Jeremy Kuzmarov, Review of Edward S. Herman and David Peterson's "The Politics of Genocide" (Monthly Review Press, 2010)
In 2003, Samantha Power who now serves as an advisor to the Obama administration won the Pulitzer Prize for her book A Problem From Hell: America in the Age of Genocide which lamented the reluctance of successive US administrations to intervene militarily to halt unfolding genocides. Her book inspired the Save Darfur movement which called on the US government to halt genocide from taking place-- by military intervention if necessary. Paradoxically, activists within the movement and Power herself raised little moral outcry about the humanitarian catastrophes bred by US intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, nor about the global torture gulag that Washington had established under the guise of the so-called War on Terror, except to lament how it had damaged America’s international credibility. Power’s choice of genocides which Washington allegedly could have prevented was also selective, and included cases where the term was inappropriate. It avoided cases, furthermore, where the United States directly supported mass atrocities or genocide (as in Indonesia in 1965 and Guatemala in the early 1980s) and where US actions can be considered genocidal, or at least quasi-genocidal (Vietnam 1955-1975, Laos 1965-1973 and Cambodia 1970-1975, Iraq in the 1990s under the sanctions regime, and under US occupation).
In their important new book The Politics of Genocide, Edward S. Herman, professor emeritus at the Wharton school of business, and David Peterson, an independent scholar, chronicle how interventionists like Power have provided important intellectual justifications for the sustenance of the military-industrial complex while channelling liberal opinion away from the antiwar and anti-imperialism of the 1960s. The authors observe that “during the past several decades the word genocide has increased in frequency of use and recklessness of application, so much so that the crime of the 20th century for which the term was originally coined often appears debased. They add that “just as the guardians of ‘international justice’ have yet to find a single crime committed by a great white northern power against people of color that crosses their threshold of gravity, so too all the fine talk about responsibility to protect and the end of impunity has never once been extended to the victims of these same powers, no matter how egregious their crimes.”
Building off of a model first developed in Herman and Noam Chomsky’s path-breaking book (sadly neglected among mainstream historians), The Political Economy of Human Rights: The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism, Herman and Peterson shed light on this process by which mainstream media and so-called human rights intellectuals like Power and her colleagues at the Harvard Carr Center for Human Rights, play into US government interests by broadcasting only those atrocities committed by opponents of the US. Sometimes mythical and sometimes real, these “nefarious” genocides and bloodbaths, as the authors term them, are usually exaggerated, taken out of political context or in some cases fabricated in order to advance a specific foreign policy objective or political agenda, including military intervention. The authors contrast these bloodbaths, with “constructive” and “benign” bloodbaths in which mass killings and atrocities are carried out by clients or allies of the US, or in which Washington is a major participant in mass killings and violence. In the latter case, little sympathy is exhibited towards the victims, while the perpetrators are lauded as valued allies of the West and for bringing stability, as was the case with General Suharto of Indonesia and Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam.
For Herman and Peterson, the Iraq sanctions regime and US invasion and occupation under George W. Bush (and now extended by Obama) represent “constructive” bloodbaths in contrast to the “nefarious” bloodbath carried out by Saddam Hussein in the Al-Anfal campaign against the Kurds in the 1980s which was only recognized years later in order to promote support for war. The scale of humanitarian devastation has been underplayed or ignored in the media and framed in a way that the US appears to be benevolent in its intent. Much like in the Vietnam War, when the US killed directly and indirectly an estimated 2-3 million people and destroyed the societal fabric, state propagandists such as New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman and CNN’s Michael Ware among others, claim that a US presence is actually needed to stave off a bloodbath.
Meanwhile, more than one million Iraqis have been killed as a result of the US invasion which was undertaken in violation of international law, Iraq’s cultural artefacts have been looted, several million people have been forced out of their homes and cities like Fallujah have been destroyed. Another half million were killed in the 1990s under the sanctions regime, including thousands of children who were denied proper drinking water, medicines and food. The war in Afghanistan represents another “constructive bloodbath” which is an act of aggression under the Nuremburg laws. American and NATO occupying forces and their warlord proxies have committed an untold number of civilian massacres, bombed wedding parties, systematically tortured prisoners of war and killed hundreds if not thousands of civilians in computerized Predator drone attacks in Pakistan, including over 100 in the village of Bola Baluk.
Israeli violence in the occupied territories (such as the recent invasion of Gaza) and Lebanon in 1982 (the Sabra and Shatilla massacre), US backed violence in Central America in the 1980s, and the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975 are other cases of “benign” bloodbaths which did not arouse much media attention or the indignation of mainstream western intellectuals because they were carried out by US clients and were supported by Washington. In the propaganda system, according to Herman and Peterson, they thus don’t qualify as atrocities or acts of genocide, which can only be committed by official enemies.
Much like Hussein’s al anfal campaign, Cambodia in the 1970s represents one of the “nefarious bloodbaths.” Media commentators at the time expressed horror at the Khmer Rouge atrocities, while ignoring parallel atrocities by the US-backed Indonesia military in East Timor and by the US-backed the Lon Nol regime, which carried out pogroms against Vietnamese from 1970-1975 and allowed for massive US bombing attacks. According to Yale historian Ben Kiernan, these attacks killed several hundred thousand civilians and “drove an enraged peasantry into the arms of the Khmer Rouge,” helping to precipitate their reign of terror. A more recent “nefarious bloodbath” has taken place in Darfur, where Western moralists led by Power, New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof and Save Darfur spokesman John Prendergast have reduced complex political violence and killings to a simple morality play in which “evil” Arabs are systematically slaughtering innocent black Africans. They have in the process misrepresented the reality on the ground, contributed to the demonization of Islam and played into Washington’s foreign policy agenda in its aim of isolating China, a supporter of the Khartoum government. All the while they have provided a distraction from the more significant human rights atrocities carried out by the US in Af-Pak and Iraq and those committed by its allies in Ethiopia and the Congo, where the death toll is higher than in Darfur.
Herman and Peterson put into additional question whether genocide took place in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda during the 1990s, as was claimed by Power and other proponents of “humanitarian intervention.” In the former cases, they argue that while Serbian leader Slobodan Milosovic was guilty of ethnic cleansing, many of the massacres attributed to his forces, including at Racak, were exaggerated in order to drum up support for a military intervention which was designed to provide legitimacy to NATO after the end of the Cold War. Undertaken without United Nations Security Council authorization, the NATO bombing constituted a “constructive bloodbath” which killed and displaced thousand of civilians, and caused a spiralling cycle of violence. And while Milosovic was guilty of his share of crimes, so were US allies, including Bosnian Muslim Alija Izetbegovic, an extremist who was openly pro-fascist and sympathetic to the Nazi Ustase movement in World War II, Croat Franjo Tudjman, another Nazi sympathizer responsible for perpetrating myriad atrocities, and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which was guilty of ethnic cleansing operations after the NATO bombings, and was heavily involved in the narcotics trade. None of these activities received any attention in Power’s book which transformed a complex civil war with myriad atrocities committed on all sides into a simple good versus evil tale. Recent scholarship confirms Herman and Peterson’s view. David Gibbs’ 2009 book, First Do No Harm, for example, shows that Washington along with Germany undermined diplomatic settlements after the break-up of Yugoslavia, strained the country’s economy by pushing for structural adjustment programs which created a climate ripe for war, and backed forces such as Izetbegovic and Tudjman implicated in terrible violence which was on par with that of Milosovic, or at best only slightly less criminal.
For Herman and Peterson, the 1994 “genocide” in Rwanda was another “nefarious” one because the victims were Tutsi whose leader Paul Kagame, head of the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) had been trained in US military academies. Prior to his leading the RPF invasion of Rwanda in 1991, Kagame served as director of military intelligence under Ugandan dictator Yoweri Museveni, another Washington client, and with American backing, invaded the Congo in 1996 and again in 1997-98, leading to the death of five million people or more. The US supported the invasion under fraudulent pretexts because of a desire to tap into Congo’s rich resources and mineral wealth (including coltan, the material used to manufacture cell-phones) in the post-Mobutu era, and to gain strategic advantage in a region of growing importance. While characterized by western apologists as a the equivalent of Abraham Lincoln and the founding father of a new Africa, Kagame stands out, according to Herman and Peterson, as one of the outstanding mass murderers of the modern era, an equivalent of Idi Amin, whose major crimes against humanity have been whitewashed because he is a client of Washington. He continues to receive lavish support along with Museveni who is also responsible for mass atrocities in the Congo war, represses the northern acholi population and runs a domestic police state similar to Kagame.
Herman and Peterson present a revisionist history of the Rwandese “genocide” of 1994. The standard narrative holds that it was precipitated by the murder of Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana by “Hutu Power” extremists who could not accept a coalition government with the Tutsi, previously marginalized within Rwanda. The international community did not intervene because it did not care enough about the fate or people of Rwanda. According to Herman and Peterson the problem, however, is that the American power elite (and not necessarily US citizens who were clueless about what was actually going on) cared too much. Its main objective was to muscle out French and other European interests in the region, which were tied to the Habyarimana government, and so encouraged the retrenchment of UN troops as a means of ensuring Habyarimana’s fall and the US-trained Kagame’s rise to power. Drawing on an eight year French study report, they argue that it was the RPF and Kagame, and not Interhamwe (Hutu militia) extremists, which shot down president Habyarimana’s plane in 1994, precipitating the orgy of violence. Kagame according to their calculations was unwilling to accept a diplomatic settlement or power-sharing arrangement and allow for elections which the RPF were destined to lose.
Despite the romantic portrayals of it in the West, Herman and Peterson note that the RPF committed brutal atrocities after they sparked a civil war by invading Rwanda in 1991 from Uganda. In a secret memorandum drafted in September 1994 for the eyes of Secretary of State Warren Christopher, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) relayed their conclusion that the RPF and Tutsi civilian surrogates killed 10,000 or more Hutu civilians per month in a campaign of ethnic cleansing to clear areas south of Rwanda for Tutsi habitation. At the highest levels, American officials thus knew exactly what was going on and raised nary a concern for the Hutu victims since they were on the wrong side, much like with the million or so alleged PKI members slaughtered by the Indonesian military in 1965 (as is well documented in the leading scholarship on the topic).
Once in power, Kagame and the RPF continued the bloodletting in Congo where they hunted down Hutu refugees and slaughtered them in refugee camps and forests, using the pretext of a security threat. They went on to install as ruler of Congo Laurent Kabila, a former revolutionary and diamond smuggler, and then reinvaded when he began moving against RPF interests. Having tired of its former client Mobutu, who pillaged the country for over three decades, the Pentagon actively supported the two invasions, providing military weapons and training and teams of CIA and Special Forces operatives to assist their Rwandan and Ugandan clients. Besides the millions who have died in the conflict, countless more have suffered from displacement and disease in one of the world’s worst ever humanitarian catastrophes. It received little attention in the West, however, or by so-called human rights activists and the media and was never characterized as genocide like Darfur. When the plight of the war refugees was brought to light on the Oprah Winfrey show Washington’s complicity was never mentioned.
Herman and Peterson provide much evidence to back up their analysis and draw on leading scholarship for all the interventions which they discuss.
This is no conspiracy theory, though there are a few flaws in their reasoning, particularly with regards Rwanda. From research that I have done at the National Archives, I discovered that during the Cold War, the US supported the Hutu power governments of Gregoire Kayabinda (1960-1973) and Juvenal Habyarimana (1973-1994), and built up their security forces under the guise of police training programs because the Tutsi were seen as left-leaning and backed by Maoist China (a claim which was actually greatly overstated). Viewed by Hutu leaders as collaborators with the old colonial order, the Tutsi faced terrible repression in this period with US complicity. Many were forced into exile and were subjected to reprisal killings. They in turn organized in Uganda under the banner of the RPF to return to their homeland. For the dispossessed Tutsi, Kagame and his cohort Fred Rwigyema, who was killed during the initial phases of the 1991 invasion, are heroes. They are the equivalent of Ché Guevara and Fidel Castro whose revolutionary campaigns against the Batista dictatorship provided a model.
In order to present a fuller depiction of the crisis in Rwanda, the authors should acknowledge the historical injustice faced by the Tutsi and how it contributed to the growth of the civil war. In addition, the authors are too harsh on human rights organizations. While in some cases divorcing their analysis from a larger geopolitical framework, these groups do a lot of first-rate reporting. In the case of Rwanda, they provided significant documentation on the killings perpetrated by Hutu militias which whipped up hatred of the population in the face of the 1991 RPF invasion, deriding all Tutsis as “inyenzi,” kinyarwandan for cockroaches. Mass slaughters and genocide did indeed take place, though it was not one-sided and does not justify later RPF action.
On the question of the shooting down of Habyrimana’s plane, Herman and Peterson present a lot of evidence that make me question the standard narrative. Their portrayal of Kagame as ruthless and cunning Machiavelli-type is in my view correct and an important contribution of the book. African scholar Gerard Prunier, who wrote one of the standard histories on the genocide, now admits that he was captivated by the Tutsi narrative of events, but after more sustained study has realized that the RPF was no mere innocent force and was responsible for myriad atrocities during the civil war and later during its invasion of Congo. And in his book When Victims Become Killers, Columbia University scholar Mahmood Mamdani similarly shows how, rather than being a case of good versus evil or a repeat of the Jewish holocaust, the conflict was rooted in Rwanda’s colonial history and the artificial ethnic divisions that were socially constructed under German and Belgian rule. Both Hutu and Tutsi were at once victims and killers as a result of socio-historical circumstances. Dutch author Filip Reyntjiens, who has been expelled from Rwanda, shows most recently in his book The Great Congo War that Kagame and the RPF committed mass killings of Hutu refugees under the pretext of securing Rwanda’s border and plundered Congo’s resources through manipulation of proxy armies in the late 1990s. He also points to the US involvement through arms sales to the RPF and provides significant evidence that Special Forces operatives and the CIA provided direct combat support to Rwandese units as they invaded Congo.
Herman and Peterson’s analysis is thus for the most part sustained by leading scholarship, albeit again with a few points those leading scholars may object to. On the whole their work is illuminating and provocative, and challenges readers to think critically about the political manipulation of the term genocide and human rights to justify foreign interventions. In a conversation with former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans over the implementation of a new UN provision on the responsibility to protect (R2P), Noam Chomsky pointed to the need for a universal standard on human rights and to acknowledge western violations of international law. “If it’s a crime of somebody else, particularly an enemy, then we’re utterly outraged. If it’s our own crime, either comparable or worse, either it’s suppressed or denied. That works with almost 100 percent precision.”
True humanitarian intervention, if such a thing is possible, will require that we own up to our own atrocities and crimes and address the underlying factors shaping US support for vicious and reactionary regimes like those of Kagame and Museveni and their many counterparts. Until we do that, the calls among western intellectuals such as Samantha Power for military intervention to halt genocide will remain hollow and a mask for imperialism.
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james joseph butler - 8/22/2010
Chris Hedges said, "War is a force that gives our lives meaning." We're suckers for causes, and hate. It's not enough that the world is beautiful and fascinating.
Nat Bates - 8/20/2010
I remember that the genocide in Rwanda was allowed to happen. For some, apparently, the lives of the Tutsis were less valuable than Africa's natural resources. It is not the "American" power elite that makes these decisions because, really, the power elites cross borders. Nation-states and democracies do not exist at this point.
Samantha Powers is right. She is also misguided in believing that the political order as it is will stop genocide. In that respect, I agree with Chomsky and his skepticism about "military humanism." So, I agree with Powers about the need to stop genocide, but I have to express skepticism that this will actually happen if autnomous power is given to the interventionists. It has not happened in the Sudan, because Iraq was the more crucial geo-political chess piece.
But, we can only do our best. I would rather see the military stop genocide than see our government be on the side of coups in Honduras or Venezuela. The French, British, Americans and Russians have messed up Africa, and stopping genocide would only be returning to Africans what was taken. Remember when the French destroyed an Airport a few years ago? They were adamant players in supporting the Hutus in Rwanda, and owe the people of Africa back for all that was plundered, as do the other imperial powers.
Sadly, the human race seems to have lost the DNA of peace, and we are controlled by the reptilian brain. This has been the case for thousands of years now. Hutus were propagandized to hate Tutsis, and followed through with vicious mind control and programming.
Where do people learn to hate? Why do American whites and blacks, so culturally similar, hate each other? Why do Israelites and Muslims, so religiously similar, hate one another? The Chinese and Japanese are both Buddhists, while the Irish Protestants and Catholics are both Christian. The Pioneers and Indians were more similar than they were different. How are people turned against each other?
We have to go deeper than politically correct shallowness to find a genuine mystery here. Do not assume that it is all about world control of oil because there already is world control of oil via the financial market. There is something deeper here than simply control of resources, since resources are controlled as it is.
One important clue: Note how after every war, every world war, we are ever more controlled by government. After World War I, we got passports (somewhere around there anyway). After the Cold War, we got Interpol and the IMF everywhere. After 9-11, we got ever expanding police powers. War is an instrument of control that lasts in to the peace. There is an important clue there, one that should open some eyes. On that point, it is best to cease to comment for a while at least.
Best regards to all on HNN. I think my usefulness here is about dried, although I am glad that freedom of thought still exists somwhere. I believe that I have said enough here.
Elliott Aron Green - 8/19/2010
I met Prof Herman in Philadelphia in the 1960s. He was about to lecture on the Vietnam War, which I too opposed. I recall his emotional intensity, which is not always a quality conducive to objective political research.
Now, assuming that Kuzmarov has faithfully reported on the contents of the book under review, I find that Herman & Peterson are selective in what they include, and not always rational about their treatment of what they do discuss. This in no way diminishes from their critique of Obama administration official Samantha Power, whom an informed person would expect to be selective.
For instance, if Herman & Peterson had wanted to criticize US Govt policy over the years, they ought to have mentioned US support for Nasser's takeover of Egypt in 1952 and the subsequent use by Nasser's Egypt of poison gas against fellow Arabs in Yemen in the mid-1960s. Now, if Kuzmarov now says that the Rwanda situation was a civil war, then using poison gas in Yemen's civil war, it can be argued, was not genocidal but only mass murderous. Yet it showed that "Third World" states could get away with using poison gas, if the Western media were not interested in the issue. Likewise, Saddam Hussein's use of poison gas against Iraqi Kurds in 1988, when media attention was focussed on Israel's alleged misdeeds against Arabs in the so-called "intifada."
Then it seems like both Samantha Power and Herman-Peterson overlook the genocide going on in the southern Sudan since Sudanese independence in 1956. Although the mass murder did enter a phase of partial truce from 1972 to 1983, several millions of south Sudanese have been murdered since 1956 with neither the Western Great Powers nor the international Left paying much attention. I assume that we realize that Darfur is western not southern Sudan, and that most Darfuris are Muslim, whereas the southern Sudanese have been mostly non-Muslims.
That brings us to what Kuzmarov and the authors call: "demonization of Islam." In the southern Sudan, I repeat, the US did not intervene to protect non-Muslims from Muslims. Rather the southern Sudan events were largely, but not entirely overlooked by Western mass media, and by the Left.
Meanwhile, in Yugoslavia, the Serbs --whom Herman et al. take pains to defend-- were accused in the West of persecuting Bosnian and Kossovo Muslims on religious grounds, inter alia. What occurred was hardly "demonization of Islam" but demonization of the Serbs. NATO as we recall fought a war to protect and advance the political aspirations of the mainly Muslim Kossovo Albanians to the detriment of the Serbs and their religious heritage in Kossovo [churches, monasteries, etc]. Herman et al. --to their credit-- do recognize the post-1999 war ethnic cleansing of Serbs from Kossovo.
Now confounding Herman and company's effort to impute anti-Muslim intentions to Washington, we come to the Hizbullah in Lebanon. The Hizb was set up by Iranian funding and political intervention. And the Iranian followers of Khomeini had been able to overthrow the Shah's regime in Iran with the help of US diplomacy led at that time by President Carter & Zbigniew Brzezinski. Not even the slaughter of ca. 250 US marines and ca. 60 French troops in Beirut by the Hizb , troops sent to Lebanon to protect the PLO leadership, led the US to take any harsh actions against what was then called the "party of God" in much of the Western media.
Herman et al. forget, it seems, the genesis of Hizbullah when writing of "Israeli violence" in the "occupied territories (such as the recent invasion of Gaza) and Lebanon in 1982 (the Sabra and Shatilla massacre)." It does seem that they do not mention the 2006 2nd Lebanon War which was provoked by the Hizb. Furthermore, as Mr Mutik has pointed out, the Sabra-Shatila massacre was perpetrated not by Israel but units of the Lebanese Phalanges as revenge for previous massacres of Christian Lebanese. As has subsequently emerged, and maybe Herman et al. are not aware of this information, Elie Hobeika, who commanded the Sabra-Shatila massacre was in fact a Syrian agent at the time and was later made a minister in one of the Lebanese govts. under Syrian sponsorship and hegemony.
Israel does not "occupy" Gaza and does not maintain troops or a govt or rule there. The partial siege of the Hamas-ruled territory was alleviated recently at US Govt insistence.
That is, the Obama administration does not want the Hamas-ruled area to suffer from Israeli opposition to Hamas which endorses the genocide of Jews in its charter [especially Article 7].
It seems that the Herman-Peterson book, as represented by Kuzmarov, suffers from several blind spots and inconsistencies and does not criticize US policy in Asian and African countries in several cases where it might easily do so.
Joseph Mutik - 8/17/2010
It is simple an pure hatred!
vaughn davis bornet - 8/17/2010
Here we now have two highly emotional accounts of "what happened." The author of one has retreated in a major way.
Nothing can be erased, I suppose, but can readers of HNN at least have a careful summary of WHAT IS TRUE to take to their intellectual bank?
I'm not certain on whom this responsibility rests.
At this moment, I'm sorry I read any of it.
Vaughn Davis Bornet Ashland, Oregon
james joseph butler - 8/16/2010
America likes to paint the world with a broad brush and your desire to share the "truth" points out how conditional that can be. I wish Samantha Power and Pres. Obama would recognize how essential it should be for America to share its own sins with the world.
Joseph Mutik - 8/16/2010
Everyone really knows that the Israeli army it's the most moral army in the world but for hatred of Jews propaganda reasons the self defense actions of the Israeli Jews have to be included in a book about genocide?!
The Sabra and Shatilla massacre has been perpetrated by the Christian Arab militia (as a revenge for a massacre perpetrated by the Palestinian militia against the Christians) but, of course, why not blame the Jews for it?!
Interesting in this article is trying to justify the killing of about 800000 defenseless Tutsi, mainly using machete, through a long history of tribal warfare only because some politicians were pro western.
Jeremy A. Kuzmarov - 5/29/2010
After speaking with Mr. Black at length and reviewing some of the court transcripts, it is clear the term genocide is not appropriate for the case of Rwanda. The killings were significant on both sides (in considering the congo war, much higher on the RPF side), but part of a vicious civil war and not necessarily genocidal in intent. Furthermore they were a product of the illegal invasion of Rwanda by the RPF from Uganda. Herman and Peterson are thus correct in their book; this case fits perfectly with their model.
My only criticism is that they could have provided slightly more historical context to better frame the terrible killings that took place.
Jeremy A. Kuzmarov - 5/26/2010
thank you for your comments. I am not an expert on the Rwandan conflict and appreciate the information provided. I will try examine in greater depth the sources that you suggest, and ICC transcripts, and perhaps then will come to the same conclusion. My previous sense from reading the Mamdani book and from having several former roomates from Rwanda was that the Tutsi did suffer some degree of persecution and lived in poor conditions in refugee camps (which does not necessarily justify the invasion which I was not trying to do). Most of your points, I agree and seem very plausible, but I am not totally sold on the utter beneficence of Habyarimana. In addition, I did not say that Kagame and Fred Rgwiyema were castro and guevara, except that they conceived of themselves in this way, and are still viewed as such by many Tutsi and RPF supporters.
during the cold war era, US policy was it appears from my research one of backing Habyarimana and building up his security apparatus because of the apparent belief that the Tutsi in exile were supported by Maoist China (of which the CIA acknowledged there to be little evidence).
with the herman, peterson book - I agree with their model and general analysis and believe it to be a work of important significance. The authors could provide more documentation and details on the historical nature of the Rwandan conflict to show people like myself the reality. Much of the information that you provide in your comments are not in the book, so as someone with only limited knowledge of the conflict, based on the existing secondary literature and contact with a few people from the country, can be shown of this reality.
Christopher Charles Black - 5/24/2010
Professor Kuzmarov's generally positive review of this important book by Ed Herman and David Peterson is marred by a misapprehension of the facts of the history of Rwanda and the war that destroyed the country between 1990 and 1994.
He states that though their critique is thought provoking, they should "acknowledge the historical injustice faced by the Tutsi.." but fails to point out what injustice, exactly, he is referring to.
The entire history of Rwanda from the 11th century on to the present has been discussed and examined and analysed by expert after expert, witnesses of the events by the hundreds at the war crimes trials at the International War Crimes Tribunal For Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania. It is in the transcripts of the trials that have spread over more than ten years that one will find the truth and it is this:
Before the arrival of the Europeans, first the Germans, then the Belgians in the 1890's Rwanda was a conglomeration of petty chiefdoms with the Tutsi minority, a cattle people, ruling with an iron fist over the majority Hutu peasants. Over the first decades of the twentieth century the Tutsis adopted by the European colonisers as the comprador class to rule on their behalf expanded their control over all the chiefdoms and replaced Hutu leaders with Tutsis. From then until 1959 when the social revolution took place the Tutsi aristocracy held sway over the Hutu people now reduced to serfdom. It was required by law that Hutus work for Tutsi master several days a week without pay, forced labor. Hutus were not allowed to go to school nor to serve in the government administration and had no political, social or economic power.
In 1959, a small group of Hutus, inspired by the liberation struggles after the second world war, issued a manifesto demanding equal right to education, to serve in the government, for elected democracy, for the abolition of serfdom, abolition of the monarchy, right to form unions, freedom of the press, freedom of association, freedom from arbitrary arrest and other quite standard democratic ideals. Essentially it was a call for social, economic and political justice after centuries of minority Tutsi oppression.
The result was a build of pressure in the west for democracy in Rwanda and the Belgians supported this. Elections were held. Hutu candidates swept away the Tutsi bosses and for the first time the majority of Rwandans had control of their destiny. Soon after the elections a referendum was held on the monarchy which was abolished by an overwhelming majority. The Tutsi aristocracy, not willing or able to accept a lesser role than overlords, responded by murdering several Hutu local mayors and officials and other Hutus. The Hutu government called for help and the Belgians returned with a military force from the Congo to restore order and to pursue and arrest the Tutsi involved. However, as it was the entire Tutsi aristocracy that was involved, instead of face arrest for murder, fled the county most to Uganda. From 1961 until 1973 the Tutsis who had fled staged armed raids into Rwanda in which they wantonly slaughtered Hutus until they were captured or forced back to Uganda. The UN was called in and many documents at the ICTR from ther UN and press reports of the time establish beyond question that it was the Tutsis who could not accept the social and democratic revolution who were to blame for the killings and all the violence.
Until 1990, there was no further interference in Rwanda from Uganda. However, the Tutsis were still there, but now as one of the main elements of the Ugandan Army of Yoweri Museveni. Museveni had been picked by the US and UK to oust Milton Obote, the socialist. Many Tutsi joined his forces and when Museveni took power a third or more of his soldiers were Tutsi and many of them held high rank, as did Paul Kagame.
The collapse of the USSR allowed the US and UK to target two remaining socialist countries, Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Yugoslavia as it was the last strong bastion of working socialism in Europe and Rwanda as it was a model of socialist development in Africa, even called the "Switzerland of Africa". The US was also tired of Mobutu as he was beginning to turn towards China and so wanted to remove him. President Habyarimana of Rwanda, had been approached to allow his country to be used as a staging ground for an attack on Zaire (Congo). He refused. This with their wish to destroy a working example of socialism in Africa caused the US to look for other agents they could work with and found the Tutsis in Uganda ever thirsting for the restoration of their hegemony in Rwanda and even more, for Hutu blood in revenge. Museveni wanted rid of them as he also felt uneasy about the Tutsis in his ranks.
So, with Belgium and the UK the US supported the invasion of Rwanda by the Ugandan Army on October 1, 1990. One thing must be understood very clearly. This was not an invasion by a Tutsi liberation group as the RPF has claimed. The RPF was in fact the Ugandan Army operating under that name in its operations in Rwanda. All the soldiers in the RPF at that time were, aside from mercenaries, members of the Ugandan Army, carried Ugandan Army id cards, used Ugandan army equipment, vehicles and communication facilities. The RPF was never a liberation group and was never backed by China. It was, as everyone knows, backed by the United States and Britain, along with Belgium and Canada. The RPF did at one time claim to be a marxist liberation group but that was another of their cynical ploys to sucker in the left in the west to support what was and is a fascist organisation.
Another thing must be clearly understood. There was no justification for this surprise attack in which thousands of Hutus were slaughtered in the most cruel manner. The RPF claims that it was necessary to solve the refugee problem and that the Habyarimana regime had refused the right of return. This is completely false, a total rewriting of documented history. Before all the judges at the ICTR are all the agreements and minutes of meetings in which the UN, the Rwandan government, the OAU, the RPF and UGanda and Tanzania had all agreed that those Tutsis who wanted to return could do so en masse. Despite what the good profesor says in his review, individual Tutsis had always had the right of return and many had returned and the Rwandan government encouraged this, both to reduce the outside threat and build more harmony. Mass return had been deemed impractical as it was not understood how a small country could take the sudden influx of 500,000 people when every piece of land wasused and there were no extra jobs nor housing for them. But in September, 1990 a deal was reached to which the RPF was signatory. The next step was for the RPF to send a team to meet with the Rwandan commission set up to deal with the refugees to discuss logistics. That team was due in Kigali the end of September. That team never arrived. Instead the RPF wing of the Ugandan Army mounted a surprise attack thus rupturing the deal for the return of the refugees and revealing that the refugee problem never was.
Many witnesses have also described life for Tutsis in Rwanda before 1990. A picture of oppression does not appear, rather one of privilege. The MRND party (see as a peoples movement rather than a party as such) in charge of the government and which contained both Hutu and Tutsi members, created an affirmative action program guaranteeing the Tutsis a place in education, government, public service and the army. The RPF claims this was a ceiling. But all witnesses and I will rely on the Europeans who worked in the systems as the least biased, confirmed that the percentage guarantee was not a ceiling but a floor and in the universities for example the number of Tutsi often exceeded their proportion the population of 15% maximum and in many schools Tutsis exceeded 20% of the total number of students. Outside of the state owned industries it was the Tutsis who predominated. The Tutsis were the wealthiest group in Rwanda and controlled most import and export businesses. One has only to read the transcripts of the testimony of the Tutsi prince and son of the last king, Antoine Nyetera, who testified in the Military II trial that all the RPF claims are pure propaganda and that it was the RPF that committed most of the massacres both before 1994 and in 1994 to see how the world has been taken in by a pretty clumsy propaganda effort by the RPF and the US and its usual allies.
The Professor dares compare Kagame to Castro and Guevara acting against Batista. No. You ahve it completely backwards. Kagame is Batista. He overthrew with US et al help a democratic, coalition government set up under the Arusha Accords to which again the RPF was signatory. The Professor prefers no to mention in his review the crucial testimony of Dr. Alison Desforges, also in the Military II trial in 2006. in which she stated that there was no plan by the government of Rwanda to commit genocide as it was impossible as it was a coalition government composed of Hutus and Tutsis including the RPF and its allied parties and in which Habyarimana had been reduced to a figurhead with real power resting with the pro-RPF prime ministers.
He ignores the fact that it was Habyarimana who first got rid of the one-party socialist government and rewrote the constitution in 1991 and agreed to talks with the RPF to stop the war.
The Belgian ambassador, US ambassador, senior Belgian army officers, Tanzanian and UN diplomats all confirm that every time the Rwandan government agreed to a cease-fire, it was the RPF that broke it in more slaughter using a "fight and talk" strategy" and that it was the RPF who did not want free elections and who prepared for their final solution, their final offensive of April 6 1994 in which they launched another surprise attack, in breach of the Accords, with the connivance of the UN and the direct military support of the US and others.
It is also clear on the evidence that most of those killed in 1994 were Hutus not Tutsis as the RPF claims in order to justify its seizure of power. RPF officers have testified and written leters to the UN stating that the RPF killed 2 million Hutus in those 12 weeks and then claimed them as Tustis.
It is also established beyond doubt that the first massacre of 1994, the murder of all those on the president's plane on April 6 was committed by the RPF which blew it out of the sky with help from its western allies. The Professor fails to mention something he must know, that the firts body to determine who shot down the plane was the prosecution service of the ICTR in 1997. Michael Hourigan, the Australian lawyer who headed the investigative team into the shoot down reported to Louise Arbour that it was the RPF, that he had met with 3 members of the shoot down team and that he had the documents to prove it. Arbour quickly called him to The Hague and ordered him off the file and to burn his notes. His notes lead to the CIA. This was revealed first by the National Post newspaper in 2001 and later by other journals. Hourigan left the UN in disgust. His testimony is before the tribunal. So it is not just a french or a spanish judge who has also determined this to be the case. Further, the intercepted radio message of Kagame telling his troops that the president had been killed and that the offensive could go ahead was also filed as exhibit in several trials. Just last June, this writer filed as an exhibit a letter from Paul Kagame to a Tutsi leader in Burundi, dated August 1994, in which he speaks of the thanks he has to the Americans, Belgians and British for the taking of Kigali and the plans they have next for Zaire and the overthrow of the Hutu regime in Burundi. I am quite willing to share that letter with anyone who wishes to see it. The testimony of the General Augustin Ndindiliyimana, chief of staff of the gendarmerie in the Military II case that US air force C130 Hercules aircraft dropped men and supplies to the RPF after April 6 also is something to bear in mind in this regard.
I will not get into the charge of Mssrs Herman and Peterson being too harsh on NGOs in Rwanda. Well, no, they were not. Their role was always damaging to peace and, as with Human Rights Watch, almost coincidental with the RPF strategy and the role of the western mass media shameful. A slaughter of perhaps millions, certainly hundreds of thousands of people covered up as its opposite. Ethnic cleansing as a war of liberation. Mass slaughter of innocents as revenge for contrived grievances.
The saddest thing for myself is the studied indifference to the war crimes trials that have taken place at the ICTR and are still taking place and the shattering evidence that has been revealed to the world about what really happened to Rwanda and Rwandans and what is happening to them now under the fascist military RPF junta now placed in control of the country by the US and the UK. It is as if the most important criminal and political trials of the past century (I say this with all respect to the Nuremberg process because they were very short and issues were never examined at any length.) Never took place. Well they did take place. They are still taking place. No one who is ignorant of the testimony and evidence in those trials can claim any academic authority about the war in Rwanda. Anyone who claims they can based on the old saws from ten years ago has been bypassed by time and events and to get back in the game must go to the trials. There lies the reality.
International Criminal Lawyer
Lead Counsel, International War Crimes Tribunal For Rwanda
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