As people around the world prepare to mark the 10th anniversary of the terrible Rwandan tragedy triggered by the shooting down of former Rwandan President Habyarimana’s plane on April 6, 1994, the report by French anti-terrorist judge Jean-Louis Bruguière provides cause to reconsider some accepted ideas about those events. The 225-page report leaked to Le Monde places the entire blame for the missile attack on President Habyarimana’s plane on current Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
That attack was surely one of the worst terrorist acts of the 1990s. Think about it! Two African heads of state were killed–President Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi was also in the plane , the fragile peace based on the Arusha accords of 1993 was shattered, war resumed, and masses of people were massacred. The perpetrators of that attack–the Rwandan Patriotic Front according to Bruguière–knew what would happen, as did their principal backers, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Unclassified internal Clinton Administration documents show that on that very night, immediately after learning of President Habyarimana’s death, Prudence Bushnell of the American Embassy in Kigali presciently wrote to Secretary of State Warren Christopher in Washington: “If, as it appears, both Presidents have been killed, there is a strong likelihood that widespread violence could break out in either or both countries, particularly if it is confirmed that the plane was shot down.”
A rigorous six-year investigation now finally casts light on an event that changed the course of Rwandan–and central African–history and names names. Had the plane not been shot down, the massacres might have been avoided.
The Bruguière report is also particularly damning for many people who have shaped the narrative of the Rwanda tragedy since 1994. Among them, Kofi Annan, who in 1998 commissioned an Independent Inquiry into UN Actions during the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda. In that very official report states: “At approximately 20:30, Habyarimana and President Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi were killed in a plane crash just outside the Kigali airport.” Indictment documents produced by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda also calls it a “plane crash”. Two surface to air missiles were shot, but the official UN story was that the plane fell out of the sky! That probably explains why the black box disappeared in UN offices for 10 years.
The report is also damning for Louise Arbour, recently appointed by Kofi Annan to head the UN Human Rights Commission. In her capacity as Chief Prosecutor of the Tribunal, Louise Arbour nixed the only UN sponsored investigation into the assassination of the Rwandan president. When investigator Michael Hourigan turned up evidence pointing to Kagame and the Rwandan Patriotic Front along with testimony from RPF members who had participated in the missile attack, Louise Arbour, though initially enthusiastic, suppressed his findings and ordered him to go no further.
It is damning for former UN mission commander general Romeo Dallaire: first he provides no explanation for the disappearance of the plane’s cockpit voice recorder (black box), which surfaced this week at UN headquarters. Dallaire was in charge of the so-called Kigali weapons secure area from where the missile was shot. Secondly, his 600-page book does not even try to explain how the former Rwandan president was killed and who did it. Worse still, he continually refers to the assassination as an “accident”.
The report is damning for Uganda and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. The missiles used to shoot down the plane were the property of the Ugandan Army. Uganda had been bought them from the Soviet Union in 1987. Whereas the official story would have it that the tragedy in Rwanda was an internal crisis, the ownership of those missiles points directly to the fact that the so-called RPF rebels were ranking members of the Ugandan army until the day they invaded Rwanda on October 1, 1990. Paul Kagame had been Uganda’s Chief of Military Intelligence and benefited from Ugandan until he took power in July 1994.
The report is also very damning for United States, and particularly the Clinton administration, who have supported Paul Kagame and the Rwandan Patriotic Front unfailingly since the early 1990s. How could a country supposedly so intent on fighting terrorism treat the assassination of two African heads of state so lightly that it never forced the UN get to the bottom of it? After all, the Washington has always gotten its way on Rwanda at the UN.
For instance, when it was time to act in 1994, another unclassified State Department document dated April 15, 1994, states that for the United States the first priority of the UN Security Council was “to instruct the Secretary general to implement an orderly withdrawal of all/all UNAMIR forces from Rwanda.” That is exactly what the UN did, thus prompting former UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali to declare that “the Rwandan Genocide was 100 percent American responsibility”.
Hopefully, the 10th anniversary commemoration will be an opportunity find out more about why so many people died in Rwanda and later in the Congo. Moral indignation is fine. But it cannot replace hard facts. Judge Bruguière’s report has uncovered some important facts that have been carefully edited out of the official story about in Rwanda. It deserves to be studied carefully.
ROBIN PHILPOT is a Montreal writer. His book Ça ne s’est pas passé comme ça à Kigali (That’s not what happened in Rwanda) will soon appear in English. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .