Some truth and justice for Rwanda at last

Published on Pambazuka News, by Gerald Caplan, January 12, 2012.

Who shot down President Habyarimana’s plane, triggering the 1994 genocide? A report by two French judges has definitively resolved one of the controversial mysteries of the late 20th century. Gerry Caplan considers the implications in the light also of the extradition of alleged genocidaire Leon Mugesera.  

Two seemingly unrelated Rwandan stories made both history and the headlines this week. One was the dramatic finding by a French inquiry that members of the pre-genocide Hutu government and military must have shot down the plane carrying their President Juvenal Habyarimana on April 6, 1994, launching their planned genocide only hours later. (The President of Burundi was also a passenger on the ill-fated plane, as were other senior Rwandan officials.) The second was the decision of the Canadian government to deport to Rwanda at long last a man named Leon Mugesera, accused of inciting his fellow Hutu to massacre Tutsi about one-and-half years before the plane crash. In fact, the two stories are closely related.

Responsibility for the plane crash has been the source of bitter dispute from the very moment it happened … //

… Trevidic and Poux do not name the individual Hutu extremists who were actually responsible for shooting down Habyarimana’s plane, and although someone must know who they were, it’s possible the world never will. Nor does the report indicate the murky role that French officials seem to have played in the crash. But none of that is as important as their overall conclusion that the RPF could not have shot down the plane and that only those Hutu government and military officials with access to the government-controlled Kanombe military camp could have done so.

What happens now? Will we see a torrent of heart-felt apologies from those who for two decades have insisted on Kagame’s guilt? Alas, we should probably not hold our breath waiting. I presume the report will now allow French-Rwandan relations to move forward smoothly, even though France has never apologised for its complicity in the genocide, or for implying there had been no genocide at all, or for helping perpetuate the myth that Kagame caused the plane crash. But it is of course Rwanda’s right to tolerate the absence of such apologies.

Above all, the historical record is now finally clear and beyond dispute. Truth has won out. Hutu extremists like Leon Mugesera deliberately contrived to stir up lethal anti-Tutsi hysteria. Their plot to exterminate all Tutsi gathered increasing support from government and military officials. When President Habyarimana decided he had no choice but to implement the power-sharing arrangements with the RPF as agreed in the Arusha Accords, the time to strike had come. The extremists shot the President’s plane down, and the genocide began. (full long text).

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