From the noon of 26th April 2008, a conference not like others was convened in the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands. Under a catchy title of "Conference on Peace and Development in the Great Lakes Region of Africa", the gathering featured Mr "Hotel Rwanda" Paul Rusesabagina who was made famous worldwide by a 2004 Hollywood movie for, purportedly, his heroism in saving lives of more than a thousand peoples during the infamous genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994.
The Peace Palace conference was organised by Duurzaam Africa and Dusabane. The latter association is composed of people who fled Rwanda mainly in 1994 and are known for their visceral hostility to the current Rwandan government. For that matter, they shared with Hotel Rwanda "hero" their contempt for Rwandan authorities, and mainly the country’s president whose movement ousted by arms the genocidal regime.
Nostalgic of the Habyarimana regime which had repeatedly suppressed the Tutsis in the country while maintaining thousands of others in exile, some of the organisers are said to be the brains and financers of such negative forces operating in the Great Lakes region as the FDLR (Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation du Rwanda).
It appears that fourteen years after fleeing the country - some after playing a role in the slaughter - they have had enough time to regroup and think about suitable strategies to recapture power in Rwanda, using international sympathies. They conveniently avoid the word "Genocide" to talk of the "Rwandan tragedy" and where they are forced by facts to use the word, they prefer talking of "genocides", hence popularizing a theory of "double genocide". Events are reinterpreted to imply that fitted into a "stereotypical African conflicts scenario" where all was about "inter-tribal" killings.
The Hague conference was part of a growing movement of negationist and/or revisionists of the Genocide of the Tutsi in the western hemisphere. The movement is premised on a revision of historical facts of the Genocide, a reversal of roles and responsibilities in its commission and a strategy of blaming the Tutsi victims for their fate. In an easy twist of facts, the Genocide becomes the fault of the RPF which attacked a peaceful and ethnically democratic Rwanda, and killed a beloved president of the Hutu masses. And the story goes that the innocent masses got angry and spontaneously started chopping their neighbours with machetes.
Rusesabagina has even made the case that the roadblocks where Tutsis were singled out and executed were manned by Tutsis infiltrated by the RPF. This discourse conveniently ignores all alternative theories over who shot down Habyarimana’s plane and the now proved case of a long-planned genocide before the plane was shot. The United Nations International Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda during the Genocide (UNAMIR) Gen. Romeo Dallaire and several other sources have proved how the Genocide was planned and meticulously executed, with the help of the state machinery.
The rise of negationism and revisionism in Europe, America and Canada in relation to the history of the Genocide is also finding support from a very limited but rising number of western scholars. Some of them are acting in defence of their countries’ alleged direct or indirect role in the Genocide (in the case of France); others are emotionally involved with defence politics within the ICTR or have personal divergences with the current Rwandan government officials on a number of issues. The differences between activism and scholarship, human rights promotion and embracement of a political cause have clearly narrowed in relation to interpretations of events in Rwanda. Racist pamphlets such as the book by Pierre Pean: Noires Fureurs Blancs Menteurs (Black Furies, White Liars) are illustrative of this trend.
What cannot be easily done in Europe about the holocaust is interpreted as freedom of speech and a stimulus to the democratic debate in Africa. Arrest warrants issued by French and later Spanish investigative magistrates against nine and forty RPF officials respectively - with recommendation to find ways to prosecute the Rwandan president currently covered by immunity – constitute the newly found gospel of the revisionist movement. These European countries which have never prosecuted Genocide suspects on their territories (mainly France and despite very recent dynamics in that direction) are help by this revisionist movement as role-modals to be emulated by other Western governments.
This is the background that the Rwandan Diaspora still connected to dynamics in the country (there are both Hutus and Tutsi in the group) had mind in trying to stop the conference from taking place since it was announced. At the same time, as it proved that the Peace Palace and other official supporting the event would not back up, many members of the Diaspora registered to attend the event. Others organised a demonstration to denounce a conference which could hardly fit in the Peace Palace. Those who registered did not receive any reply for weeks, some never did.
After several interventions and pressures towards organisers and supporters of the event, many of those who registered finally received invitations to attend. After travelling from all over The Netherlands to The Hague, nearly all of them were refused entrance. Despite their names figuring on the general list, a second list had been established by organisers naming persons who should not by any means be allowed in. I was allowed in merely by a security agents’ mistake. I was standing immediately behind a group of people who could "naturally" be allowed in, because of being members or sympathisers of those who organised the event. I presented my invitation with confidence, and the security agent who is not Rwandan omitted to check the second list of those not to be admitted, where my name featured in the second place.
The conference itself did not offer any surprise. Belgian citizen Christian de Beule made a pretentious, colonial-style account of the history of the region – mainly focusing on Rwanda and Burundi. He blamed the "domination-oriented Tutsis" for all the woes that the region has faced throughout history. His obsessive, simple idea is that Kagame is some kind of African Machiavelli to be stopped rather than receive the support he enjoys in the West.
Robert Krueger, a former US Ambassador to Burundi, shared his views on how to achieve lasting peace based on his experiences in the region. His main idea was that in all three countries – Rwanda, Burundi and DRC - no one shall be prosecuted. The solution was to emulate South African truth and reconciliation commissions. This was also the essence of the "vision" of Hotel Rwanda and event’s "hero", Paul Rusesabagina, under the catchy title: "Vision for peace in the Great Lakes Region through a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Rwanda". His speech - focused on thanking his international, high-profile supporters and on his acute criticism of the RPF - sounded more like a launch of a political platform. During the question sessions, I pressed him on comments he made that events in Rwanda qualified as Genocide only because the Security Council decided to call them so, but he declined to answer the question. He also did not say a word about my other questions on his alleged political activities hidden behind humanitarianism; on his alleged link with the FDLR armed groups operating in Congo; on his alleged political party PDR-IHUMURE; and the lack of activities of his foundation on the ground. Dutch Member of Parliament Chantal Gillard’s presentation on the need of an integrated regional resolution for stability in the whole Great Lakes Region was the only neutral, general and less activistic presentation.
A well choreographed, and thus tightly controlled, one hour question session showed divergence between the mass of revisionist movement supporters who had come from all over Holland and neighbouring countries, the Congolese participants who could not find their place in a debate stereotypically presented under the light of the "old tribal hatred" between Hutus and Tutsis; and other participants not from the region. Some could not understand the newness of the "vision" as dynamics in Rwanda and Burundi were in that direction and even lauded the leadership in Rwanda for its achievements, to the dismay of some participants.
It was obvious that the organisers were trying to gather support for their long-lost cause. It is doubtful whether they succeeded. But in the eyes of many Rwandans, the Peace Palace lost some of its glitter for hosting a conference aimed at directly or impliedly denying the Tutsi Genocide in Rwanda. Some might see substantial differences between the two; but for many Rwandans, including those demonstrating outside the palace, this invaluable platform was like hosting a conference in the palace for deniers of the reality of the holocaust.
The writer is a researcher living in the Netherlands