Judi Rever turns the genocide against the Tutsi on its head

written 2 October 2020 (published 8 November 2020) - Raphaël Doridant

Canadian journalist Judi Rever recently published the French translation of her book In Praise of Blood : The Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (2018) with the title Rwanda : Eloge du sang. In it she details the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which are suitably exaggerated. Indeed, the book goes so far as to accuse the RPF of having instigated and encouraged the genocide of the Tutsis, and charge them with having contributed to the crime. In doing so, Rever and her book presents a thesis of denial - seeking to rewrite the history of genocide by turning upside down the truth of what occurred.

Far from bringing new and fresh revelations as she claims, Rever merely reiterates known facts with regard to war crimes committed by the RPF in Rwanda in 1994, and then in Zaire (later DRC) between 1996 and 2003. These were stated by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in late 1994. It estimated RPF around 25,000 to 45,000 non-combatant deaths could be attributed to the RPF between April and the summer of 1994. Amnesty International put this figure at 60,000 civilians killed during this period. In 1997, the historian Gérard Prunier cited the RPF as responsible for 100,000 deaths between April 1994 and mid-1995, victims of reprisals or of a « deliberate policy to terrorize the Hutus to subdue them ». Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) noted that: « in their drive for military victory and a halt to the genocide, the RPF killed thousands, including non-combatants as well as government troops and members of militia. As RPF soldiers sought to establish their control over the local population, they also killed civilians in numerous summary executions and in massacres. They may have slaughtered tens of thousands during the four months of combat from April to July [1994] [1] ». In 2000, the Organization of African Unity synthesised these sources in its report « Rwanda: the preventable genocide ».
Nor does Rever reveal any new facts about crimes committed by the RPF in Zaire/DRC. These too have been noted before, for example by the UNHCR in its 2010 Report on « the Mapping Project » concerning the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed between March 1993 and June 2003 in the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This report, which was not solely concerned with the abuses of the RPF, emphasised, with specific regard to Hutu Rwandan victims of the war, « the scale of the crimes and the large number of victims, probably several tens of thousands ... The majority of the victims were children, women, elderly people and the sick ». (§ 31) It also examined its rationale for not upholding a charge of genocide, concluding an intention to destroy the Hutu group had not been established. « Finally, facts which tend to show that the RPA/AFDL [the rebellion led by Laurent-Désiré Kabila and the Rwandan army] spared the lives, and in fact facilitated the return to Rwanda of very large numbers of Hutu militate against proving a clear intent to destroy the group. » (§ 32) It determined that further investigation was needed on what has occurred. « Only such an investigation and judicial determination would be in a position to resolve whether these incidents amount to the crime of genocide. » (§ 522)

« Double genocide »

Rever, however, is not concerned with « scruples » such as a rigorous, well-informed and factually-based investigation, instead she hastens to claim that the RPF committed a « genocide of the Hutus » (Eloge du sang, p. 300) parallel to that which took place against the Tutsi from April to July 1994 (which killed between 800,000 and one million people). She inflates the number of Hutus killed by the RPF in Rwanda so it outstrips the figures cited above. So, on the basis of her own calculations and unverifiable extrapolations, she declares there must have been hundreds of thousands of Hutu victims. She quotes, without naming him, a United Nations investigator who is said to have mentioned there were « at least half a million » victims and a former RPF official who puts the figure at one million (p. 21; p. 304-305 note 398). In common with Holocaust deniers, whom Nadine Fresco called the « redressors of the dead », such exaggerations seem aimed at « balancing » the number of Tutsi victims who perished in the genocide with the number of Hutu victims, thus inducing a highly misleading equivalence. It is a way of seeking to erase the essential difference between genocide and crimes against humanity, with the former being defined as the intention to destroy a targeted group.
But, as the Mapping report concludes, did the RPF really act out a genocidal intention against the Hutus when post-genocide Rwandan government sought the return in the fall of 1996 of one million Hutus, most of whom had been previously held against their will in Zairean refugee camps since July 1994? This Hutu civilian population was used as a highly effective « human shield » by the genocide perpetrators who controlled the camps. Paul Kagame and the new Rwandan government launched what became known as the « first Congo war » in 1996, as a last resort after having repeatedly demanded - but failed to persuade - the UN and international community to disarm the genocidaires in the camps. Not only were they holding the majority of Hutu civilians from returning across the border to Rwanda, but they were actively rearming and retraining with the aim of launching a military reconquest of Rwanda with French support. Post 2000, Rwanda initiated an effective policy of welcoming demobilized former fighters of the Forces de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) and their families back into Rwanda to restart their lives. Indeed some of these individuals opted to be re-integrated into the national army, rising to very senior ranks in the current Rwandan Defence Force or serving in Kagame’s government at senior ministerial level. In addition, many genocide perpetrators convicted by the Gacaca courts have now been fully rehabilitated and live and work freely in Rwanda after serving their sentences.

« The RPF led the Tutsi genocide »

As Rever emphases the crimes committed by the RPF, and then exaggerates their extent and misrepresents them as a « genocide », she aims to persuade her reader to accept an even more problematic thesis: that Kagame’s RPF was itself the instigator of the genocide against the Tutsi. The Canadian journalist claims that the RPF provoked and fuelled the genocide, including the involvement of RPF commandos being infiltrated into Hutu militias. Their aim, according to her, was to seize power in Rwanda and to build political legitimacy by ending a genocide that the RPF itself had sparked. So, « Kagame and his Ugandan-raised colleagues provoked and nourished Rwanda’s 1994 genocide in order to seize power and to hang on to it for a very long time. They potentiated the violence by infiltrating the Interahamwe in Kigali, Butare and Ruhengeri, and urging these youth militia to kill even more Tutsis … Observing and facilitating the carnage in front of them, [the RPF leadership] felt strong and confident: finally, they would pick the fruits of their strategy and seize power as a saviour. The death toll in Rwanda soared. The RPF would save the Tutsis, even though he offered them as a sacrifice. » (p. 301-302)
Rever claims to supplement further her theory of a genocide orchestrated by Kagame’s RPF, a theory already central to the original English version of his book, by adding a new chapter in the French edition concerning massacres committed in Bisesero, a mountainous region in western Rwanda, not far from Kibuye. She claims that it was Kagame himself who oversaw the extermination of the Bisesero Tutsis, and in which secret RPF commandos played a crucial role. These allegations are in total contradiction with the findings of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which had the opportunity to examine the genocide against the Tutsis in Bisesero in several trials, and from existing French military documents [2].

Rever’s hypothesis of RPF commandos infiltrating the Hutu militia has become, for her, the key to understanding the genocide against the Tutsi. She contends that the RPF had pre-planned such tactics for two years before the genocide began. « Started in February 1992, the formation of the commandos ended in August 1993 ... At the end of 1993, a senior officer explained, commandos were a very important group. The soldiers claim that several thousand young men took commando training and were deployed in Kigali and throughout Rwanda in January 1994, ready to act after the assassination of Habyarimana on 6 April 1994 ». (p. 171). Of course, the murder of the Rwandan president is also blamed on the RPF.
Indeed, Rever’s whole hypothesis depends on pinning the blame for the attack on Habyarimana’s plane on 6 April 1994 on the RPF. It was this event that signalled the start of the genocide. Inevitably, this leads her to discredit the work of the French justice system which dismissed Judge Bruguiere’s 2006 investigation into the attack, deeming the charges against Rwandan suspects who are members or close to the RPF to be insufficient [3]. Rever rejects the French ballistic missile experts who concluded the missiles were fired from the nearby Kanombe military base, the stronghold of Hutu extremist officers ; nor does she mention the British experts from Cranfield defence college who reached the same conclusion as part of the 2009 Rwandan commission into the crash chaired by Jean Mutsinzi. The testimony of a French officer, Gregoire de Saint-Quentin, and that of Belgian military doctors, who were housed in Camp Kanombe at the time and who reported the firing of the missiles is similarly disregarded. Instead, Judi Rever relies on suspect details that had been dismissed 20 years ago by the 1998 French Parliamentary Inquiry concerning the types of missiles used and the alleged readying of RPF troops before the missile attack  [4].

The personal compostion of an « evil actor »

Rever reiterates and expands the previous hypothesis of RPF commandos infiltrating the ranks of Hutu militia, found in the extremist monthly Kangura in September 1994. Such views were later espoused by regime ideologue Ferdinand Nahimana – who had himself been sentenced to 30 years for crimes, including genocide, by the ICTR, in order to establish the real demon of the piece : Paul Kagame’s RPF. Rever details alleged RPF massacres in order to personalise the victims with the aim of leading the reader to identify with them more closely. Equally, she emphasises the cruelty of the killing itself and attempts to conceal the crimes, including the burning of the corpses (attested to by both HRW and FIDH as well as the Mapping report). These details, and the repeated allegation that her witnesses were in great danger due to death threats from the Rwandan security services, not to mention the risks she feels she is also under from the same source, all contributes to this building up the figure of Paul Kagame as some kind of demonic monster. To ensure this mythical construction is believable to her readers, Rever spends an equal amount of energy painstakingly ignoring the mountain of evidence from witnesses, experts, reports, documents, NGOs, journalists, religious etc, that contradicts her hypothesis : so the Rwandan Interim Government, the Rwandan Armed Forces, the Interahamwe and other militias, the French State – all are treated to spectacular silence by Rever. Indeed, the way in which she selectively ignores or uses the work of historians, recognised organizations such as FIDH and HRW, official bodies such as the 1998 French Parliamentary Inquiry and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, or the case-law of the ICTR, is highly significant and revealing of her true motivation in this respect.
Judi Rever clearly draws a parallel between the crimes of the RPF against the Hutu and the crimes of the Nazis when she talks about Kagame’s « open-air crematoriums » and in comparing the RPF commandos to the German Einsatzgruppen, responsible for the « Shoah by bullets » during the Second World War (p. 300). This comparison with Nazism is not by chance: associating the Rwandan president with Hitler is an additional way for Rever to imbue her reader with her carefully formulated idea that the genocide of the Tutsis was planned by Kagame’s RPF. The genocidal intent and organisation displayed by extremist Hutu officers around Bagosora and by the members of the Kambanda’s interim regime and militia leaders, is barely mentioned (p. 298). Instead the reader is consumed by page after page detailing the overwhelming responsibility Rever places on the RPF and especially its leader. The real-life criminals and perpetrators of the genocide against the Tutsi are implicitly exonerated of their crimes, and instead the truth is turned on its head as those who ended the slaughter are accused of instigating it all along.
Judi Rever succeeds in carefully revising truth and reality, without ever directly denying the Tutsi genocide, but in such a manner as to totally distort history and to overturn responsibility for the horrific crimes to the point that the truth is no longer recognisable.
Her work falls well within the definition of negationism given by the historian Yves Ternon: « The negationist then builds an apparent truth and, at the end of his demonstration, delivers a distorted image, an anamorphosis. » Rever and her book presents not only a distorted image, but an entirely « reversed » image of the genocide of the Tutsi.

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This article was published in Billets d’Afrique 301 - octobre 2020
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