the Great Lakes Region and beyond.
This year’s commemoration saw the old deniers such as Boniface Rutayisire increase their venom and others like Charles Kambanda and Ann Garrison whose poisonous rhetoric is aimed at the American audience.
The former of course continued with his usual rhetoric of “Twibuke Abactime Bose”, literally meaning remembering ‘all victims’, a veiled reference to the infamous ‘double genocide’ claim. Rutayisire claims that in Rwanda were two genocides; one committed by the Hutus against the Tutsi and the other allegedly committed by the Tutsi against Hutus.
This year, he became bold enough in his denial that he attempted to even disrupt the official commemoration of the 17th Anniversary of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsis organized in Brussels by the Rwandan Embassy in that country.
These Genocide deniers are always looking for any slight opportunity to spread their negation. That is why Ann Garrison of the Afrobeat Radio hosted the new kid on the block among deniers, Mr. Kambanda Charles.
In her introduction of the interview, Ann Garrison shamelessly referred to the Genocide against the Tutsi in the following manner; “April 6th was the 17 Anniversary of the plane crash that triggered the tragic violence the world came to know as the Rwanda Genocide.”
For Ann Garrison, the significant date is 6th April when Habyarimana died; the Genocide against the Tutsi is watered down to ‘tragic violence.’
She goes on to express her sympathies not to the victims of the Genocide but to all Rwandans in general; “We at Afrobeat Radio want to turn our hearts and thoughts to the Rwandan Tutsi, Hutu and Twa families who suffered and lost loved ones.”
Ann Garrison is apparently happy that President Obama did not this year refer to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi but “Rwanda genocide.”
For many, to be an anti-Rwanda Government activist, one has also to deny that the Genocide against Tutsis happened. In an interview with Ann Garrison on Afrobeat Radio, one Mr. Kambanda Charles did not only deny the Genocide against the Tutsis, but also told lies about Rwanda’s history.
Pretending to be an expert on Rwanda, Mr. Kambanda said the following; “The Rwandan conflict goes back to pre-colonial times.”
This is a lie because there is no written or oral record of any Hutu versus Tutsi conflict before late 1950s. Kambanda goes on to misinform the world that the killing of Tutsis was a military tactic to deny the RPF internal support and that the Tutsis also killed Hutus to prevent them from joining the Hutu government forces.
Although the man claims to be an expert on Rwanda, if taken to task to prove his claims, it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear him quote Bruguerre, some other genocide denier or one of the genocide convicts.
Arguing with Genocide deniers is such a waste of time because they never change. Prosecuting them whenever possible is the only way to silence them. In 2009, it became illegal to deny any act regarded by an International Criminal Court as Genocide within the European Union, but this will only deter the deniers if they are seen to be prosecuted.
Also important is for all the prominent and non-prominent peoples of the world to always voice their solidarity with Jews, Tutsi or any other peoples that suffered Genocide, most especially during the commemoration time so as to encourage the survivors to live on and remind the deniers that the world is watching.
In 2006 for example, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said: “Remembering is a necessary rebuke to those who say the Holocaust never happened or has been exaggerated. Holocaust denial is the work of bigots; we must reject their false claims whenever, wherever and by whomever they are made.”
The same words should be said about the Tutsi survivors whose only crime in 1994 was simply the way they looked and the label put in their identity cards by the genocidal government.