A Deathly Hush

Paul Kagame
Paul Kagame; drawing by Siegfried Woldhek

The UN’s definition of genocide is not restricted to attempts to eradicate a particular ethnic group. It includes “killings…with the intent to destroy, in whole, or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” (my emphasis). Part One of this article explored the evidence presented in Judi Rever’s In Praise of Blood that before, during, and after the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) killed tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of innocent Hutus. The claim that these killings constituted a “parallel genocide” has long been dismissed by many academics and journalists, including myself, as overstatement, and even as Hutu propaganda. But Rever makes a plausible case for it.1

Even if these massacres didn’t constitute genocide, it’s worth asking why the fiction has persisted that Kagame’s RPF rescued Rwanda from further genocide when much evidence suggests that it actually helped provoke it by needlessly invading the country in 1990, massacring Hutus, probably shooting down the plane of President Juvénal Habyarimana in 1994, and failing to move swiftly to stop the genocide of the Tutsis, as Roméo Dallaire—commander of the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda at the time—suggested in his memoir Shake Hands with the Devil. The myth of the valorous RPF has for years been repeated not only in the media but also by officials in the Clinton, Bush II, and Obama administrations. Even those who criticize Kagame’s repressive rule in Rwanda today praise his actions during the genocide.

The reputation of the RPF appears to have been shaped by a coordinated public relations effort designed not just for the benefit of Kagame but also, as will be explained below, to obscure Washington’s role in a particularly bloody period of central African history, as the Soviet threat was receding and a new Islamist one seemed to be looming.

The RPF has long demonstrated considerable skill at deception. According to defectors interviewed by Rever, the group incinerated or buried its victims in tightly guarded encampments off-limits to human rights investigators, and recruited and trained a cadre of smooth-talking Tutsi technocrats, drivers, fixers, and other informal ambassadors who spouted RPF propaganda to visiting journalists, tourists, and NGO officials. In January 1993 rebel operatives took an international team of human rights investigators on a carefully guided tour of RPF-held areas in northern Rwanda. The investigators’ report, which was greeted with much fanfare, blamed virtually all the violence on the Rwandan government. Other human rights reports deemphasized the ethnically charged nature of the RPF’s crimes, attributing them instead to “generalized violence” and not mentioning that virtually all of the RPF’s victims were Hutu. Some human rights investigators denied that the RPF had committed any atrocities at all. RPF defectors told Rever that the group further confused foreign observers by killing Tutsis in “false flag” attacks designed to both demonize Hutus and escalate the genocide.

The RPF has intimidated, abducted, or killed those…

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