Linda Melvern is an investigative journalist whose research on the circumstances of the 1994 genocide began in April 1994 and continues today. Her books on the subject are: A People Betrayed, Conspiracy to Murder and Conspiracy to Deceive.
Another day, and comes another piece of research. The work goes on and there is still so much to do.
The circumstances of the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi demand the most precise documentation, the painstaking seeking out of information in order to arrive at as close an approximation of the truth as possible. We must be relentless.
No more dreadful dossier exists. In 1994 Rwanda was a vast crime scene. The magnitude of the crime remains largely incomprehensible. It is made so much worse today because in the outside world the true nature of it continues to be deliberately distorted and confused.
Denial follows genocide as night follows day. Denial is intended to spread confusion and cause doubt. It is intended to minimise the scale and status of what happened.
Deniers do not reject the authority of the truth and oppose it. They pay no attention to it at all. In the case of the genocide against the Tutsi it has sometimes been orchestrated by people in cahoots with génocidaires.
In France whole books have been published filled with distortion about events in Rwanda in 1994; the author of one of the most notorious publications in this denial genre is Pierre Péan, a journalist this year awarded Légion d’Honneur, the highest award France can bestow.
The French military officers who served in Rwanda in 1994, and who did not lift a finger, have testified in court in defence of génocidaires.
France, in the estimation of the US Department of State, “may have the most complete information of any western government on war crimes in Rwanda and access to witnesses, evidence and even perpetrators”.
Nothing is available to us.
Denial continues long after the killing is over and ensures the crime never ends. Each generation will have to fight it. It tries to destroy truth and memory and treats the survivors with contempt.
Terrible harm to survivors is done by it. It is a further betrayal; for survivors the genocide of the Tutsi is not a distant event from 20 years ago but a reality with which they live every day.
From France and Belgium, academics and journalists have come to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), to stand in an international court room to defend the perpetrators of genocide; we have seen a parade of defence witnesses turn these courtrooms into a forum for genocide denial.
Using the internet the defence lawyers and their supporters have taken their denial to the court of world opinion, to peddle their absurdities far and wide.
This is no mere fiddling with the facts. It is an attempt to rewrite history. There was no planned genocide, they say, and there was no Coup d’Etat on April 6.
This manipulation of the evidence has influenced journalists, students and academics in France, in Belgium, in the US, in Canada and in the UK who selectively quote historical documents and distort the historical record to further political aims.
For the survivors of genocide the offence can sometimes come from unexpected places.
In January this year, telephone calls from bewildered Rwandans alerted me to a posting on the website of the prestigious Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC in an offering for the 20thcommemoration where the death toll was casually described as ‘between 500,000 and one million people, predominantly Tutsi’.
Where exactly does the 500,000 figure come from if not from the deniers? Why was Rwanda’s own Ministry of Local Government research not referenced? Why such confusion? The Museum article was called the ‘Genocide Fax’ and cast doubt on genocide planning. It provided a distorted description of the Interahamwe militia.
It took no account of the ample evidence of how integral this militia was to the mechanics of the killing. A 30,000-strong force of unemployed youth, it was one of the most terrifying in history, trained to kill people at speed with the machete.
It was taught to disable victims by severing the Achilles heel to prevent escape. It was indoctrinated with a racist anti-Tutsi ideology.
There is no reference in the Museum’s sanitised version of its sadistic brutality, no reference to the scale of the unprecedented sexual violence for which it was responsible.
Journalists have one thing in common with historians, a residual obligation to the truth. Left unchallenged the denial will undermine the continuing and very necessary process of embedding the genocide against the Tutsi in public memory.
But rest assured. Ukuri kuzatsinda (truth will prevail). For anyone who cares to look the fact of genocide against the Tutsi is capable of immediate and accurate verification by resort to sources of indisputable accuracy.
There is overwhelming evidence to counter denial. The conclusions of the UN Security Council’s Independent Commission of Experts in December 1994 reported to the Council that the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the crime of Genocide had been “massively violated” in Rwanda.
The experts had found “overwhelming evidence” to show that the extermination of the Tutsi had been premeditated and planned months in advance; and a conspiracy to destroy Tutsi is confirmed as fact by judges at the ICTR.
The conclusion that genocide happened is accepted by Human Rights Watch, by politicians and officials in the Belgian Senate, by experts commissioned by the then Organization of African Union (OAU), by Oxfam, Amnesty International -- and anyone else who has carefully evaluated all available evidence so far produced.
Our investigations must continue: too many fugitives remain at large. The failure to apprehend Félicien Kabuga is catastrophic. There is so much left to learn; the 20th commemoration could be commemorated with a pledge from governments to explain at last why Rwanda was so quickly abandoned.
Those responsible should answer for their failure to take even the slightest action. That the genocide was allowed to proceed unhindered, accompanied by near universal indifference, will remain one of the great scandals of the 20th century.
We should see the release of government documents -- huge piles of them. This international failure, like the terrifying mechanism of the genocide of the Tutsi, demands precise documentation.
On my last research trip to Rwanda I was taught a popular saying in Kinyarwanda: “UKURI GUCA MUZIKO NTIGUSHYA. This translates as: the truth passes through fire and not get burned. How apt in this case.