Genocide is a legal term defined under international law. In the case of Rwanda – but not only there – this term has come to have a political and economic connotation because such abusive use is made of it. Genocide, in this case, is a sort of “safe-conduct” in the face of which no one asks questions. Until recently, no one dared broach this subject. If one wants to speak of genocide in Rwanda, it is understood that it should be clear that this concerns “the” genocide against the Tutsis. But it is soon apparent that it wasn’t only Tutsis who were killed. This has necessitated the invention of a new population group: “the Hutu moderates.” Of course killed by the same guilty parties. And thus the RPF/RPA1, beyond the shadow of suspicion. With these half truths – because it is obvious that it isn’t completely untrue – it is very difficult to go forward. But there is a demand for simple truths, and the response was skillful.

Did the Rwandan government of Habyarimana concoct a systematic strategy for extermination, the so-called “Plan?” And if so, does the present power structure of the RPF/RPA in Kigali represent the victims? Maybe there was a plan, maybe not. That still remains to be proven.2

Can the same thing be said for the RPF? Did it or does it have a plan to exterminate the Hutus? Here, too, solid proof is lacking. A short time after the armed takeover by the RPF in 1994, we called attention to the serious human rights violations, massive killings and terror.3 We made insistent demands for an inquiry, but no one wanted to pay attention. In the mean time, we are two wars farther along and still they are talking about “the” genocide, although a number of incidents pose the question as to why there is still only one victim and one guilty party.

The Method of Dissuasion

Since October 1990, the population of Rwanda has lived through a catastrophe in human terms. Tutsis and Hutus have both been the victims. At certain times the one more and the other less, and sometimes both together were targets. Who was counting them? At the beginning they spoke of a million and a half Tutsis!… The Hutus already didn’t count. When it became clear that this was impossible, they reduced the number to a million. But if a million Tutsis had been massacred – only supposing that there had been that many – there wouldn’t be a single one left, which is contrary to reality. So they added the famous “Hutu moderates” to provide a semblance of credibility. Bad luck for anyone brave enough not to accept this explanation: He or she would be despised as a minimalist, revisionist, racist, sympathizer or even accomplice, etc. A whole panoply of terminology is at the ready. Even now the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) still uses the number of a million massacred Tutsis.

“Murderer”, “guilty party”, these are legal terms which have to be proven before being applied to one or another individual person. They can only designate individuals, because governments and regimes cannot be punished and locked up in jail. The estimates of the number of the “guilty” (understood to be Hutus) go from ten thousand to three million. It is thus that today in Rwanda there are one hundred thirty thousand prisoners being held without trial, not for their individual culpability, but because the collective nature of their arrests. It is a method of dissuasion that works very well. It is a constant reminder to the Hutus (almost all of whom have a husband, a son, a brother, a cousin or a parent in prison) that the regime holds all the power and cannot and does not want to negotiate on this point. All Hutus are universally stigmatized as “genocidal,” in spite of the Hutu victims of the wars in Rwanda and the Congo, in spite of the Hutu victims of extermination, There are more Hutu victims than just the unfortunate 4,000 who were killed at Kibeho, more than all the bodies floating in the Kagera River and the tens of thousands slaughtered in Byumba Province4, etc. The Hutu are not allowed to mourn their dead.

No Recourse to Justice for the Vanquished

Why? It is not because all this is based on unassailable facts, but because it has taken on an enormous political and strategic importance for the RPF/RPA regime in Kigali. The UN – as are others – is not without blame and maintains silence – and Kigali knows that. Here it is not a question of seeking justice (that opportunity has unfortunately been missed) because Kigali and Bujumbura and also Kampala are beyond the reach of any justice.5 Justice serves to consolidate the power and influence of the regime that already exists. The more the “others” are condemned, the better “we” look.

Three Phases of Manipulation

The manipulation of the term “genocide” by Kigali is quite simple: It takes place on three levels. It consists first in imposing a way of looking at things that is easily understood: good guys and bad guys, cowboys and Indians, assassins and victims, Tutsi and Hutu.

To this end they don’t shrink from using media voyeurism, exhibiting dead bodies, lies and half truths. They play insistently on the emotional reactions of an ignorant public and, for the most part, ignorant politicians.6

In the second phase, public opinion, thus solidified, has to be consecrated and repeated so that the becomes sacred and unassailable fact. For this it is useful to use big ready-made slogans with shocking words like genocide, mock trials death squads, revisionism, minimalism, plans for extermination…This silences in advance those who might get it into their heads to dare to lift their little finger.

Finally the myth is ready to be used profitably. Now no one will contradict it, because the most honorable organizations are already compromised and don’t allow any alternative point of view. It is diplomatic and intellectual terrorism of the worst kind, because it excludes all negotiation and any opening for dialog. The result of this situation has already led to a new level of the war, this time in the entire region. But in order to arrive at this point, the “others” – read Hutu – were first utterly demonized so that they could be truly loathed by everyone. The “good guys” – read Tutsis – get all the sympathy. These kinds of ideas work the same way they do in the world of advertising a soft drink: It is garbage but the whole world says that it tastes good. But are there really “good guys” and “bad guys?”

Conventional Wisdom

All of this is the result of what Tony Waters7 calls “conventional wisdom.” Generally accepted ideas and theses that, because of their simplicity, are comfortable. Whether they do or do not approach reality is a question that is seldom asked, particularly because politicians and representatives of the media have to make rapid decisions and need a ready-made justification for their decisions. Experience should nevertheless teach them that judgments based on conventional wisdom are rarely reliable and rarely produce good results.

The way that information is gathered and transmitted should be enough to put us on guard when forming an opinion, because this information is usually gleaned during times of crisis and catastrophe. Emotions play an enormous role. Any journalist, or anyone with the least historical training must realize this. Ask the officers of UNAMIR8 what kind of conventional wisdom they based their politics and strategy on. Today they are still bitterly licking their wounds.9

Usually it is organizations dedicated to humanitarian aid, both those on the scene and diplomatic missions that, at times of crisis, send the first news. Thus they rapidly arrive at ideas that are generally accepted and simplistic. Frequently this contributes a justification for the presence, strategies and financial needs of the informant. Others, who have a better understanding and knowledge of the reality of the situation, of the culture and the local language (we are thinking particularly of missionaries) don’t count. Worse still, in the case of Rwanda, they were finally intimidated and reduced to silence through accusations of complicity, minimalism, fascism, racism, etc… Some were physically eliminated.

Here is an example of the terminology used by an expert witness concerning the Church in Rwanda, a report ordered by the Prosecutor of the International Tribunal at Arusha: obsessive preoccupation with race; concocting a destructive theology of ethnic division; preaching racism and ethnic superiority; playing the ethnic card; preaching a perverted and racist theology; etc. In short, around a hundred pages in this vein.10 But, given the urgency of the situation, they had to arrive at some easily understood conclusions and they still have neither time nor interest in a more serious analysis. On those who have differing opinions, a better knowledge of or insight into the situation, silence is imposed. They do not seek the truth; they form an opinion as quickly as possible, take a position and make it fit in with the facts even if there isn’t a cause and effect relationship.

Strong adrenalin rushes, emotional situations, need for ways and means, justification after the fact, scoops for magazines and viewers of the media, lack of self-discipline and self-criticism, ignorance about oral transmission and the culture, reading material for the lackeys and donors of the Organizations . . . these are only a few of the ingredients that today are the basis for the formation of public opinion, which describe the situations, which influence political decisions, which determine the pronouncements of justice and put pressure on scientific research.11

This is perhaps inevitable in the first phase, but cannot be allowed to become a sacred truth that continues to be an obstacle to serious analysis. Worse yet, accounts and reports from the ground – the famous “sitreps” – slang for “situation reports” – are broadcast, unverified, everywhere and once again provide the indispensable emotional ingredients for knocking on the doors of the benefactors.12 Blind confidence in this kind of information inevitably leads to medium-term frustration. Regarding Rwanda, this seems obvious. Examples in Cambodia, Somalia, Libya, the ex- Yugoslavia, the Congo . . . exist in abundance. Serious politicians, military personnel and aid workers recognize this and are in full agreement.

Peace and Reconciliation Brought About by a Tribunal?

Are the keys to a solution and reconciliation in Rwanda, Burundi, the Congo and Uganda to be found in an international Tribunal? Because this is one of the many conventional ideas in circulation. It is alright to doubt this. Without wanting to bring up the fact here that the Arusha Tribunal brings with it serious omissions (that is the least that one can say), the few other past examples of international tribunals hardly prove that that they are capable of engendering peace and reconciliation. One cannot, for example, affirm that Nuremberg brought about reconciliation between Germans and Jews. This was brought about in other ways and in other places. Justice doesn’t necessarily bring peace, although peace cannot survive for long without justice either. An international tribunal therefore does not seem to be completely superfluous, if it be only there to dissuade soldiers and other war lords from risking committing war crimes in the future.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has shown in the past that it contains within itself all the seeds for perpetuating hatred and injustice in the region. It has often failed to intervene with its own members to root out corruption and bad management. Many of the justices, prosecutors13 and clerks are young, inexperienced, don’t worry too much about familiarizing themselves with the documents, and come for the most part from countries where people aren’t too preoccupied with justice.

The ICTR is based on the statutes for the Tribunal for Yugoslavia and can adapt these statutes “to the reality of the Rwandan situation.” (Art. 14) These changes are based primarily on bias and arbitrary personnel. The rights of the defense are therefore put at a disadvantage. Add to that the fact that a good number of the lawyers for the defense are truly discouraged. In certain cases the prosecution does not even have to provide proof when it is a fact that is considered “common knowledge” A common knowledge that, particularly in the media, had begun to have a life of its own. This is to say that an international tribunal also relies on the conventional wisdom that one finds in every news stand.14

The ICTR15 took a preconceived position which deviates very little from generally accepted conventional ideas. It thus travels completely in the wake of current Rwandan tribal and expansionist politics, which it pursues militarily as far away as the Congo. In addition, reports and other incriminating evidence in the case of the people who are to blame in the RPF are deliberately and systematically falsified: The Gersony Report on the massacres during the period from July to September in 1994, the Hourigan Report and the testimony of J.P. Mugabe, a former information officer in the RPF; (reports) of the attack on President Habyarimana’s plane, numerous reports of the massacres committed by the RPF since 1990 written by human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch Amnesty International, The Association of African Judges, etc.16

With all of this the ICTR is, on the international scene, completely “politically correct.” Victors and allies do not translate into justice. War crimes and acts of a genocidal nature have become the currency with which the war lords can justify and maintain their scandalous behavior. This puts them beyond reach and gives their allies an air of impunity. This is what is happening now. All this has nothing in common with a possible reconciliation among Rwandans, whether or not they are a party to this.

Other countries, in which similar massacres have taken place, have demonstrated that it is perfectly possible to bring about reconciliation and cooperation between different population groups without the intervention of ritual justice. This was the case in Kenya with the Mau -Mau, but also in Uganda, in the Zimbabwe of Ian Smith, and recently in South Africa. The massive arrests in Rwanda have the appearance of a being an attempt by a minority regime to maintain its position through terror and intimidation. But this doesn’t have anything to do with reconciliation and peace.

The Specter of the Interahamwe

We can continue in the same vein with other conformist ideas which have currency in the Great Lakes region. The Interahamwe17 menaced the frontiers of Rwanda. A position adopted (following the example of Paul Kagame) by the Belgian diplomats and politicians. As a result, the Interahamwe have to be separated from the other refugees. This illustrates how one can act rashly by thinking that it is possible to distinguish and separate refugee Interahamwe from ex-soldiers. The Interahamwe are a militia group that persuaded young people to defend themselves in a moment of crisis and war. No matter what one thinks, they enjoyed the approval of part of the refugee population, even if certain among them committed serious criminal acts against their own people. But not all of them remained Interahamwe or members of paramilitary groups. Not all of them killed, either. If we can believe some reports, there were even some who went over to the side of the RPF.18

What is important is this, if militias, in a period of crisis, are labeled legitimate in the eyes of the population, it is not at all an established fact that this is a good point of departure for being able to predict how population groups, with their nationalist feelings, will behave in the refugee camps. Abandonment of ancestral lands, flight and a stay in a refugee camp constitute a critical moment for a population. But these former militias have nothing to say about the how the relationship between the young people and their families will evolve. To use the specter of the Interahamwe to explain the opposition of the population to a return to Rwanda is ill considered and inaccurate. But here, again, is the result of the conventional wisdom that continues to reinforce the Rwandan crisis in this impasse.

There Are Only… Rwandans

Another conventional idea in circulation is that there are no Hutus and Tutsis, only Rwandans. If it is true that Rwanda is one cultural entity, that its population speak one common language, Kinya-rwanda, and that one can speak of one Rwandan identity, it is also true that the inhabitants recognize three very distinct ethnic groups. Rwandans call these groups ‘ubwoko,” a term that is, in point of fact, untranslatable: family group, lineage, clan, ethnicity, caste, class, tribe …!?!…We won’t embark on this discussion here, because it is completely academic. Even in the specialized literature there is no unanimity on all these different elements of society. One fact is certain: that these three groups, Hutu, Tutsi and Twa, can distinguish and recognize themselves as such.

Belonging to an ethnic, cultural, social or linguistic group is in no way dishonorable. On the contrary! But in Africa if one refuses to recognize ethnic sensitivities or those that relate to a group, ethnic problems, with all their inherent consequences, must certainly have a large and dramatic future. Denial of ethnic character often serves to establish a sordid agenda. First it consists of enflaming and manipulating these sensibilities in order to later deny and falsify them, under the pretext of wanting to create a society without ethnic distinctions. Dominated, it is understood, by one’s own peers. It has always been like this in Burundi. More than thirty years ago the ideologues of Burundi proclaimed that there were no more ethnic groups, that there were only Burundians. In the mean time, with clock-work regularity, they eliminated the “others.” The same thing is happening in Rwanda and the neighboring countries, where the Kampala-Kigali-Bujumbura axis terrorizes the region.

Tutsis are massacred because they are Tutsi. Hutus are slaughtered because they are Hutu. That’s how it is. This has happened again and again in the region, and it will stay that way for a long time to come if agreement cannot be reached on new ways to manage the conflict, and which can, at the opportune time, be refined. Replacing a majority regime with a minority regime that is even more intolerant and cruel resolves nothing. It is not by continually trying to eliminate one of the antagonists that one constructs a society. Nor is writing a “new history” and inflicting ideological brainwashing, as is the present case in Rwanda. Usually this presages a new phase which will become more tragic even than the one from which one wants to escape.

The Exercise of Power

It seems significant that the causes of this regional drama are not centered on ethnicity alone. It was and always will be a question of “power” striking while the iron is hot. To take it or keep it, sooner or later you have to align the population behind you. In the mean time you can exploit or create discontent and sensitivity. It is that way with ethnicity, but unemployment, discrimination, illiteracy, landlessness, catastrophes, over-population, religion corruption, … etc. can also be used towards the same end. In and of themselves poverty, unemployment, etc. do not constitute an adequate excuse for genocide (because if this were the case the whole world would constantly be in flames) but they are fostered and used carefully to exacerbate this state of mind.

However, ethnicity – or call it group solidarity – is sustained and pushed to such an extreme that it cannot be overlooked. In Burundi it is the hard-line Tutsis who have the power and want to keep it. In Rwanda the same related ethnic group is in turn trying it. These observations cannot be dismissed with a wave of the hand.


Along with these examples of a few erroneous conceptions, many others are also current in the Great Lakes Region. The unexamined conventional wisdom which is now embedded there exacts a heavy toll for the pacification of the region. Too numerous are those who have played the sorcerer’s apprentice, who stood on the sidelines when Pandora’s box was opened without knowing what it contained… and what came out of it. The crisis in the Great Lakes Region is enormously complex. If it were simple, we would long since have found a solution. It is indispensable to carry out a correct analysis of the political situation and its causes. But already for twelve years we have taken comfort in chewing over a generally accepted consensus, that has revealed itself thus far to be a bad counselor for a workable and fine tuned political solution. This has put the whole region in a situation with no prospects, where the war-lords pull the strings and have every interest that the situation continue as long as possible.


1. Rwandan Patriotic Front/Rwandan Patriotic Army

2. Here are a few key reasons that have been presented to shore up the idea of the existence at that time of a government plan to massacre all the Tutsis: a few weeks before the genocide, the government was said to have imported machetes. Afterwards it would become known that it was…a Tutsi businessman from Kigali who had imported them, as he usually did. Another so-called “proof”: Colonel Luc Marchal of UNAMIR receives an unknown “important personage.” According to him it must have been an “important functionary” because he could easily enter the MRND (the party in power) building. He came to say that there was an arms depot, which led one to believe that there was a plan in existence for the massacre of all the Tutsis. Marchal saw the man, who called himself Jean-Pierre, two times in dim light. Later Jean-Pierre was identified as and declared himself to be . . . a party chauffeur. That the government had arms depots and munitions caches at a time of war goes without saying. The RPF had them and still has them. Every country has them! Still another “proof”: Someone said that if one thing or another happens, it will be the “coming of the Apocalypse.” This was also supposed to be a sign of a genocidal plan. Every word, proposition or expression is interpreted according to a preconceived notion. Another so-called reason: The government had lists of suspected Tutsis. But every government has lists of suspects and people under surveillance. The RPF did this too, but . . . . that doesn’t count.

3. Serge Desouter & Filip Reyntjensm June 1995. – Les violations des droits de l’homme par le FPR: un plaidoyer pour une enquete approfondie – 2 volumes. 150 pages. Rijks Universitair Centrum. Antwerpen RUCA. Institut de politique et de gestion de developpment. Centre d’Etude de la Region des Grands Lacs d’Afrique centrale. Working paper.

4. In spite of the limitation of jurisdiction to 1994, the RPF is not beyond the reach of the TPIR-ICTR: The RPA offensive in the north of the country, at the beginning of April 1994, was particularly murderous for civilians. At this point one can ask oneself if the massive “depopulation” in Byumba Prefecture didn’t amount to tens of thousands of victims. As a consequence it is odd to realize that the RPF is above prosecution. “The Prosecutor of the Tribunal, Carla del Ponte, doesn’t hide the fact that before investigating the soldiers of the RPF, she first has to inquire about the support of General Kagame, ‘the strong-man of Rwanda.’ It is shocking.” (J-M Vianney Ndagijimana. o.c.)

5. The competence of the International Tribunal at Arusha is limited in time (only 1994) and leaves the RPF beyond reach, because one knows that the majority of their misdeeds were committed before and afterwards and are still being committed. Thus we are witnesses to a two tiered system of justice in which the victor is presumed innocent and the vanquished guilty. Thus the Tribunal practices a selective and discriminatory justice that confers automatic impunity on the criminals of the RPF, as if the hundreds of thousands of Rwandans slaughtered by the RPF were not worthy of international protection.

6. The American television station CNN had the nerve to repeat the distribution of vitamin biscuits to be able to film the mad dash of starving people towards the trucks from which they were throwing the biscuits. Western journalists are not without blame and cannot excuse themselves from a certain bias and selective information.

7.Tony Waters. December 9, 1997 – Conventional Wisdom and Rwanda’s Genocide: An Opinion – African Studies Quarterly.

8.United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda, a United Nations military force in Rwanda.

9.Luc Marchal, 2001 – Rwanda: The Descent Into Hell – Labors

10. Hugh McCullum, October 2001 – The Role of the Church in the Rwanda Genocide – (expert report at the request of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda). Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC) Harare, Zimbabwe.

11. Even some scientists suffer form these kinds of conventional ideas and dare to say “Historians of the present” !?!

12. William Shawcross, 1984 – The quality of Mercy: Cambodia, Holocaust and Modern Conscience – Simon & Schuster, NY.

13. One of them asked if Butare, the university city of Rwanda, was in Rwanda or the Congo.

14. A group of associations informs April 4, 2001 – Will there be an end to the Rwandan Drama? Justice, peace, reconciliation, democracy and development, where is Rwanda in 2001? – Buzet

15. On the economic level ICTR has produced a revolution in Arusha. The infrastructure, housing and hotel sectors have reached the heights while thousands of workers and businesses live around the Tribunal and profit from it. The cost of living has followed this rise.

16. J_M Vianney Ndagijimana, February 16, 2002 – European Workday for Rwanda.

17. The name of a militia (Hutu) held responsible for many of the killings during “the” genocide.

18. Gerard Prunier, 1994 – Rwanda: Update to end of November 1994