The producers of the controversial BBC documentary Rwanda’s Untold Story set out to sway public opinion against the country by twisting the events that befell Rwanda two decades ago, a renowned Scottish researcher has said.
Dr Hazel Cameron, an expert on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, was yesterday testifying before the commission of inquiry into the accusations that the British broadcaster denied and revised the Genocide against the Tutsi, especially through the documentary aired on BBC2 on October 1.
Cameron is the director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPCS), at the University of St Andrews School of International Relations in Scotland.
She told the commission that the film crew contacted her prior to the shooting of the documentary seeking her opinion and confessed to her that they did not know anything about Rwanda and the Genocide.
Cameron, the first European to testify before the five-member probe team, spoke of her email correspondences with the documentary director, John Conroy, and reporter Jane Corbin, and how the duo inexplicably ignored her views.
“Conroy wrote to me saying he was making a proposal to the BBC about Rwanda’s 20th commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi and needed my expert opinion on people he should avoid interviewing. I gave him the list that included Prof. Filip Reyntjens, Allan Stam and Christian Davenport and others. To my surprise, he went for the exact people I told him to avoid,” she said.
Reyntjens is a Belgian professor of law at the Institute of Development Policy and Management, University of Antwerp, Belgium, known for his revisionist views about the Genocide.
Allan Stam and Christian Davenport are American academics who travelled to Rwanda in 1998 during which period, they say, they heard the same narrative about the Genocide from everyone they spoke to.
The two researchers claim in the one-hour film that due to the fact that Rwandans had no sense of question in the events that transpired during the Genocide, they concluded that the Government had brainwashed its citizens. They also claim that only 200,000 Tutsi died during the 100-day killing spree, as opposed to the official figure of more than a million people.
Cameron describes the BBC documentary as fraud on the grounds that the film-makers, who knew her vast knowledge of the Rwandan situation, contacted her for assistance and spoke to her on phone and exchanged emails only to suddenly cancel an interview with her at the eleventh hour – an indication that the documentary wasn’t made to be objective.
Cameron sent a protest letter to Corbin the same night the BBC2 aired the documentary but the latter did not reply, the expert said.
“The bias, negativity and lack of contextualisation of your reporting in tonight’s documentary is disappointing. You chose not to situate the violence you alleged, for example in the DRC, through the lens of securitisation of Rwanda’s borders in the aftermath of the Genocide,” she wrote in her protest letter.
Cameron expressed her frustration that the film makers were only interested in regurgitating the same old “tired allegations of revenge killings, the ICTR mandate etc of 15 -20 years ago, and failed to seek out any new positive reporting on the country and there is much there if you were interested.”
She told the inquiry that if there is anything untold about Rwanda, it would be the success story in the post Genocide era, adding that the UK viewers would rather have been told that Rwanda was ranked the fourth least corrupt African country in 2013 (with a score of 53) and 49th least corrupt globally. Only five African countries scored above 50, namely Botswana, Cape Verde, Seychelles, Rwanda and Mauritius.
There is arguably more political corruption in UK than in Rwanda, she added.
She said Corbin was hoodwinked by those endeavouring to sabotage the peace process in Rwanda for their own political agenda, which is not for the greater good of Rwandans.
“Are you aware of Filip Reyntjens’ relationship with former president Juvenal Habyarimana and his personal agenda in relation to President Paul Kagame? Filip Reyntjens has not been in Rwanda for over 20 years yet you refer to him as an ‘expert’ on Rwanda,” she wrote in the letter to Corbin.
Reyntjens’ dramatic prediction of the lid coming off in Rwanda is merely his personal wish for the country, but sadly it is now the impression that the British public have of Rwanda thanks to your programme, Cameron added in her letter of protest, which she read out to the Ngoga inquiry yesterday.
In the documentary, Reyntjens is seen arguing that “I think by the end of 1993, the RPF had decided it was going to take power by the bullet”.
But Cameron challenges this assertion.
“My question is what was his evidence for such a claim and is it appropriate for an academic to make a claim using the term ‘I think’? The answer is no. Any claim made by an academic must be supported by rigorous research that one can triangulate and validate so it is entirely inappropriate for someone who purportedly claims to be an expert on Rwanda and a professor to use the word ‘I think’,” she told the commission.
Cameron is expected to continue with her testimony today.
The documentary sparked outrage among Genocide survivors and Rwandans in general as well as international scholars and researchers, with a coalition of dozens of eminent experts in several fields across the world sending a letter of protest to the BBC.
They accuse the BBC and the film crew of lack of objectivity and fairness and attempting to revise the Genocide.
The commission, which is led by former prosecutor general Martin Ngoga, started the hearings last week and have three months to release their report.