Rwanda: No Conspiracy, No Genocide
Planning ... No Genocide?
by Peter Erlinder, Jurist
The media reports of the December 18 judgment
of Chamber-1 at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
focused primarily on the convictions of three of four former top
military leaders, who were the supposed "masterminds"
of the Rwandan genocide. But, as those who have followed the ICTR
closely know, convictions of members of the former Rwandan government
and military are scarcely newsworthy.
Ever since former ICTR Chief Prosecutor
Carla Del Ponte and ICTR Chief Investigative Prosecutor Michael
Hourigan went public in 2007-8 exposing US-UK manipulations to
grant de facto impunity to current Rwandan President Paul Kagame
and his henchmen, between 1997 and the present, convictions of
the vanquished in the Rwanda war are a given.
The real news was that ALL of the top
Rwandan military officers, including the supposedly infamous Colonel
Bagosora, were found not guilty of conspiracy or planning to commit
genocide. And Gen. Gratien Kabiligi, a senior member of the general
staff was acquitted of all charges! The others were found guilty
of specific acts committed by subordinates, in specific places,
at specific times - not an overall conspiracy to kill civilians,
much less Rwandan-Tutsi civilians.
This raises the more profound question:
if there was no conspiracy and no planning to kill ethnic civilians,
can the tragedy that engulfed Rwanda properly be called "a
genocide" at all? Or, was it closer to a case of civilians
being caught up in war-time violence, like the Eastern Front in
WWII, rather than the planned behind-the-lines killings in Nazi
death camps? The ICTR judgment found the former.
The Court specifically found that the
actions of Rwandan military leaders, both before any after the
April 6, 1994 assassination of former Rwandan President Juvenal
Habyarima, were consistent with war-time conditions and the massive
chaos brought about by the four-year war of invasion from Uganda
by Gen. Paul Kagame's RPF army, which seized power in July 1994.
Although the Chamber did not specifically
mention more recent events, it is worth noting that this is the
same government that was named in a UN Security Council commissioned
report on December 12, 2008 as having invaded the eastern Congo
(with Uganda) in 1996 and again in 1998 and have occupied an area
15-times the size of Rwanda since that time. Similar UN Security
Council reports in 2001, 2002 and 2003, make clear that Rwanda
and Uganda's economic rape of the eastern Congo, and the resulting
6 million-plus civilian deaths, have long been an "open secret."
As Lead Defense Counsel for Major Aloys
Ntabakuze, who was convicted of three specific crimes committed
by troops without evidence they were acting under his authority,
I would say the judgment was actually a victory. Our defense was
based on previously suppressed contemporaneous UN and declassified
US documents that showed Kagame's RPF as the war-time aggressor,
which was responsible for the assassination of the former President
and for preventing military intervention to end the predicted
The ICTR oral judgment specifically refers
to this "alternative" explanation of the tragic events
in Rwanda, as being a basis for rejecting the conspiracy and planning
charges against the former military leaders. But the documents
As early as May 17, 1994, UNHCR was receiving
reports of massive civilian killings by Kagame's RPF in the 1/3
of Rwanda they had occupied since April 22. Other documents from
August, September and October 1994 describe a conscious attempt
by UN and US government officials to "cover-up" reports
of RPF killings, including memos to Secretary of State Warren
Christopher. Apparently, US policy to create "impunity"
for Kagame began nearly as soon as he took power.
Had the US "impunity policy"
not been in place, Kagame might well have been prosecuted along
with Military-1 defendants Bagosora and Nsengiumva, as ICTR Prosecutor
Michael Hourigan recommended in early 1997. Kagame's responsibility
for the assassination of Habyarimana has been known to the ICTR
Prosecutor since at least that time, if not early.
Had the US "impunity policy"
not been in place, Kagame might well have spent the last decade
awaiting trial at the ICTR, rather than getting rich from the
resources of the Congo, and the blood of millions of Africans.
Peter Erlinder is a professor at William
Mitchell College of Law, St. Paul, MN. He is a past-President
of the National Lawyers Guild, a Lead Defense Counsel-UN International
Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and the President of the ICTR-ADAD
(Association des Avocats de la Defense). E-mail email@example.com