A leaked draft report on
Rwanda from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has been making headlines around the world with its suggestion that the current Rwandan leaders are responsible for genocide committed against Hutu in the . It nurtures the pernicious ‘double genocide’ theory promoted by Hutu extremists. They have long sought to establish a moral equivalence between those who attempted to exterminate the Rwandan Tutsi in 1994 and the reprisal crimes and collective punishments perpetrated by the victims of the genocide. Democratic Republic of the Congo
Like all ‘leak’ situations, it is a challenge to argue with the report because it is not publicly available. All that we have to go on are citations in news reports. There is also the suggestion that the Office of the High Commissioner had not issued the report precisely because of debate within the institution about the report’s far-fetched conclusions. As a result, apparently, partisans of the ‘double genocide’ theory have leaked the report to the media in order to pre-empt the possibility that they may lose the argument on their thesis prior to formal issuance of the report by the Office of the High Commissioner. They rely upon the implication that the Rwandan government is responsible for hesitation within the Office of the High Commissioner, rather than the cool heads of serious international lawyers who want to make sure that the Office gets it right.
Nor do the news reports tell us who the authors of the report actually are. Is the genocide charge backed by the opinion of prominent, international experts, whose judgment and credibility has been built up over many years - people of the stature of Richard Goldstone, or Mary Robinson, or Manfred Nowak, or Nigel Rodley, and so on ? Or is this the the work of anonymous consultants with an axe to grind?
The genocide thesis is premised on the proposition that the Tutsi-dominated combatants in the
killed Hutu indiscriminately, including ethnic Hutu who were not Rwandans. Democratic Republic of the Congo
According to the story on the front page of yesterday’s New York Times:
The report says that the apparently systematic nature of the massacres “suggests that the numerous deaths cannot be attributed to the hazards of war or seen as equating to collateral damage.” It continues, “The majority of the victims were children, women, elderly people and the sick, who were often undernourished and posed no threat to the attacking forces.”
The report presents repeated examples of times when teams of Rwandan soldiers and their Congolese rebel allies lured Hutu refugees with promises they would be repatriated to Rwanda, only to massacre them.
In one such episode, advancing Congolese rebel fighters and Rwandan troops summoned refugees to a village center, telling them they would be treated to meat from a slaughtered cow to strengthen them for their trek back to
. As the Hutu began to register their names by prefecture of origin, a whistle sounded and soldiers opened fire on them, killing between 500 and 800 refugees, the report said. Rwanda
In other instances, as survivors scrambled desperately through thick rain forest in a country as large as Western Europe, extermination teams laid ambush along strategic roadways and forest paths, making no distinction between men, women and children as they killed them.
An element of the report that could help determine any judgment of genocide concerns the treatment of native Congolese Hutu. The report suggests they were singled out for elimination along with Hutu refugees from
Rwandaand . The report asserts that there was no effort to make a distinction between militia and civilians, noting a “tendency to put all Hutu people together and ‘tar them with the same brush.’ ” Burundi
These are terrible crimes, of course, but it is reckless and demagogic to start using the term genocide to describe them. Plainly, this confuses the killing of individuals because of their ethnicity – a hate crime, to be sure – with the intent to exterminate the group. Assuming, arguendo, that these allegations against the Rwandan Tutsi forces are indeed accurate, they support war crimes and crimes against humanity charges. But any allegation of genocide by Rwandan Tutsi needs to demonstrate the intent to destroy an ethnic or racial group, and in so doing it needs to explain some important facts. Amongst them:
If the Rwandan military were genocidal, why did upwards of 2 million Hutu return to
in 1997? Rwanda
If the Rwandan leaders want to exterminate the Tutsi, why is there no credible evidence of this within Rwanda itself?
To be sure, international lawyers continue to debate the scope of the term genocide. Some argue that any killing, even by isolated individuals acting on their own initiative, can be labelled genocide. Others, including myself, take the view that genocide requires evidence of a plan or policy to physically exterminate the group. Such a plan or policy must be the work of a State or a State-like entity. A charge of genocide against the Tutsi combatants in the Congo must inevitably rest upon broad interpretations of the scope of genocide that extend it to all forms of hate crime, even when committed by isolated individuals. Obviously, a determination that genocide took place in Rwanda in 1994 directed against the Tutsi requires no such extension of the definition. By and large, attempts to broaden the scope of genocide in this way have been rejected by international tribunals, such as the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
According to the news reports, the charge of genocide actually gets sprinkled into the report in a rather qualified manner: This is from the Le Monde account: 'les attaques systématiques et généralisées [contre des Hutu réfugiés en RDC] révèlent plusieurs éléments accablants qui, s'ils sont prouvés devant un tribunal compétent, pourraient être qualifiés de crimes de génocide.' (My translation: 'widespread and systematic attacks [against Hutu refugees in the DRC] which, if proven before a competent tribunal, could amount to genocide’.)
It is easy to throw around words in this way, to devastating effect. That is the enigma of the so-called ‘g-word’. Such use of the term ‘genocide’ is particularly noxious because of the implication that the Tutsi victims of genocide were just as bad as those who attempted to exterminate them in 1994. Once this threshold is passed, the real consequence is to downgrade the significance of the genocide of the Tutsi, which was in fact one of the great international crimes of the twentieth century. If the double genocide thesis prospers, however, the certain and unarguable genocide of the Tutsi becomes distorted into little more than a detail in a protracted conflict between two rival ethnic groups, where there was evil on all sides. Thus, although the draft report may seem to be a principled denunciation of genocide in all its forms, no matter who commits it, the real consequence is the trivialization of genocide.