Monday, 18 January 2010

New Report on the Plane Crash that Launched the Rwandan Genocide

The plane crash of April 1994, in which Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana was killed, was the spark that launched the genocide in that country. Ever since, there have been conflicting accusations. Given strong evidence of planning of the genocide that followed, it has been widely accepted that the plane was shot down by Hutu extremists. Aside from its potential role in launching the genocidal campaign, there was the suggestion of dissatisfaction with Habyarimana in certain Rwandan circles because he had agreed not only to power sharing with the Tutsi-led Rwandese Patriotic Front but, and probably even more important, he had accepted a right to return of Tutsi refugees. However, some sources, like Belgian academic Filip Reyntjens and French judge Brugière, taking the view that it was Kagame and the Rwandese Patriotic Front that shot down the plane. The argument is often invoked in attempts to suggest that the Rwandan genocide can be reduced to a civil conflict in which both 'sides' were equally responsible. I've never thought much of the argument, because even if Kagame was responsible for the killing of Habyarimana, how could that possibly justify the extermination of an ethnic group? It is reminiscent of the pretexts the Nazis used, justifying the Kristallnacht on the grounds that a Jewish activist had murdered a German diplomat.
The Rwandan government has issued a new report on the assassination, conducted by international experts. It concludes that the shooting down of the plane was carried out by Hutu extremists: According to what seems to be a very thorough and rigorous study, the report says that the plane was shot down by a missile from the Kanombe base, which was controlled by government soldiers at the time, thus ruling out the RPF. It also claims that a confidential report prepared by the United Nations mission reached the same result. It cites Sean Moorhouse, a British Army captain, saying that the UN report said 'the Rwandan president’s airplane had been shot down by three Whites with the help of the Presidential Guard and that the shots from weapons which brought down the airplane were fired from the Kanombe military camp'.
Philip Gourevitch has praised the report on the New Yorker blog: This has attracted attention on other blogs, too: Predictably, there is also much criticism of the report on these blogs.
Thanks to Aimé Kalimunda.

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