Constructing the Official “Hutu Extremist” Narrative.Few outsiders understood the lived particularities of Rwanda’s ethnic democracy in the lead up to the genocide (1990-1994).2 Therefore, when Kagame assassinated President Juvenal Habyarimana (pictured right) on the night of April 6 and 7 and Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana the following morning, a narrative centered on a scapegoat, the Hutu extremist, captured the imagination of outsiders who struggled to make sense of the conflict.3
Proponents of this narrative also describe Habyarimana’s inner circle of relatives and friends, the Akazu, as a group of violent and racist radicals, often intellectuals, with a ‘zero ethnic Tutsi’ policy. This Hutu extremist faction, a cadre of Habyarimana’s MRND party for which democratization meant a likely loss of power, was labelled extremist because it did not refrain from killing moderates. From 1991 to 1992, numerous indiscriminate attacks (with bombs and grenades, among other weapons) were attributed to this faction’s ethnic hating ‘Hutu power’ ideology. As a result, many believed that the Akazu orchestrated Habyarimana’s assassination in 1994.
Another Hutu extremist faction was the Interahamwe, a militia formed by groups of young people from the MRND party. Supporters of the official narrative tell us it carried out much of the killing in 1994 and founded the RTLM, a radio station accused of hate speech and treason for broadcasting where Tutsis were fleeing during the genocide. Their attacks aggravated ethnic tensions by adding pressures to democratize.6 Ultimately, this violent faction, like the Akazu, provided Kagame with the necessary pretext for engaging in armed conflict: namely, protecting the people from the MRND. As we will see, however, the official narrative oddly ignores the role these extremist factions had after the genocide in providing the ICTR with its incentive to prosecute Hutu extremists at all costs and overlook the RPF’s role in pillaging the African Great Lakes region.
In sum, the official narrative describes the period leading up to the assassination as one of exacerbating ethnic tensions caused by highly violent Hutu extremist factions, many of which the interim government could not put down.7 Kagame and the RPF resumed hostilities against Hutu extremists on the morning after Habyarimana’s assassination in order to protect the Tutsi population. They came out victorious several months later, in July, and have ruled Rwanda ever since.
Contesting the Official NarrativeFor a complete historical account of the Rwandan genocide, we cannot omit the lived particularities of Rwanda’s ethnic democracy in the lead up to the massacre. It is therefore necessary to question the validity of the Hutu extremist narrative. A brief overview of the Hourigan, Bruguiere, and Trevidic reports is useful here. The reports were written at different times by judges who sought to revise the official narrative via an examination of Kagame’s role in the shooting down of the Falcon 50.
In 1997, the UN tasked the Australian lawyer Michael Hourigan with investigating the assassination of the Rwandan and Burundian presidents. While working for the Prosecutor’s Office headed by Louise Arbour, Hourigan found that the assassination was most likely sponsored by Paul Kagame (pictured left) and his RPF. He also found that the RPF received aid from a foreign country. Arbour suppressed the evidence, however, on the grounds that “the event in question” did not clearly constitute “a crime within the tribunal’s jurisdiction.”8 Although the testimonies of some highly ranked RPF officials in the Bruguiere Report confirmed Hourigan’s conclusions, the ICTR nevertheless did not launch a single official inquiry into the assassination. It even prohibited its prosecutors from doing so. For example, Carla Del Ponte, who had just replaced Louise Arbour as Chief Prosecutor of the ICTR, was removed from her position when she relaunched an investigation into the assassination and other related crimes committed by the RPF.9
The UN Security Council denied the existence of the Hourigan Report until Christopher Black, a Canadian lawyer, published it in March 2000. That year, the families of the crew members who perished on the Falcon 50 urged Jean-Louis Bruguiere, a French judge, to investigate the causes of the assassination.10 Upon his request, in May 2000, the UN Security Council sent Bruguiere a copy of the Hourigan Report (albeit reluctantly). This procurement allowed Bruguiere to add to Hourigan’s conclusions by examining the origins of the missiles used in the assassination and by recording more self-incriminating testimonies of high-ranking RPF officials. It also forced the UN Security Council to admit that the information had been in the ICTR’s possession the entire time at Arusha.
In hindsight, Hourigan and Bruguiere turned the entire history of the Rwandan Genocide on its head by effectively pointing to the RPF’s complicity in President Habyarimana’s assassination. Their reports paved the way for a revisionist trend in the historical scholarship of the genocide by providing a new generation of historians with the necessary evidence to critically reexamine Kagame’s misleading vision of the Hutu extremist. They also provided the ICTR with the requisite legal documentation to show that the Hutu extremist factions mentioned in the previous chapter, the Interahamwe and the Akazu, were not responsible for the shooting down of the Falcon 50.
The Interahamwe was founded by a Tutsi member of the MRND, Anastase Gasana, in response to the rise of the Inkuba, a youth group of the MDR that had fought against the MRND from July 10 1992 to July 13 1992.11 Bernard Lugan explains that Gasana left the MRND to join the MDR, where he became councilor for the Hutu Prime Minister Nsengiyaremye. By the end of the genocide, in July 1994, he had joined the RPF and was minister for Kagame’s first government.12 In hindsight, the “absence of MRND structural relationships and control over the Interahamwe” may have caused Gasana to change alliances amidst a congenial business environment between Hutu and Tutsi businessmen “who used mass killing to settle political scores.”13 In this context, Tutsis may conceivably have formed an important part of the Interahamwe.14
Unlike the Interahamwe, the Akazu never existed.15 Jean-Marie Vianney Nkezabera and Anastase Munyandekwe, both high-ranking members of the Hutu opposition to Habayarimana, were witnesses before the ICTR in the trials of Habyarimana’s brother-in-law, Protais Zigiranyirazo, who was found guilty of conspiracy to commit genocide; genocide; complicity in genocide; extermination as a crime against humanity; and murder as a crime against humanity.16 In court, John Philpot, the lawyer of the accused, mentioned Nkezabera and Munyandekwe’s sworn testimony that the Akazu never could not have existed because the two witnesses had invented the notion.17 The testimony was based on detailed descriptions of meetings held in 1991, during which the Hutu opposition under Munyandekwe and Nkezabera used the term to discredit Habyarimana by designating his inner circle. This idea confirms the fact that the term Akazu, which in Kinyarwanda means ‘little hut’, was employed in its literal sense by Habyarimana’s opponents to denounce the family clan’s excessive influence over state affairs.18 In hindsight, the court of appeal officially debunked the Akazu myth on November 16, 2009, when it overruled the trial court’s decision to reject Nkezabera and Munyandekweyo’s conspiracy theory back in December 2008. 19
Since 2007, French judges Marc Trevidic and Nathalie Poux (both pictured right) have had authority over Bruguiere’s file. Yet, in contrast to Hourigan, Brugiere, and even the Spanish National Court Judge Fernando Andreu Merelles, who indicted 40 members of the RPF in February 2008 for their alleged crimes after the war, Poux and Trevidic have yet to put forward a definitive conclusion. Despite this inconclusiveness, supporters of the official narrative maintain that Trevidic published a “detailed report” in January 2012 containing conclusive “evidence from French experts, including crash investigators, who proved scientifically that the missiles that shot down the plane came from the confines of the government-run barracks in Kanombe.”20 The problem here is that the report was not written by Trevidic, but rather by five “experts” who did not claim to know who fired the missiles and where the missiles came from.21 As a result, the lawyers tasked with defending the Rwandan individuals indicted by Brugiere in 2006 conveniently argued before the investigating magistrate of the ICTR that the Trevidic Report lacked evidence and should cease to exist. Trevidic refused to dismiss the case in November 2013. 22
The relatively long chronology of the Hourigan, Bruguiere, and Trevidic reports – from 1997 to the present – points to the idea that our international public legal system constantly suppresses people who, in their quest for greater historical accuracy, inadvertently threaten the official narrative. After the 1997 Hourigan report, for instance, the UN mysteriously suppressed all future ICTR investigations into the April 6 assassination, which bought Kagame precious time to uphold victors justice and consolidate his rule via a biased narrative. Today, however, the tide may be turning against Kagame, for Trevidic’s refusal to dismiss the April 6 1994 assassination is testimony to the tremendous evolution of knowledge on the genocide. The ICTR must take this new information into serious consideration if it is to guarantee all of the accused Hutus with a free, fair, and independent trail. Hopefully, with enough popular pressure from dissidents in the international community, the UN will no longer be able use the ICTR and the official narrative to cover up evidence for Kagame’s poor record in the African Great Lakes.