By Brian Obara
Did Paul Kagame’s commandoes who had infiltrated the Hutu militia fuel and escalate the genocide in Rwanda? And did the United Nations bury evidence of the involvement of Kagame’s forces in the genocide?
Like a nugget of gold panned from a muddy river, Rwanda has emerged as a shining model of post-conflict success. Much of the praise for this has been heaped on President Paul Kagame. The praise has been of the “gushing” variety. Former US President Bill Clinton has called the Rwandan President “one of the greatest leaders of our time” while former British Prime Minister Tony Blair singled him out as a “visionary leader”. His presidential peers on the continent agree. They elected Kagame chairperson of the African Union (AU) in January.
For journalist and author Judi Rever, the rise and rise of Paul Kagame has been perplexing to witness. Rever was reporting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the immediate aftermath of the Rwanda genocide and spoke to many survivors and army defectors who gave her first-hand accounts that were at odds with the official version which cast Kagame and his troops as the “saviours” of Rwanda.
Fast forward to 2018 and after years of careful research and interviews with former RPF officers, Rever is out with a new book “In Praise of Blood: The Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front”, which attempts to piece together a complete picture of what really happened before, during and after the Rwanda genocide. The verdict? The world has been sold a lie.
According to Rever’s telling, officers of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), under Kagame’s orders, knowingly triggered all-out violence on April 6, 1994 in Rwanda by shooting down the plane of President Juvenal Habyarimana and also carried out thousands of killings in a bi-directional genocide that resulted in the deaths of almost a million people.
Rever says these facts should have come out at the UN-backed International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) but they didn’t because of a cover-up involving powerful players on the global stage and prosecutors not keen to ruffle feathers:
“Basically the ICTR protected Kagame and the RPF all along. That was a decision that they made from very early on. Carla del Ponte was the Prosecutor of the ICTR before Hassan Bubacar Jallow came in. She declared that she would issue indictments in 2001, 2002 and by 2003 when she pushed further on this subject, because they had actually assembled a fair amount of prima facie evidence to start indicting RPF commanders, she was removed. She was removed at the behest of the United States, which wielded a fair amount of influence over the tribunal,” says Rever.
This is the first of a two-part interview with Rever about her book. The second part of the interview is available here. In this interview, Rever tells why she wrote In Praise of Blood, who she thinks shot down President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane and explains the Bill Clinton and Tony Blair’s mutual admiration for President Paul Kagame:
Q: What motivated you to write this book?
Rever: I began the book as a personal quest to find out what really happened during the 1994 genocide. There were many things I did not understand about the violence. For example, I didn’t know how it broke out, how it unfolded and who did what and to whom. I began to question what happened while I was in the Congo three years later in 1997 as a reporter interviewing Hutu survivors of RPF atrocities in the Congolese jungle. Many of the survivors of those atrocities told me that their families had been slaughtered by the RPF in 1994, which is why they fled to Zaire that year in the first place and stayed.
What I was able to witness in the Congo first-hand and from my interviews with refugees in the jungle was that the RPF under Kagame was not a force for good or for Renaissance in the Great Lakes region. He had committed mass murder in Rwanda and in the Congo. It was from there that I started to backtrack. I began to question the whole notion of the RPF saving Rwanda, the narrative of Kagame actually stopping the genocide.
That’s what motivated me.
Q: What will readers learn from reading your book?
Rever: I would like readers to take away a few essential elements, namely that the West has politically and militarily supported an army that has inflicted enormous suffering on Rwandan and Congolese people. That’s number one. Number two, is we only understand half the story of what happened during the 1994 genocide and by burying the truth of the other half the world has bought into a lie. Number three, Kagame and his commanders actually ignited the genocide against Tutsis by killing the former Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana. Kagame’s army also fuelled the genocide against Tutsis by ordering commandos to infiltrate Hutu militias during the genocide and helped kill Tutsis. Finally, what I say in my book is that Kagame’s troops committed genocide against Hutus in 1994 and in the years after.
Q: What evidence has informed your very strong opinions about Paul Kagame’s involvement and how the 1994 genocide started?
Rever: Where I first came on to this was a confidential report of the United Nations (UN). It’s a summary report and it was issued by something called the Special Investigations Unit. The Special Investigations Unit was a clandestine unit set up by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to gather evidence of RPF crimes in 1994. That report was tabled in October 2003. I had heard rumblings of this but that’s the first time I had seen some names of commandos, or as they called them “technicians”, who had actually infiltrated the Hutu militia. It was important enough in terms of testimony that the investigators realized that they wanted to put it in their report to the ICTR prosecutor Hassan Jallow who, at the end of 2003, was just taking up his post.
From there, I started asking some of the former senior officers of the RPF who I got to know and who I used as sources for my book and for a number of my articles. They confirmed in much more detail some of these stories of technicians actually infiltrating not only all the militias but the political parties as well to stir up chaos, to know who the Hutu opposition members were and also, of course, some of the commandos killed fellow Tutsis at roadblocks and encouraged and incited more massacres of Tutsis.
Q: Your book is titled, In Praise of Blood: The Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front. What inspired the title?
Rever: We have seen billions of dollars of aid being poured into Kagame’s Rwanda even as his army and police have killed Rwandan citizens and as his army has invaded the
Congo and slaughtered Congolese and Rwandans next door and even as his agents have killed dissidents abroad. Despite these shocking violations of human rights and of international law, the international community has continued to support and praise the RPF and provide half the country’s operating budget every year. For me and for many people, especially the victims, it’s an Orwellian phenomenon.
Q: You mention victims. Are you in touch with people inside Rwanda or are these mostly people mostly who’ve left the country?
Rever: Mostly people have left the country. There was a first wave of officers who broke with the RPF and fled to Uganda around the year 2000. Then there have been people leaving the RPF ever since.
I have got to know a number of these people and interviewed them. There is a substantial network of sources out there. Of course there were people who fled earlier like Théoneste Lizinde and Seth Sendashonga who had been part of the RPF but both of those individuals were killed in Kenya. A number of them are still in Africa and some are in North America and many are in Europe.
Q: Your book upends a lot of narratives about the Rwandan genocide that most people considered “settled history”. You, for example, lay the responsibility for the shooting down of President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane on Paul Kagame’s troops. What evidence have you found to support that claim?
Rever: I have some other elements, but the strongest evidence I have on the plane attack is from the confidential summary report tabled by ICTR investigators who were examining RPF crimes. That testimony in that report reinforces and essentially corroborates what Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière concluded in 2006. This report was tabled by the ICTR investigators in 2003 and and it was three years later that the Judge Bruguière concluded the same thing. The testimony in the ICTR document indicates that the RPF held a series of meetings to discuss assassinating Habyarimana, that they had already organized a missile team that had been trained in Uganda and that this team was able to use surface-to-air missiles. The names of the RPF commandos involved in the missile attack on Habyarimana’s plane are cited in the ICTR report. According to that testimony in the ICTR report, the commando team brought two missiles into an area of the capital named Masaka and proceeded to shoot down the plane on April 6, 1994.
Q: Why do you think the ICTR report was buried?
Rever: Basically the ICTR protected Kagame and the RPF all along. That was a decision that they made from very early on. Carla del Ponte was the Prosecutor of the ICTR before Hassan Bubacar Jallow came in. She declared that she would issue indictments in 2001, 2002 and by 2003 when she pushed further on this subject, because they had actually assembled a fair amount of prima facie evidence to start indicting RPF commanders, she was removed. She was removed at the behest of the United States which wielded a fair amount of influence over the tribunal. I explain this a lot further in my book.
Hassan Jallow took her place and he allowed the Special Investigations Unit to continue investigating but it was clear that, as time went on, he wasn’t interested in issuing any indictments against the RPF. In fact, in 2008-2009 he transferred the entire special investigations operation over to Rwanda itself. Essentially what I say in my book is that Jallow, the current Gambian Chief Justice, let the killers prosecute themselves. To answer your question, the ICTR report was buried due to political interference and by those in the West who politically sponsor and support Kagame’s regime.
Q: You have said that the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) troops perpetrated a genocide against Hutus in Rwanda. What evidence have you found of this and why do you think there hasn’t been more written about it before?
Rever: I think the RPF mastered the art of propaganda warfare even before the 1994 genocide. They were basically very successful at waging a war on truth.
What Kagame has done is successfully cover up his troops’ record of mass murder of genocide. What did that violence look like? The soldiers, military intelligence and officers from the training wing and those from the High Command in Kagame’s army operated behind the battlefront in every prefecture in Rwanda. They started in the north in Byumba and worked down the eastern side of the country in Kibungo where they targeted two community leaders then went after peasants. They lured peasants to meetings, slaughtered them and buried them. Sometimes they buried them with the Tutsis who had already been killed by the Interahamwe. In some instances, the RPF burned the bodies of Hutus killed fairly quickly or sometimes they loaded the Hutu families onto trucks and brought them to Gera Park in the East or they killed them at a military barracks called Gabiro. Then they incinerated the bodies.
To answer your question, the RPF’s crimes were largely hidden. The UN had some degree of knowledge of these things as they were happening. There were reports already in May that the RPF was slaughtering Hutus in the south-eastern end of the country but the UN did not act on it. The RPF got away with these crimes because the ICTR allowed it to. The whole idea was to protect Kagame. A lot of people were okay with Kagame’s impunity. Just to give you the briefest of examples, Robert Gersony in his report in September 1994 and his oral briefings said the RPF committed genocide. The UN buried his report.
Q: Leaders like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair have praised Paul Kagame for what he has achieved in Rwanda since taking over. Clinton, for example, has called him one of “the greatest leaders of our time.” What do you make of their effusive praise?
Rever: I think history will judge both of those men harshly. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair have been Kagame’s top kingmakers. They have both played key roles in constructing the myth of Kagame as a visionary leader who has resurrected Rwanda from the ashes. They have both enabled Kagame’s impunity by peddling this myth and and turning on the taps of global charity. Neither of them has been willing to address, in a substantive way, Kagame’s killings which they would have been aware of in Rwanda during and after the genocide and in the Congo. They seem to have geopolitical interests in protecting him.
There’s been so much bloodshed and destabilization in the Great Lakes region. Frankly, its been a catastrophe. The West’s geopolitical interests are a big part of why Kagame has so much support. Part of it is economic and part of it is very much politically driven. The US and Britain want people they can do business and politics with. They want people who they agree with on certain things. Obviously part of the calculation here is the United States wanted regime change in the Congo. They wanted Mobutu Sese Seko out and Kagame was the man to do it.
This is the first of a two-part interview with Judi Rever about “In Praise of Blood”. The second part of the interview on how “The ICC has given Africa’s most prolific genocidaire a free ride” is available here: