World has not learnt any lesson from Rwanda - Linda Melvern

Seasoned British investigative journalist Linda Melvern has for the past 23 years dedicated her life to telling the world of the events of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. She wrote two books on the subject; A People Betrayed and Conspiracy to Murder and currently she is working on a third one on the same subject.
British investigative journalist and author Linda Melvern speaks to this newspaper during an interview last week. Timothy Kisambira.
British investigative journalist and author Linda Melvern speaks to this newspaper during an interview last week. Timothy Kisambira.

Seasoned British investigative journalist Linda Melvern has for the past 23 years dedicated her life to telling the world of the events of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. She wrote two books on the subject; A People Betrayed and Conspiracy to Murder and currently she is working on a third one on the same subject.

Melvern, is among the nine recipients of the Igihango National Order of Outstanding Friendship from President Paul Kagame, in recognition of exemplary service to the people of Rwanda. She had an exclusive interview last week with The New Times’ Felly Kimenyi, in which she talks about the failure of UN in Rwanda, the legacy of ICTR, countering genocide denial and pursuit of Genocide fugitives among other issues.

Melvern being bestowed upon the Igihango National Order of Outstanding Friendship by President Paul Kagame on November 18. Village Urugwiro.


How did your story with Rwanda begin?

In 1994, I was completing a book on the 50 year history of the United Nations and it was a book containing the history of UN peacekeeping and it is that moment when the genocide against the Tutsi started, I realised that this was a milestone in the history of the UN and its gracious failure to humanity.

I was lucky enough to be leaked to, some documents that showed the secrecy with which informal meetings of the [UN] Security Council were being carried out.

The Security Council at that time and still today, I believe, when it takes important decisions after meeting in secret and informal sessions, I think that is not how the UN founders intended.

Deliberations and decisions of the Security Council should be open to public scrutiny but over the years, it became the practice to hold secret and informal meetings.

So the decisions taken (in 1994) by the Security Council to withdraw peacekeepers from Rwanda instead of expanding their mandate to do something to stop the Genocide was taken by members in secrecy.

This document leaked to me, showing each country’s position, so we know how France did what it could as a prominent member to prevent the world from full knowledge of the Genocide that was taking place in Rwanda, trying to convince the other members that the huge death toll was as a result of a civil war.

When I got hold of that document, I knew that this must be a book; it was not good just writing the ordinary newspaper article.

I felt it was one that required to go in to some depth and at Sunday Times (UK newspaper) I was a member of the inside team which conducted in-depth investigative journalism. I did one story for Sunday Times – it took me two years.

Book cover.

In that terrible month of April, I interviewed two ambassadors at UN; one was Karel Kovanda, from the Czech Republic, who told me what was happening in these council meetings and then talked to New Zealand, Amb. Colin Keating, who was the President of the Council that April then formed my work.

When I got back to London in September 1994, I met Lt Gen Romeo Dallaire (the UN Force Commander of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Rwanda at the time) for the very first time and from that moment to now I have worked full time on these circumstances.

First of all, the failure of the West through the book, A People Betrayed and Conspiracy to Murder, which show how the Genocide against the Tutsi was planned, organised, the ideology behind it and how it was paid for through for instance, the machetes purchases of 1993 from Egyptian arms dealers.

When I first came to Kigali, I asked to look in the Egyptian Embassy in Kigali. I knew that Egypt was the major arms provider to the ‘Hutu Power’ and I knew that Boutros Boutros Ghali – an Egyptian national, who was at the time the UN Secretary General, had facilitated the arms deals between the Egypt and Hutu Power with connivance of France.

I interviewed Boutros Boutros Ghali for my book and I challenged him halfway the interview that I had letters proving that he had facilitated these arms deals and I can never forget his shocking reply that a few thousand weapons wouldn’t make much difference; this was the Secretary-General of the UN.

That time was in a magnificent office in Paris (where he at the time worked as the SG of the Francophonie) living in some splendor and I found his role was really shameful.

Why do you think these meetings were held in secrecy?

Because the governments operate with excessive secrecy which means you and I have to dig out the information, this was what we do, it is convenient for these governments to keep their policies secret especially when it comes to such a shameful decision over Rwanda and it is more convenient for the diplomats to hold secret and informal sessions.

And this is not what the founders of the United Nations had in mind as the first three words in the UN Charter stipulate…We the peoples… at the moment, it is the governments that decide and not the people.

You took a personal stand as a journalist to inform the world of what was happening in Rwanda; do you think if a lot more journalists had picked interest it would make a difference concerning the scale of the Genocide?

One of my interviews was with the chief delegate of the Red Cross – the ICRC – who was in Rwanda at the time; a man called Phillip Gaillard and in early 1994, a British journalist called Richard Dowden came to Kigali and Phillip Gaillard told him that the Genocide of the Tutsi was being planned; the journalist said he saw no evidence and left after three days.

Suddenly, when the Genocide began, the Western coverage was appalling; when Oxfam on April 28 issued a press release saying that a genocide was happening in Rwanda, that story was given a paragraph on page 15 of The Guardian.

The entire Western press was consumed with wars in former Yugoslavia. And I think that here you have a case of institutional racism; and in fact that point was made by a member of parliament in the UK who stood up in the House of Commons at the end of April and said that if 250,000 white people had been slaughtered (the estimated number of Tutsi killed at the time), there would have been a major debate in parliament.

In Rwanda’s case, there wasn’t; there was little interest about the issue in parliament in UK and up to now I am angry and ashamed about that.

What do I say to Rwandans? That sorry? What do I say? I wanted to shake people by the collar and say; don’t you realise what is happening here? But the Western press wasn’t interested.

After the end of April, after Nelson Mandela had been inaugurated in South Africa, 250 journalists left the inauguration; now their attention switched and began to report about what was happening, but it was always sensational reporting; it wasn’t the basic facts, for example to show the world about the role of propaganda, and the viciousness of the killers…I failed to see anyone reporting on that.

Nearly 24 years down the road, do you think the world especially the UN has learnt any lesson about what took place in Rwanda?

I gave the UN in April a very hard-hitting speech in the trusteeship council of the UN for the commemoration of Genocide; you might have a look at it. When we say United Nations we really mean the governments of the United Nations.

No, I don’t think any lessons have been learnt at all, I can’t see them.

Talk about the continued campaign to deny the Genocide that is out there in the West and even some African countries; what is your take on that and why do you think this ideology continues to be fomented?

We all know genocide scholars, particularly this wonderful scholar Gregory Stanton has determined that genocide goes through eight stages of dehumanisation; he determined that denial is the last stage; the criminal genocidaires deny their crimes.

What my new book shows is that there was denial while genocide was being planned, there was denial as it was taking place - like we have seen in the Security Council of the UN where Rwanda had a seat and was present from the time the Genocide against the Tutsi began – and it continues to this day but nothing could have prepared me for the reach of these criminals.

You have seen BBC’s Untold Story; a profoundly shocking documentary which advances some phony science that tries to show that more Hutu died than the Tutsi, this is unbelievable.

I sat down and watched this documentary with some shock and this is what the new book is about; that people are unaware of how dangerous the ideology, how dangerous these fugitives and who their supporters really are and I am particularly concerned that recent release of the chief propagandist of the Hutu Power Ferdinand Nahimana, who has been allowed to be free after 20 years in prison.

He has shown not not recognise his crimes, he hasn’t helped the prosecutors, he shows no remorse, he continued to propagate his foul ideology in books from within the prison, he is now a free man, there is no way of finding out where he is, what he is doing, there is no monitoring of this.

What has happened to international justice? What has happened to the promise of the ICTR that it would hold these dangerous people to account? …that should be of some concern to us all. The judge (Theodor) Meron, who made this decision acted alone in a secret process with no accountability, how on earth it happened that one American judge is allowed to take these decisions alone; I cannot fathom that and that is all part of the new book.

Judge Meron has got a Legion d’Honneur… you don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to find that not of great interest; If Judge Meron does not believe that hate speech is an issue, what on earth is he doing as head of MICT? (Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, which took over the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda).

Melvern shows a medal that she was decorated with by President Kagame during the National Order of Outstanding Friendship award recently. Timothy Kisambira.

Rwandans and the world at large think that the UK has not done enough to bring to book Genocide fugitives running away from accountability to their crimes…what is your take on that as a UK citizen?

I’m ashamed, I just don’t understand why it is taking an 11-year legal process and we are still not at the end of it.

When the ICTR was created, each government on the Security Council – and the UK as a permanent member – made a solemn promise, I believe in the resolution, that the ICTR would hold perpetrators to account and we have not done that in the UK.

I understand that there are a lot more; it is not just the five.

(A legal process involving five men suspected of the Genocide continues to play out after over a decade, they have not been extradited or even tried in UK courts).

Imagine then my shocker, as an investigative journalist who is specialised in this subject of the Genocide in Rwanda, to be on a bus near Kings Cross Railway Station in London, to see Vincent Brown sitting on the bus, they should not be out on bail, I understand he even has links to the FDLR.

Do you think there was any purpose that was served by the ICTR? What do you think is the legacy of this court?

The unfortunate thing about the ICTR trials, the whole process was used by these dangerous individuals to propagate genocide denial, we had years of whole processes put in hands of supporters from the West, promoted their denialist lies, distortion of history, the trials were too long.

At least there are now 61 of these dangerous people imprisoned but my fear is their release process; but at least I think the court did manage to explain the crime in the circumstances of Rwanda.

There is an archive of the ICTR but I believe a very small percentage of the information ICTR are holding is available to researchers; I want all the confessions made public.

There is a 60-hour confession by a leading Interahamwe that I am going to be requesting that it is made public, I know of no major study as far as I can ascertain, on the Interahamwe.

This could have informed the world to some extent, because I believe the similarities between the Interahamwe and ISIS are too hard to ignore.

I believe this confession would be interesting to read.

There has been debate on who should be the rightful custodian of the ICTR archive; Rwanda has requested to host them with little success, as a researcher, who do you think is the bonafide custodian of this archive?

In the new book, I describe the crime scene (of the Genocide in Rwanda) as the largest scene ever created in the world and what happened was documents were simply taken from ministries; Human Rights Watch has original documents that belong to this country, these archives are part of the national archives of Rwanda, they belong to the people Rwanda.

I emailed Human Rights Watch and asked if the documentation that (late) Alison Des Forges took whether they, could be made available, I was told they could not.

There is failure to recognise that any original documents that exist; whether they are with Human Rights Watch or whether they are with the ICTR belong to the people of Rwanda and I believe that the ICTR archive should be here.

What can be done to curtail the continued spread of the ideology and denial of the Genocide?

My life is dedicated to it, wherever it arises, particularly in the Western press I will object; I want to learn in Kinyarwanda how to say the saying that goes…truth passes through fire and doesn’t get burnt (Ukuri Guca mu Ziko Ntigushye).

I think what we should do is just use the facts; whenever denial comes up; it should be countered with the facts.

Anything you may want to add as we wrap up this interview?

My life is divided into two parts; before the 1994 Genocide and after and I still find it very hard to fathom. We have a lot of work to do.

This interview was transcribed by reporter, Joan Mbabazi.