Opinion gates, willing to curb, mislead, belittle, make the truth contrary to the interests of those in power and own the means of communication disappear have always existed. With TV and newspapers, celebrations have become a great means of providing information, even the false one. In his book “In praise of the blood. The crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front "(pp. 50-53), Judy Rever, speaking of Rwanda and Congo, shows how Kagame and his godparents managed to silence the truth even of the only world body, the UN, which therefore celebrates the perpetrators of violence instead of condemning them. This is what happens every year on April 6th while celebrating the anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.
The son of construction worker and a Catholic feminist, Luc Côté grew up in a working class neighborhood of Montreal. Eventually he became a public defender, providing legal aid for thieves, drug addicts and the mentally ill. After the genocide, when the United Nations needed bilingual lawyers in Rwanda, he was among the first wave of French Canadian lawyers to arrive in the country.
In areas outside the capital Kigali, bodies were still rotting in rivers, outhouses, churches and mass graves. Corpses that had been piled along roads and in fields had dried stiff under a parching sun […].
In 1995, Côté joined the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. As head of the legal office for four years, he wrote indictments and helped organize the arrests of genocide organizers and perpetrators. At the same time, he saw firsthand the dark shadow of oppression that Kagame’ post genocide government was casting, under the powerless gaze of the international community. Prior to joining the tribunal, Côté had worked as a UN human rights monitor in southern Rwanda, investigating the arbitrary arrests and disappearances of Hutus at the hands of Tutsi forces. It was there, after he’d witnessed appalling incidents, that he discovered that “these people [in Kagame’s regime] were as bad as the others.” He meant as bad as the Hutu génocidaires.
In April 1965, he and his UN colleagues were in Kibeho monitoring a sprawling camp for internationally displaced Hutu that the RPF wanted to close. The camp was located in a humanitarian safe zone set up by French military forces during the genocide that was later monitored by UN peacekeepers. On April 22, RPF forces opened fire on the camp, sending tens of thousands of Hutus running for their lives. UN staffers saw Tutsi soldiers shooting women and children in the back as they tried to flee, and many Hutu died in the stampede. Australian medical personnel put the dead at more than 4,000, but Rwandan officers said only 338 people had been killed. Three days after the Kibeho massacre, Côté wrote an opinion piece for Montreal’s Le Devoir in which he questioned why Hutu who had fled to Zaire and Tanzania did not return to Rwanda even though the war was over. He pointed out that many Hutu in displacement camp camps had tried to go home, but had ended up returning to the camp because of insecurity in their village. He warned that the human rights situation in Rwanda was deteriorating fast. […]
In 2005, more than a decade after his fist stint in Rwanda, Côté returned to central Africa, this time to Congo, where he headed a 34-member investigative team that worked with villagers, victims’ families, human rights groups and child soldiers to collect evidence of some of the worst crimes against humanity in recent history. During an interview over a cup of expresso after he got back, he told me that he had not expected the violence to be “so devastating, so extensive, and so brutal.”
Côté said, “I thought I had seen the worst with the genocide in Rwanda. We have testimony in Congo that it was just as bad or worse than what happened in Rwanda. In Rwanda, it happened in three months. In the Congo it never stopped.” His voice grew hoarse. “I saw a pattern in the Congo that I’d seen in Rwanda. There are dozens and dozens of incidents where you have the same patterns. [The killing] was systematically done.”
In August 2010, a month before the UN planned to officially release the investigation’s findings, a draft report was leaked to the French newspaper Le Monde. Within hours, I filed a story for AFP.
The 560-page report, which covered the period from 1993 to 2003, was titled Mapping Human Rights Violations. In UN legal jargon the term “mapping” means providing an inventory and classification of crimes. The investigators found evidence that Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) and its rebel allies used hoes, bayonets and axes to butcher Rwandan and Congolese Hutus, often rounding then up beforehand and killing them in groups. In many cases, the victims were raped, burned alive or shot. The report indicated that the vast majority of Hutu who were killed were “women, children, the elderly and the sick, who posed no threat to the attacking forces.” The authors concluded that Kagame’s troops may have committed genocide in Congo. “The systematic and widespread attacks described in the report… revealed a number of damning elements that, if they were proven before a competent court, could be classified as crimes of genocide.” The UN called for a full judicial investigation.
Rwanda reacted swiftly and with fury. The government called the findings “immoral and outrageous” and it persuaded the Western sponsors to attack the UN team’s methodology. Kigali also threatened to withdraw troops from UN peacekeeping missions. The pressure likely quashed any hope that the UN would ever support a tribunal in Congo to prosecute Kagame and his killers.
At the same time, a renowned forensic investigator was already in Congo training a team of local scientists, police officers, army personnel and human rights activists to investigate mass graves found there. José Pablo Baraybar, a Peruvian forensic scientist who has worked in Srebrenica, Haiti and Ethiopia, had received financial backing from the American Bar Association and the US State Department for the three months training program. Baraybar said his team got considerable help from Congolese villagers too. But when he came to opening up the mass graves in Rutshuru – a town where Kagame’s mobile killing teams had committed some of the worst atrocities at the beginning of the invasion – the provincial governor blocked the investigation. “And Kinshasa would not give its approval either,” Baraybar told me, Joseph Kabila, who had taken over after his father, Laurent, has been assassinated by the bodyguard in 2002, “was evidently playing both hands.”
“On the ground, a forensic analysis was not possible, anywhere,” he said. “It was clear that Rwanda had used its influence in Congo and abroad to squash a full investigation.” More than a decade after Kagame has built his inner stations in Rutshuru and other Congolese villages, his ability to define reality and influence people’s lives remained intact.
My interview [It is Judy Rever who speaks] with Baraybar left me wondering what to do next. The United Nations had exposed the crimes – odious acts that had been committed by Kagame’s troops in Congo – and yet no international authority had the courage to hold Kagame or his commanders accountable. It was as if no one could imagine prosecuting the man credited with stopping the Rwandan genocide, no matter what he did. The injustice was staggering. And at last I realized that the only way to live with what I’d witnessed in Congo was for me to backtrack into the heart of the genocide and examine what exactly the RPF has done. And then to publish what I found.
A word of a widow ends the book that relates what she found: “We have to pretend that nothing is wrong. But I will never accept it.” Fear gobbles the truth, and power celebrates the lies. Welcome the 6thof April.