The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide is of unique and symbolic importance. It was the first truly universal, comprehensive and codified protection of human rights. It was the world’s response to the Nazi Holocaust in Europe and it enshrines the promise of never again.
It stands for a fundamental and important principle; that whatever evil may befall any group, nation or people, it is a matter of concern not just for that group but for the entire human family. That the genocide of the Tutsi was allowed to proceed unhindered in the face of universal indifference is one of the great scandals of the 20th century.
* Not one government called publicly on the perpetrators, the génocidaires, to stop the genocide.
* Not one UN member state severed diplomatic ties with Rwanda and expelled Rwandan ambassadors.
* Not one government called for the representative of Rwanda’s Interim Government, with a non-permanent seat in the Security Council, to be suspended from the chamber.
From the start to the finish the génocidaires remained safe in the knowledge that there would be no outside interference.
A true reckoning has yet to come. Any history of the genocide of the Tutsi must hold to account certain French politicians and military officers who, at the highest levels, played a determining role in events – supplying weapons, training militia, giving legitimacy to the genocidal Interim Government and afterwards offering sanctuary to the perpetrators.
Some of those responsible for this French policy continue to have a place in the affairs of state. The failure to open relevant French archives serves only to protect their reputations. Nothing has done more damage to the French military, nor to tarnish France’s image as a beacon of human rights. In France the genocide fugitive group is unique in size, unique for the seniority of its members and unique because of a lack of trials or extradition. It has been left to civil society groups to track down fugitives and build cases against them.
A KEY STAGE in the crime of genocide is the promotion of an ideology which serves to legitimise any act, no matter how horrendous. It is used to indoctrinate followers into believing that the intended victim is outside human existence – vermin and subhuman.
The idea that Tutsi were different and alien, a different ethnicity was nurtured for many decades in Rwanda. By 1994 a torrent of propaganda to promote a genocidal ideology, a vile campaign against them was relentless in its incitement to hatred and violence.
Genocide starts with ideas promoted by political and religious leaders, intellectuals and journalists.
The hate radio RTLM was a weapon of genocide. It was the voice of genocide.
The racist ideology which underpinned the genocide of the Tutsi, and which encouraged the killers, never went away. A wider, well-established and dangerous campaign to promote this hate-filled ideology exists to this day whose adherents seek to turn victims into perpetrators – and return Rwanda to the racist politics of the past.
If anyone believed the promotion of this ideology and denial of the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi was of a marginal interest among a few ideologues, the evidence shows far wider support.
The promotion of denial of the genocide of the Tutsi comes from certain former defence lawyers from trials at the ICTR, from journalists and authors and academics in senior positions in European and US universities.
The génocidaires, the fugitives and their supporters maintain a continuing and pernicious influence on opinion.
This is what they claim:
The genocide of the Tutsi is an invention of the victims to gain moral high ground. The death toll is an exaggeration by an order of magnitude.
The ‘official story’ which was the basis of the prosecution case at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is wrong.
The killing was a ‘spontaneous uprising’ and there was no conspiracy to murder.
In 2014, the twentieth commemoration year two reputedly world-class institutions were taken in by aspects of the deniers’ story.
The US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC posted an essay as part of a major 20th commemoration project on January 9, 2014, and it cast doubt on whether or not the genocide of the Tutsi was planned.
This is what was written:
“Whether the genocide was planned, and was thus foreseeable, has been hotly debated by scholars, politicians and lawyers”, wrote a fellow of the USHMM.
This was deeply inflammatory, and it was utterly untrue. There has never been a debate among experts as to whether the genocide was planned. All agree it was.
Recently the museum endorsed research seeking to minimise the effect of the genocidal propaganda campaign, research which tries to diminish the influence of the hate-filled incitement.
This research ignores material fact, the reports from eminent experts, and the guilty verdicts in the Media Trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
On October 1, 2014, the BBC broadcast ‘Rwanda’s Untold Story’, a documentary which sought throughout to denigrate what it called the ‘official story’ of the genocide of the Tutsi. The programme caused the gravest offence.
It gave legitimacy to ludicrous claims which drastically reduced the death toll. It created confusion about events and distorted the nature of the crime of genocide, and it minimised the role of the Interahamwe militia. The programme-makers insinuated memorialisation was no more than state propaganda.
It is no good claiming that if you use the word genocide you cannot possibly be a denier. In order to deny genocide, it is enough to minimise and denigrate the reality of it.
In spite of a detailed complaint to the BBC by world experts – a complaint which took nearly two years -- senior editorial executives and the BBC Trustees defended the programme.
Genocide denial is the cause of the greatest personal trauma to survivors. For them, the genocide is not a distant event from 22 years ago but a reality with which they live every day.
Denial attacks truth, history and memory – and we need to actively defend all three. The crime of genocide is not over when the killing is finished. Denial ensures the crime never ends. If we forget that, we are accomplices.
The Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel said in his acceptance speech: “What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours.”