Sunday, 29 August 2010

Perverting the Meaning of Genocide in Leaked Report on Rwanda

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 Democratic Republic of the Congo. 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.
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 Democratic Republic of the Congo killed Hutu indiscriminately, including ethnic Hutu who were not Rwandans.
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 Rwanda. 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.
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 Rwanda and Burundi. 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.’ ”

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 Rwanda in 1997?
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.


Adam M. said...

I am surprised to see you mention the authorship of the report. "Good" authorship could no more save a work of questionable merit than "bad" authorship could do the converse. Anything else is reasoning ad hominem.

As for the different treatment of Hutus who returned to Rwanda in 1997, the mere fact that these particular Hutus fled and stayed in hiding in the DRC almost certainly created a presumption that they had reason to hide. It is not surprising that those who remained in exile were treated differently from those who remained, or who returned willingly.

Genocide includes the intent to destroy a part of the group, not necessarily the whole group. Once a (hypothetical) commander decided that the Rwandan Hutu refugees should die and that there was no reason to refrain from wiping out the local Hutu population in the process, is this not genocide, even if it is confined to certain districts?

Richard said...

Some of the remarks made by William A. Schabas read more like an assessment of a genocide competition where some people can pretend to have the monopoly of being the true victims of genocide than anyone else.
It is misleading to pretend that the deliberate killing innocents that falls short of being classified as genocide is not worth mentioning. One would agree that the very definition of genocide is in itself a social construct that lacks any sort of objectivity.
The Rwandan genocide has been both a product and a further cause of an enormous African crisis; its very occurrence was a symptom, not treating it by denouncing any kind of human right abuse can only help to spread the disease.
From a criminological point de view, a crime is a crime, be it called genocide, mass killing, calculated violence, assassination etc... And those found responsible for such acts should be denounced and, if possible, prosecuted.
Why people are are so determined to lock themselves into stereotypical rhetoric and use binary opposed terms to promote one identity against another?
The behaviour of the tutsi led government of Rwanda is more like the behaviour of an abuse child who grew old to become, himself, a child abuser. The use of calculated violence to control, by the actual Rwandan government, is the motivating factor for people who write reports like the one that has been leaked in Le Monde news paper and not a vicious need to deny the 1994 so called genocide.

VC Lindsay said...

You say that a leaked UN report “nurtures the pernicious ‘double genocide’ theory promoted by Hutu extremists.” You label use of the g-word in connection with the leak as “reckless and demagogic”. You say: “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” and then go on to conclude that holding Kigame and others responsible for acts which may legally be characterized as genocide would result in “the trivialization of genocide.”

At the same time, you seem to accept that the ICTY and ICTR have defined genocide in a way which might cover the Tutsi crimes against the Hutu. Whether or not it does is an open question, in part because of the Security Council’s opportune removal of Carla del Ponte as the ICTR prosecutor. (Is Carla del Ponte a Hutu extremist?) It is at least in part the failure to provide equal justice that is feeding the repression in Rwanda today.

So it is difficult to understand your objections. You ignore the sentencing phase of a prosecution so that you may deride evidence which supports prosecutions which would of course include allegations of genocide as well as crimes against humanity, if you follow the charging practices at the ad hoc tribunals. And every sentence involves individualized consideration of personal responsibility and culpability. And no criminal conviction implies anything about anyone else’s crime, unless the evidence establishes a connection. Come on.

muhammad said...

Thank you Prof. William A. Schabas for your useful informations.