On Rwanda

Rwanda and Genocide in the Twentieth Century by Alain Destexhe (New York University Press, 92 pp., $19.95), with an introduction by William Shawcross, is a short account of the definition of genocide and its applicability in the twentieth century. Destexhe, a former secretary general of Médecins Sans Frontières, abbreviates the UN’s 1948 definition as follows: “a criminal act…with the intention of destroying…an ethnic, national or religious group,… targeted as such.” He believes that there have been three examples in this century which fit this definition in a strict sense: the Armenians under the Young Turks in 1915, the Jews under Hitler, and the Tutsis in 1994.

Rwanda: Death, Despair and Defiance (published by African Rights, 11 Marshalsea Road, London SE1 1EP) is a vast documentation of the genocide. The names are given of many of those believed responsible for its plotting and execution, together (this is the second edition, published August 1995) with accounts of some of their denials. The same group brought out Rwanda, Not So Innocent (subtitled When Women Become Killers), a dossier of case histories of women who led the killings or were coerced into killing. It is full of stories and evidence like this:

I am accused of being there when people were being killed and singing. I admit I did this. I was there when people were being killed. Many people. I joined the animation just as I would join any other choir. I did not have any idea that such encouragement would result in a genocide.

African Rights points out that many Hutus helped to save the lives of many Tutsis, and that large numbers of them suffered in consequence. But what is striking about African Rights’ evidence is the involvement in the killing of every professional class, and the complicity of the clergy. Every section of society was involved. The reason for concentrating on the role of women is partly that many of the female culprits are still moving unhindered between the cross-border refugee camps and the country itself, reclaiming property, reconnoitering for their menfolk, and taking advantage of their presumed innocence as women.

Gérard Prunier’s book, The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide, is emphatic that the plotters and leaders of the genocide should be tried and executed, but he holds little hope that justice will be done. In December last year the Rwandan war crimes tribunal, whose chief prosecutor is the South African judge Richard Goldstone, issued the first eight international arrest warrants for men accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. None of the accused has been named. Recently the tribunal asked Belgium to hand over three suspects, but the legal procedures for their extradition are expected to take a long time. The current Tutsi-dominated Rwandan government, the product of the RPF victory of 1991, said it was dismayed that only eight had been indicted after a year of investigation.

—J. F.
January 18, 1996

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