In exactly a month from today, the people of Rwanda will commemorate 20 years since the start of the 1994 genocide that showed the limits to which man can go to eliminate each other. Close to a million people are said to have been massacred in 100 days of frenzied, human degradation by two tribes speaking the same language.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame has been celebrated, wined and dined the world over as the person who brought to an end this carnage and who has since built “a strong and democratic country”. But what is the real story behind what happened in Rwanda on 7 April 1994?
Starting today, The London Evening Post is going to go “behind the scenes” and try to expose what really happened that day. In addition to talking to renowned world academics, we will talk to the people who were there that day and try to go through what happened and how it came about.
We start today with an exclusive interview with Prof Peter Erlinder, professor of law at William Mitchell Law College in St Paul, Minnesota. Author of The Accidental Genocide, Prof Erlinder was arrested in Rwanda in May 2010 while working as a lead defence council for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). He was detained for 21 days after he had travelled to the country to defend then presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza against charges of ‘genocide ideology’. He was charged with ‘genocide denial’ and only released after he faked an attempt to commit suicide, something that the Kagame regime would not permit to happen on his watch.
In this exclusive interview, Prof Erlinder exposes the depth to which the international community has gone in trying to protect the Rwandan government by hiding what exactly happened in Rwanda 20 years ago next month. He exposes what happened when former Rwandan and Burundian presidents Juvenal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira lost their lives when their private jet was shot out of the sky when approaching it final destination in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, after talks with the now ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) in neighbouring Tanzania.
Prof Erlinder reveals in his book secret documents that he says the UN wanted kept out of the public eye for, can you believe it, 100 years. That’s precisely a time when most of us living today would not be alive any more. The rest is all told here in the interview.
Prof Peter Erlinger appears in court in a prison garb during his imprisonment in Kigali
The London Evening Post: You say your book – The Accidental Genocide – is the original version made out of UN documents – explaining day-by-day events that followed the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and after. Please, explain more on this.
Prof. Erlinder: During the ICTR Bagosora et al trial, I put thousands of pages of original UN documents into evidence that I was able to find in UN files that were not supposed to be released for 100 years. The UN had dozens of persons reporting daily from Kigali and other places in Rwanda and Dallaire [Roméo Dallaire then UNAMIR Commander] met regularly with Kagame…These documents tell a completely different story than Kagame and the RPF told about the 4 year war and the 100 days of the “genocide”. As a result, ALL leaders of the Habyarimana government and military were found not guilty of long-term planning of genocide or any other crimes BEFORE the assassination…. this means the mass violence was a reaction to the killing of the president…. NOT planned killing by a “genocidal government.” The book explains how the mass killing in Burundi in the months before…. made Rwandans susceptible to fear of RPF…and the military superiority of RPF made the fear real.
The LEP: What was the primary objective of the original book?
Prof. Erlinder: To make the evidence that is already on the record at the UN Tribunal for Rwanda that acquitted the members of the Habyarimana government and military of long-planned conspiracy to commit crimes against civilians, including genocide, accessible to the general public using the original documents.
The LEP: You have persistently rejected the official version about the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. Why?
Prof. Erlinder: Because I was given access to documents in the UN archives that no other defence lawyer had…and got access to U.S. government documents, which are available to researchers; the documents require a different conclusion than the victors in the four-year war for power in Rwanda would prefer. Before the Chief UN Prosecutor told the UN Security Council in 2003 that Paul Kagame assassinated President Habyarimana, I got access to these documents…. I believed the same story as everyone else. The evidence changed my mind and the ICTR judges agreed. Please see the Appeals Chamber Judgement of December 11, 2011. Bagosora was found innocent of all crimes except for April 7, 8, 9…and Kagame said he was the “architect” of the genocide…but there was no evidence to support the claim.
The LEP: The public, which is the majority, would say that you’re on a different page [knowledge about Rwanda Genocide] from what they know or have been told. Are you suggesting the public are disconnected from the truth?
Prof. Erlinder: After every war the winners tell the story – this is normal. The public has heard the Kagame/RPF story repeatedly for 20-years. UN and USG (United States Government) documents created at the time events were occurring tell a completely different story. What is different this time is that documents that were to be secret for 100 years have been exposed, and have been put into evidence in the ICTR to acquit the losing side.
The LEP: Who is fighting to see that he status quo remains as has been told?
Prof. Erlinder: Certainly the Kagame/RPF side that won the war wants to see that their story dominates. But they were created and supported by the U.S./U.K…, which have an interest in the story remaining the same. In 2003, UN Prosecutor Carla del Ponte was removed from her UN position by the U.S./UK when she insisted on prosecuting Kagame for killing Habyarimana and starting the genocide…. according to her own book (Madam Prosecutor) published in 2009.
The LEP: You mention about people in authority who have conspired to hide the truth. How are you prepared if they file a civil suit against you?
Prof. Erlinder: In the US courts, truth is a defense. All of the statements and conclusions in my published work are supported by documented sources from USG, the UN or sworn testimony. I merely accumulate and present evidence that is already on the record – which is what makes the publication important, not what I say.
The LEP: As a human rights lawyer; what is your comment about how justice has been delivered to the perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide?
Prof. Erlinder: The UN Tribunal has only prosecuted the crimes of those who lost the war. The UN Tribunal was supposed to be a neutral body. This means the Rwanda War was the only war in history in which only ONE side committed crimes OR the UN Tribunal was really a Victor’s Tribunal…. like Nuremberg and the Tokyo Tribunal. My objection is that it should be recognized AS a victor’s tribunal…. and should NOT be sold to the world as something it was not.
The LEP: What would you like to see with regards to the dispensing of justice?
Prof. Erlinder: Equal treatment for both sides in the Rwandan War and all national and international conflicts. This means treating leaders of powerful and weaker nations equally. The ICC (the International Criminal Court) has prosecuted only African leaders when it is plain that leaders of major powers such as the U.S. U.K, Russia, China, and France are at least as culpable. We have not yet reached the point in history when the “rule of law” means the same for all leaders.
The LEP: People would say that you’re on the wrong side. What would you tell such individuals who think, Prof. Peter Erlinder is on the wrong side about the 1994 Rwanda Genocide?
Prof. Erlinder: The evidence put before the ICTR judges caused them to agree with my analysis about whether there was a long-planned genocide by the Habyarimana government. I have no opinions of my own. I examine evidence and make conclusions based on the evidence. It was UN Chief Prosecutor and the evidence that changed my mind…. when others have carefully examined all of the evidence, they might change their minds too. But this is difficult because the emotions are so strong and it is much easier to respond emotionally than to do the difficult detailed research – which is why the book is based on historical records, not my opinions.
The LEP: Given the dangers meted to you in Rwanda [experience], what you witnessed and what you’ve gone through as a result of your being involved in Rwanda issues at a level of an attorney in courts, why not just let it go to avoid being hunted by Kagame’s regime and secret agents?
Prof. Erlinder: I believe we all have a responsibility to history, to speak the truth and have to account to our actions to the infinite. If one happens upon the truth based on evidence and does not speak, no religion in the world can respect that person.
The LEP: Many people around the world see and consider President Paul Kagame as a saviour who stopped the genocide. In your own words-based on the UN documents you have gone through, how would you describe Kagame to a person who has never had a chance to look at what you have seen?
Prof. Erlinder: My book has a copy of the confession of Paul Kagame’s Chief of Staff Dr. [Theogene] Rudasingwa. He admits he was part of a 20-year cover-up of the killing of Habyarimana. Former Chief UN Prosecutor Del Ponte has called for his prosecution openly since 2002. The Chief UN Investigator Michael Hourigan called for his prosecution in 1997. All of these facts have been covered-up…but they have long been in the public record. Mr. Kagame tried to assassinate me in 2010 because I put this evidence in the ICTR record. I think he knows already.
The LEP: Since you published The Accidental Genocide, have you received some kind of threats from Rwanda or from Kagame’s allies? If yes, who are they or what kind of threats did you receive?
Prof. Erlinder: I have been the subject of a personal “Wanted Dead or Alive” order directly from Mr. Kagame since October 1, 2010 after I escaped from Rwanda by pretending I had attempted suicide. This order was given to all ambassadors, military attaché’ and military leaders. The book has only refreshed the standing order, I imagine.
The LEP: Has anybody ever contact you to stop the publication of The Accidental Genocide? If yes, who and when?
Prof. Erlinder: No, the method of publication has been taken with precautions.
The LEP: How do you manage to live this kind of life; watching your back all the time?
Prof. Erlinder: As the information I have become more public and better understood, I become less important as an individual threat to Kagame. But, it is necessary to take precautions.
The LEP: With such evidences of the Rwanda Genocide coming into public domain, do you see in future; individual (s) taking responsibility to account for the atrocities? If your answer is ‘no’ or ‘yes’, why?
Prof. Erlinder: In my opinion, Rwanda’s future lies in both sides taking responsibility and both sides mourning their losses. A South African-style Truth and Reconciliation process is more likely to permit Rwanda to heal than a criminal tribunal process, which will never get the balance exactly right. MOST important, the US and the UK MUST acknowledge the responsibility for creating and arming the RPF and manipulating the ICTR to make it appear that; the Hutu committed all crimes. Demonizing a whole people is a form of “political genocide” that must be exposed and denounced as well. THIS is what the US and UK have done in assisting the cover-up of RPF crimes.
The LEP: You mean, Mr Paul Kagame issued an order mandating his all-inclusive ambassadors around the world to have you killed or kidnapped?
Prof. Erlinder: This is the report I received from a high-ranking military officer who has defected from the RPF who claimed to have been present at the meeting whose rank was such that he would have been at the meeting, the report was received person to person within days of the meeting from another defector who I know personally. I must take it seriously just as Gen Nyamwasa [survived two attempt assassination] and Col Keregeya [his body was discovered on New Year’s Day].