Rwanda: British author Linda Melvern on the most obvious forms of genocide denial

British journalist and author on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Linda Melvern, who is in Kigali to take part in activities marking the 28th commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, has highlighted what she considers to be the most most common and obvious forms of genocide denial.

On Wednesday, April 6, Melvern told The New Times that she thinks the first most obvious aspect of denying the genocide against the Tutsi is “minimizing the death toll.”

In April 2021, she wrote an article in which she noted that the arguments made by genocide deniers are familiar to anyone who has attended a trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania, where the authors have made every effort to establish that a second genocide took place in 1994 of the Hutus, and that it was the subject of an international cover-up.

During their trials, she wrote at the time, the genocidaires had tried to reduce the death toll and claimed that the killing was in self-defense.

“You will see various figures on the number of those who were murdered during those terrible three months of 1994. Minimizing the death toll is still quite common today. The cornerstone of the genocide denial campaign can be refuted by studying the established facts; by consulting the archives, and in particular the Rwandan research that has been carried out commune by commune to show the number of deaths in each; it is this research which denies the surrender,” Melvern told the NewTimes.

In his latest book, Intent to Deceive: Denying the Genocide of the Tutsi, there is a chapter on the theme of denial. She wrote that central to the denial of the genocide against the Tutsi was the idea that far from any planning, the killings of civilians from April to July 1994 resulted from a spontaneous uprising. This position, she wrote, was most eloquently set out in the Security Council at the very time the crime took place, and was recorded in diplomatic telegrams, letters and cables.

Unplanned genocide

“The second cornerstone is that there was no planning, that it was a spontaneous uprising. The conspiracy is proven beyond doubt. It is proven at the ICTR. It is proven in documents that have been found abandoned here. [Kigali] after the end of the Genocide against the Tutsi,” she told The New Times.

“And that’s in the memories of those who went through that terrible time. I think it’s important to recognize that the denial doesn’t happen after. It happens before. There’s the denial that it was planned. I think it’s really important for people to understand that Rwanda’s seat on the Security Council at that time was crucial for the genocidaires because it allowed the Rwandan ambassador on the Council to spread his denial of the genocide within the Council.

She added: “So genocide denial was there for all to see. It was in the Security Council itself, because the Rwandan ambassador claimed that the massacre of civilians was spontaneous. The Rwandan ambassador participated in this effort to deny that the genocide against the Tutsi was taking place.”

During the genocide, Amb Jean-Damascene Bizimana, a representative of the genocidal government, actively built a narrative of genocide denial within the Security Council. He participated in all sessions of the Security Council during the 100 days of the Genocide against the Tutsi carried out by his government.

In July 1994, when the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) put an end to the genocide, Bizimana sought and was granted asylum in the United States where he was eventually granted citizenship. Bizimana has yet to face justice for his role in propaganda and denial of the genocide in 1994.

In his latest book, Melvern noted how attempts to devise a collective defense strategy among fugitive leaders of the Hutu Power ideology, to agree on a common narrative, a narrative they could all agree on, began in exile in refugee camps – in Zaire, now DR Congo.

She reveals how the latter met Luc de Temmerman, a Flemish lawyer who worked for the family of President Juvénal Habyarimana for several years and requested power of attorney from members of the former regime then on the run.

As reported, in July 1996, just after the defunct ICTR issued its first indictments, de Temmerman held a meeting at a hotel in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, with a group of wanted fugitives, offering to oversee their defense. .

The meeting was financed by a political organization created in the Mugunga refugee camp, then in Zaire. [now DR Congo], the Rally for the Return of Refugees and Democracy in Rwanda (RDR) whose members included genocide suspects and Hutu Power ideologues. The Flemish commercial lawyer announced at this meeting that he would plead the innocence of their own individual cases …

In September 2010, Major General Paul Rwarakabije, former commander of the defeated genocidal regime’s army, commonly known as ex-FAR, who fled to Zaire and continued to fight the Rwandan Patriotic Army (APR) from from there, told The New Times how the same administrators in charge in Rwanda during the genocide – the burgomasters, prefects and others, ruled over the refugee camps.

In another meeting with fugitives in the Mugunga refugee camp, de Temmerman regretted that among the Hutu leaders were people who claimed that there had been a Hutu-led genocide. “If we do not change these attitudes, we will fall into a trap and it will be impossible for him to plead not guilty on our behalf,” reads a taped typed report that was later found among abandoned documents.

The Flemish lawyer, as shown in Melvern’s book, asked how he could possibly defend anyone who was not prepared to defend himself. “All Hutus should understand,” he told them, “if the genocide was confirmed, then it was their end as a people.”

blame the victim

Another “appalling” and frequent form of genocide denial, Melvern told The New Times, is that the perpetrators of the genocide and their supporters blame the victims.

She said: “Some claim that the victims brought the catastrophe on themselves, which is extraordinary. We also see this in the denial of the Holocaust. In fact, it was the fault of the victims for being this they were and wanting to change the system that existed here in Rwanda and, before, the apartheid quota system that existed, that too is denied or ignored.

“I think it is significant that these scholars who worked in Rwanda years before the genocide also refuse to recognize the apartheid regime. I mean, they came here and worked happily without complaining or caring. of the quota system. I find it quite extraordinary as in South Africa, for the apartheid system, there were campaigns all over the world to try to put an end to it. Whereas in Rwanda it is was that dirty little secret but people never seemed to talk about that quota system which was obviously appalling.

The genocidal regimes established a rigid quota system, supposedly to ensure an equitable distribution of resources and opportunities to all Rwandans. This system, which determined key issues such as school enrollment and public service hiring, was in fact used to deliberately victimize Tutsi.

“Perpetrators of this crime have encouraged genocide denial,” Melvern said.

“It is extraordinary for me to know that the perpetrators who have been convicted and are now in prison have access to media and computers. I think they are continuing their campaign from prison. And that is concerning.”

“The other problem I think we have is how some of the genocidaires were released from prison early and one of them was Ferdinand Nahimana, one of the main propagandists is out there in the world and he probably continues his campaign. The early release still shocks me.

Nahimana, a former history teacher, was co-founder of the hate speech broadcaster Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) which encouraged the public to kill Tutsi.

Lola R. McClure