The Rwandan genocide 20 years later – Living with the irreparable

April 7 marked to official launch of a hundred days of events commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. I spent two days at a conference titled “Growing up with the irreparable”, which features panels of academics and survivors. The stories of survivors are certainly what affected me the most.

Those who survived say that it is impossible to put words on their experience. However, I found the way they described the horrors of the genocide extremely powerful. Each of them has their own way of describing it and I want to transcribe them here in order to emphasize our responsibility to prevent future genocide.


Testimony 1: Atanasie

We don’t know how to explain the pain we live with and carry. There are no words to describe the genocide against the Batutsis. I carry the seal. The word “irreparable” is like a rope that has been broken into several pieces and cannot be repaired. There is no service for that. The shock exists, persists and will always persist. At every shock, I fall to the ground. The month of April destroys me. It would be better if there were no month of April.

God has given me the chance to survive so I must try to live like others. I try to live like others but it is difficult to feel like the Atanasie I was before the genocide. There are two people in me: the Atanasie before the genocide, who is strong, and the Atanasie after the genocide, who has been ripped apart. I try to live with both. I must reconcile the past, the present and the future.


Testimony 2 (13 years old in 1994)

I’m not a survivor because I lived abroad at the time but in a way I am a survivor because my mother’s entire family has been killed. For me the irreparable is the people I have lost…I should not even use the word “lost” because they have been exterminated.

I do not want to accept that there is something broken in me. I’m part of the second generation and I want to believe in reparation. I feel divided between what my parents had to endure since the 1960s and the new generation today. I carry the wounds but I want to make the transition between my parents’ live story and the new Rwanda.

In the diaspora, we are divided. I grew up with Tutsis and the division is still there. In the diaspora, we have a tendency to put the Good on one side and the Bad on the other side. I want to go further and have reconciliation. I think reconciliation can happen in my generation but you cannot force my mother to accept reconciliation, especially since a lot of the killers have no regrets. Reconciliation is personal. I feel that I can do it.


Testimony 3 (28 years old in 1994)

For me, being a survivor is emptiness, absence. I have no images, no picture. This is the irreparable. All I have left of my father is loincloth. When April comes, I wash it, iron it and put it away.

Anxiety is my companion. I wake up in the middle of the night to make sure that my child is still breathing. This is the irreparable

We are violent towards ourselves in order to repress our sentiments, in order not to expose ourselves, in order not to bare ourselves and cry. We don’t want to get these feelings out. This is the irreparable.

I could not act. This is the irreparable

The irreparable is living with the smell of rotting human bodies for the past 20 years.

The irreparable is having to live with the culpability of having survived when others have not. I feel guilty that the last words I said to my father were not more tender. I wish I could have found something nicer to say.

Sometimes I hear “How come you were not killed in 1994.” As if would be more convenient if I had. Hearing this from Tutsis make me want to go on. I have a responsibility towards my family and towards the survivors.



Testimony 4 (8 years old in 1994)

April is the season of sadness, the season of memory, the season of courage.

The irreparable are the smells, the scenes, the words that come back unannounced, for no reason.

I remember the sound of the plane crashing. We thought it was a grenade and went into hiding.

I remember the first person I saw being killed, the first person I saw being raped. I remember seeing by mother among dead bodies searching for my father’s body.

I remember the words of those who committed these acts. They seemed relieved to live in a world where Tutsis would no longer exist. Even those who did not kill were relieved. This is the essence of genocide.

The irreparable is not being able to say the words “dad.” The sad truth is: when we are survivors we wish we could be like everybody else.

I wish we had been given as space to speak clearly about what we went through. When we speak about the genocide, it’s like speaking about a complex subject. But for us, it is qui simple to explain. We just want to be given a space to tell about our truth.

Your challenge now is to take up a pen and to write your story as you know it and feel it. To repair the irreparable we must change our way to think and speak. Nobody can take our truth from us unless we tell them.

Testimony 5

The irreparable is definitive. It’s not like a fracture one can weld. I have a scar where the machete struck. This wound accompanies me. When I see it, I’m immediately back where I was on that day. I lived in Bisero where only 800 out of 60 000 Tutsis survived. My father survived but today he can barely speak. The day I saw my father again after being separated, I did not recognize him and I promised myself that I would live. We tried to reconstruct ourselves. I carried my father’s misery, his pain, his despair. He used to be a dignified, upright man but I became like his mother. I carried him on my back or held him by the hand, and tried to be strong in front of him.

Living became our vengeance. Studying became my vengeance. I move to Canada and earned several degrees. I wish you the best and most beautiful vengeance. They failed. Live continues. We are the proof. This is the challenge: to raise you head and stand upright.

Testimony 6

Those who lived in the diaspora at the time also carry the irreparable. My Rwandan friends in Rwanda and where I lived, kept counting the dead while my entire family here was safe. I felt guilty that I cannot find the words to comfort them. It was like a reproach “Your parents are doing well”

What I want to transmit to my children is that we did not respond to hate by hate. Instead we continued to live and are proud of who we are.

Testimony 8: Eugène (26 years old at the time)

The irreparable is having to knead my pain every morning with tears that are struggling to fall. It is also the smell of rotting carcasses that impregnate my clothes.

The genocide for me are these moments of complete absurdity where one ceases to be human. One just becomes the product of a slaughter.

I debated for a long time whether I had the right to live because all my friend had been exterminated, all my family had been exterminated. I didn’t think I had the right until the day I realized that by refusing to live I agreed with the murderers. I agreed with the murdered who assassinated my family. I had to stand up again. We must accept that life continues. That it does not stop because one génocidaire decided that it had to.

“Forgiveness” is not part of my vocabulary. I will forgive if someone asks me for forgiveness but I cannot forgive in the void.

The members of United Nations have to change to way they protect humanity, if this is indeed their mission. If they intervene, if they act or if they simply give up and we will say “We let evil triumph –“

Testimony 9: Arlette

The plane crashed in the night and the next day we had become snakes, insects to eliminate. When you wake up in the morning and you’re looking for the next person to kill, you are no longer human – you’re an animal. Usually when somebody dies, you are sad and you cry. But death had become so trivial that we would see a person die and it had become something normal. We could not cry because we did not have the right to. We though “I’ll be next”

My biggest fear is how to tell that story to my son. How do I transmit it so as to keep the memory alive but without transmitting the hate?

I think there’s no reconciliation because we do not have to reconcile. There are two communities who live in separate corners but there is mistrust, great, great mistrust.


Génocide Rwandais – Vivre avec l’irréparable

Le 7 avril marquait le début de 100 jours de commémoration du 20ème anniversaire du génocide rwandais contre les Tutsis. J’ai passé deux jours à une conférence sur « Vivre avec l’irréparable » qui comprenait des présentations données par des chercheurs et des survivants ou familles de survivants. C’est ces témoignages qui m’ont le plus touché.

Les rescapés expriment souvent l’impossibilité de mettre des mots sur le génocide, sur leur expérience. Mais j’ai trouvé la manière dont ils décrivaient l’horreur très percutante. Chacun avait sa manière d’en parler et je veux retranscrire leurs paroles ici afin de souligner notre responsabilité à faire plus d’efforts afin de prévenir de futur génocide.


Témoignage 1 – Atanasie

Nous ne savons pas comment décrire la douleur qui nous habite. Il n’ya pas de mot pour décrire le génocide contre les Batutsis. Je porte le cachet. Le mot irréparable c’est une ligne continue qui a été coupé en morceau par morceau de telle manière qu’on ne peut pas reconstruire la corde. Il n’y a pas de service pour réparer ça. Le choc existe, persiste et persistera pour toujours. Au moindre choc je suis à terre. Le mois d’avril me détruit. Si il n’y avait pas le mois d’avril, ce serait mieux.

J’essaie de vivre comme les autres. C’est difficile de me sentir comme l’Atanasie d’avant. En moi il y a deux personnes, l’Atanasie d’avant le génocide qui est forte et l’Atanasie d’après qui est déchirée. J’essaie de vivre avec les deux personnes en moi. Dieu m’a donné la chance de survivre alors je dois essayer de vivre comme les autres

Il faut concilier, le présent, le future et le passé


Témoignage 2 (13 ans à l’époque)

Je ne suis pas une rescapée, je vivais en Suisse mais d’une côté je le suis car toute la famille de ma mère est décédée. Moi je n’ai jamais vécu là-bas. Pour moi l’irréparable c’est tous ces gens que j’ai perdu. Je ne devrais même pas utilisé le mot perdre car ils se sont fait exterminer.

J’ai vite appris qu’il y avait Hutu et Tutsi, mauvais et gentils. C’est comme ça que je l’ai vécu en Suisse. Je ne veux pas accepter que j’ai quelque de briser en moi qui ne peux pas être réparer. Je fais partie de la deuxième génération et je veux croire en une réparation. J’aimerais que mes enfants aient quelque chose de plus. On est partagé entre ce que nos parents ont vécu depuis les années 1960 et la nouvelle génération. Je porte les blessures mais j’aimerai pouvoir faire la transition entre son vécu et ce nouveau Rwanda.

Dans la diaspora, on est très divisés. J’ai grandi avec des Tutsis et la division est toujours là. Dans la diaspora on a tendance de mettre les mauvais d’un côté et les bons de l’autre. Je veux aller plus loin faire la réconciliation. Je pense que la réconciliation peut se faire plus à notre génération qu’à la votre. On ne peut pas forcer ma mère à la réconciliation. Surtout que beaucoup ne le regrette pas. C’est personnel. En ce qui me concerne je peux le faire.


Témoignage 3 (28 ans à l’époque)

 Pour moi être rescapé c’est le vide, c’est l’absence. Je n’ai pas d’image, pas de photos. C’est irréparable. Tout ce qui me reste c’est un pagne de mon père. Quand avril approche, je le lave, je le repasse et je le range. C’est ça l’irréparable.

L’angoisse est mon compagnon. Je réveille au milieu de la nuit pour voir si mon enfant respire encore. C’est ça l’irréparable

L’irréparable c’est se faire violence chaque jour pour réprimer ce sentiment afin de ne pas s’exposer, de ne pas se mettre à nu, de ne pas pleurer. On ne veut pas sortir ces sentiments. Ça c’est l’irréparable.

Je ne pouvais pas agir. Ça c’est l’irréparable

L’irréparable c’est aussi vivre avec la culpabilité. Coupable de vivre alors que les autres ne vivent plus. Coupable de savoir que la dernière parole qu’on a eu avec son père n’ont pas été les plus tendres. J’aurai voulu trouver quelque chose de plus tendre à lui dire.

C’est aussi entendre dire « comment ça se fait que tu n’as pas été tué en 1994 » ? Comme si, si j’avais été tué, cela aurait arrangé quelqu’un. Entendre cela de la part de Tutsi, ça me donne la force d’avancer. Que vaut la vie après le génocide si elle n’est pas vécue dans l’amitié. J’ai des responsabilités envers ma famille, les survivants


Témoignage 4 (8 ans à l’époque)

Avril c’est la saison de la tristesse et de la mémoire, une saison de courage.

L’irréparable c’est les odeurs, les scènes, les mots qui reviennent sans préavis sans raisons particulières.

Je me rappelle des bruits de l’avion qui est tombé. Mes parents nous en réveillé, on a cru que c’était un grenade.

Je me rappelle la première fois que le première personne que j’ai vu une personne abattue, une personne violée. La fois ou j’ai vu ma mère au milieu de corps à la recherche du corps de mon père. Je me souviens des mots de ceux qui commettaient ces actes. Ils semblaient en paix dans un monde dans lequel les Tutsis n’existaient pas. Même ceux qui ne participait pas au génocide. C’est ça l’essence du génocide.

L’irréparable c’est ne pas avoir la chance de dire le mot « papa ». Quand on est rescapé on aimerait être comme tout le monde et ça c’est la triste vérité.

On aurait du créer un espace dans lequel on aurait pu parler clairement de ce qu’on a vécu. Quand on parle du génocide en Kinyarwanda c’est comme parler de dossier complexe. Hors pour nous c’est simple à expliquer. On veut simplement énoncer ma vérité comme on l’a vécu. Notre défi c’est de prendre un stylo et d’écrire l’histoire comme on la connait au fin fond de votre cœur. Pour réparez l’irréparable il faut changer notre façon de penser et de parler. Personne ne peut nous prendre notre vérité à moins qu’on ne leur dise.


Témoignage 5

L’irréparable c’est définitif. C’est pas comme une fracture que l’on peut souder. J’ai une cicatrice là où la machette m’a blessé. Cette blessure m’accompagne. Quand je la regarde, je replonge là où j’étais ce jour là. Je vivais à Bisero où 800 parmi 60 000 tutsis ont survécu. Mon père a survécu mais aujourd’hui il ne sait pas parler plus de deux minutes.

Quand j’ai revu mon père après avoir été séparé de lui, je ne l’ai pas reconnu.  Quand j’ai vu mon père je me suis promis que j’allais vivre alors qu’avant je ne voulais pas.

On a essayé de se reconstruire. Je portais mon père avec sa misère, sa douleur, son désespoir. Il avait été un homme digne, droit. Maintenant j’étais devenu comme sa mère. Je le portais parfois sur mon dos, je le prenais par la main. Devant lui je me montrais forte. Vivre était notre façon de se venger. Je gardais la tête haute. Mes études c’est ma vengeance. Je vous souhaite la vengeance la plus belle. La vie continue, nous en sommes la preuve. C’est ça le défi : de lever la tête, se tenir debout.


Témoignage 6

Ceux qui n’étaient pas au Rwanda en 1994 portent aussi l’irréparable en eux. J’avais des amis rwandais là où je vivais qui chaque jour apprenaient que leurs familles, leurs amis avaient été tué. L’irréparable, c’est la culpabilité que l’on ressent quand on n’a pas de mots pour réconforter les gens. C’était comme un reproche « Toi tes parents vont bien »

Ce que je veux transmettre à mes enfants c’est de ne pas avoir répondu à la haine par la haine mais par la vie et la fierté de ce qu’on est


Témoignage 7 (26 ans à l’époque) – Eugène

L’irréparable c’est pétrir ma peine chaque matin avec des larmes qui peinent à couler. C’est aussi l’odeur de la charogne humaine qui envahi mes vêtements.

Le génocide pour moi c’est tous ces moments d’absurdité où on cesse d’être humain. Tout simplement un produit de boucherie

J’ai débattu pendant longtemps si j’avais le droit de vivre parce que tous mes compagnons avaient été éliminés, toute ma famille avait été éliminée. Je pensais que je n’avais pas le droit. Jusqu’au jour où je me suis rendu compte qu’en refusant de vivre je donnais raisons à on assassin. Je donnais raison à ceux qui ont assassinés ma famille. Il fallait me remettre debout. On doit accepter que la vie continue. Qu’elle ne s’arrête pas juste parce qu’un génocidaire l’a décidé

Le pardon n’est pas un mot qui existe dans mon vocabulaire. Je pardonnerai si on me demandait pardon mais je ne peux pas pardonner dans le vide

Il faut que les Nations Unies changent leur manière de protéger l’humanité si ils se donnent la mission. Si ils interviennent, si ils agissent ou bien tout simplement ils renoncent et on dira « On a laissez le mal triompher »


Témoignage 8 (18 ans à l’époque) : Arlette

L’avion est tombé la nuit et le lendemain on est devenu des serpents, des insectes à éliminés. Quand on se lève le matin à la recherche de la prochaine personne à tué on n’est plus humain, on devient un animal. D’habitude une personne meurt et on a de la tristesse, on pleur. Là c’était devenu tellement banal qu’on regardait une personne mourir  et c’était la chose normale. On ne pouvait pas pleurer parce qu’on avait plus le droit. On se disait « c’est moi la prochaine personne qui vais être tuée. »

Ma plus grande crainte c’est comment je raconte ça à mon fils. Comment on lui transmet ça pour qu’il puisse quand même garder la mémoire mais sans lui transmettre la haine.

Selon moi il n’y a pas de réconciliation parce qu’on n’est pas obligé de se réconcilier. Il y a deux communautés qui vivent chacune de leur coin mais il y a une méfiance, une grande, grande méfiance



Conflict Minerals in the DRC: Why Western Legislation Isn’t the Only Answer

An article I wrote for the Canadian International Council

At a recent conference titled, “A Conflict of Interests: Canadian Mining in the Congo” organized by STAND McGill, the most debated topic of the day was the role and impact of U.S. and Canadian legislation in curbing violence caused by so-called conflict minerals in the Great Lakes Region of sub-Saharan Africa. These sentiments beg the questions of whether national legislation is actually having an effect on Congolese people or whether it is simply making companies and consumers feel better about their behaviour.

One common misconception about the cycle of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is that it is caused, in part at least, by conflict minerals. However, it is important to understand that the illegal exploitation minerals is an effect of the war. This misunderstanding about the roots of long-standing conflict threatens to lead to flawed responses as to whether action in the United States or Canada can affect the situation on the ground.

So let’s start with the basics.

What has been coined by French historian Gerard Prunier as “Africa’s World War” finds its roots in two successive wars—not to mention its colonial past as a particularly brutal example of heavy-handed Belgian colonialism. In 1996, Rwanda invaded the eastern DRC to oppose extremist Hutu militias responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide who had fled there. Aided by Rwanda, Congolese rebels led by Laurent Kabila took the opportunity to end the reign of Joseph Mobutu—who had been in power since 1965. The strategic alliance between Rwanda and Kabila was short-lived and the fall out led Rwanda and Uganda to back new rebel groups, this time against Kabila. Nine states ultimately got involved in the war. Widespread insecurity, sporadic violence, and the collapse of state authority in the country’s eastern provinces led to the formation of an array of local, foreign, and now internationally-mandated armed groups. Despite numerous peace deals, talks, and ceasefires between rival factions, peace remains elusive in the eastern DRC. Moreover, the conflict has killed more than 5 million people while there are over 19,000 UN peacekeepers in the country based in Kinshasa with little prospect of them leaving any time soon. At last count, there were at least 30 armed groups and armies that after 20 years of conflict do not seem to know what they are fighting over.

So what role do minerals play in this situation? Although the DRC is one of the poorest places on earth, paradoxically, its soil contains some of the largest deposits of natural mineral resources anywhere—including tungsten, tantalum, tin, gold, uranium, and coltan. But as the UN recognizes, the illicit exploitation and trade of natural resources is “one of the factors fuelling and exacerbating conflicts.” Armed groups and national armies make an estimated total of USD$185 million from the aforementioned minerals and this lucrative business allows them to maintain their murderous activities. To maintain control of the mines, rebel groups commit widespread human rights abuses, including killings, rape, and torture.


In response to these atrocities, governments, international, and regional bodies as well as corporations have attempted to take steps to prevent the presence of conflict minerals in their supply chains. In 2010, the United States passed Dodd-Frank, which, among other things, requires companies to disclose their use of conflict minerals. MP Paul Dewar in Canada also introduced the pro-active Bill 486-4, the Conflict Minerals Act, which would incorporate the guidelines of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development into national law and require Canadian companies to trace the source of minerals and exercise due diligence and transparency during the course of their operations.

This demand-side transparency through national and regional policies is certainly to be encouraged. It is unacceptable for us to use devices that cause oppression and death. However, when drafting this type of legislation, it crucial two consider two things about the DRC.

First, as noted, conflict minerals are an effect of the war and collapse of the state rather than acause. While de-linking the connection between armed groups and mining is crucial to creating a hurting stalemate in the hope that this brings all sides of the conflict to the table, it is by no means guaranteed. Indeed, armed groups are just as likely to find other non-mineral resources to sustain their murderous activities, be it through illegal taxation or the lucrative timber trade in the region. Beyond foreign-designed policies to legislate the local mining industry, the DRC truly requires internal solutions and mechanisms. This requires that the international community engage an increasing amount of capital and technical assistance to rebuild the dysfunctional Congolese state and put pressure on Kigali to respect the sovereignty of the eastern provinces of the DRC.

The second—and often hidden—consideration with regard to the recent legislation is its effect upon the local population that are the very constituents that laws like Dodd-Frank and the Conflict Minerals Act are attempting to help. Indeed, when the most recent conflagration began, many Congolese turned to artisanal mining as a means of survival as underemployment reaches as high as 81 percent. It is therefore crucial to make sure that legislation to limit the use of minerals from the region does not backfire and hurt the very stakeholders that they are trying to help. Where the Canadian bill seems to get it right is where Paul Dewar emphasises the needto collaborate with governments, Congolese officials, companies, and most importantly perhaps, Congolese civil society groups. A viable solution can only come from a collaboration of several foreign and local actors.

Put simply, the situation in the DRC and other states where minerals are used to fund conflict are incredibly complicated and the solutions will need to be just as sophisticated. As we broach this topic in the media and elsewhere, it is important to realize that Canadian and U.S. legislation on the matter does not represent a panacea and does not replace the need for fairly aggressive politicking and technical assistance programs in the region.



Challenging the culture of impunity

It has been a strange few weeks for justice on the African continent, more particularly in the DRC – almost paradoxical.

On February 26-27, African leaders gathered in Kinshasa to attend the 17th Summit of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa). Among the invitees: Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir who is subject to an ICC arrest warrant on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur.

Shortly before his trip, almost 90 NGOs and the ICC urged Congolese authorities to arrest Al-Bashir. As a state party to the Rome Statute of ICC, the DRC had obligations to do so – yet it failed meet them. Why? According to government spokesperson Lambert Mende, the DRC had obligations vis-à-vis Comesa and the African Union. The AU has not only asked for Al-Bashir’s warrants to be suspended but its members are also against ICC criminal proceeding against sitting presidents. Is there a legal basis for this? The UN UN Security Council certainly rejected the demand. However, the AU’s position and growing resentment of the ICC is largely the result of the members’ perception of a biased application of the law against Africans.

This is not the first time Bashir is allowed to travel to a country that is party to the Rome Statute  – ChadDjibouti and Nigeria failed to arrest him as well – but the DRC has cooperated with the ICC in the past. Kinshasa’s decision not to arrest Bashir seems all the more hypocritical and appalling as Congolese people have themselves been the victims of mass atrocities for the past two decades. The decision is therefore not only an affront to Darfuri victims but to Congolese people as well. When it gets an opportunity to proof that it wants to fight impunity, Congolese authorities instead perpetuate both the conflict in Darfur and the culture of impunity.


Now to another story

Last week, the ICC convicted Congolese warlord Germain Katanga on five counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for being an accessory to the 2003 massacre of civilians in the village of Bogoro, Ituri, DRC. In 2003, the FRPI attacked Bogoro and killed at least 200 civilians – mostly ethnic Hema. The combatants also raped women and used child soldiers during the attack.  As the commander of the FRPI, Katanga was convicted of being an accessory to the massacre by planning the attack and providing weapons. ICC prosecutors stated that the onslaught was designed to “wipe out” the population of Bogoro.

The ICC issued an arrest warrant against Katanga in July 2007 and Congolese authorities, who arrested him in 2005, surrendered Katanga to the ICC 3 months later (here you have a proof that Kinshasa has cooperated with the international court). Katanga was originally charged with seven counts of war crimes and three counts crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, he as acquitted of charges of rape and using child soldier.


The verdict is a crucial step for the victims, 363 of which participated in the case, and for the ICC. Justice is critical for Congolese people and for the future of the Congo. However, numerous perpetrators of human rights violations in the DRC remain free. In his inaugural address in 2013, President Joseph Kabila promised to prosecute those who support armed groups responsible for grave human rights violations. Yet his promise to fight impunity remains to be fulfilled. I do not deny the dilemma Kinshasa was facing, especially as it tries to maintain good relations with the members of the AU, but the failure to arrest Al-Bashir is another failure to address the impunity gap in the Congo and on the continent.

Links round-up

Reporting on African conflicts

In “In defence of western journalists in Africa” Michela Wrong defends journalists against those (usually academics) who are quick to criticize the way they report on a conflict, especially in Africa. I think it is pretty well argued. Journalists are not academics and do not pretend to be. They write for a very different, in a different environment, under different restrictions, and for much larger audience.

“More fundamentally, the writers seem to have lost sight of the definition of news, which aims to convey distant events to a non-specialist audience as succinctly as possible. That’s a lot easier to say than do.”

To academics who complain that journalists aren’t more “like them”, presenting the complexity of conflicts in 20 page articles, she answers “We don’t have time, we don’t have space, and anyway, that’s why you guys exist, remember?”

On the same topic: “South Sudan: are western journalists getting it wrong?”, Sterling Carter, The Guardian


Clinton Documents reveal more on US response to Rwandan genocide

The Clinton Presidential Library released new documents shedding light on the Administration’s response to the Rwandan genocide. The memo offers various responses to potential criticism of the US’ lack of response to the Rwandan genocide. The Guardian explains the background story behind the memos.


 America’s most dubious allies

Politico Magazine has an interesting long piece up its website “America’s 25 Most Awkward Allies” which stems from a phrase uttered by Susan Rice ““Let’s be honest,” she said, “at times … we do business with governments that do not respect the rights we hold most dear.” The Obama Administration made it clear from the beginning that it would privilege quite diplomacy to silence or confrontation. The magazine has therefor put together a list of America’s most dubious allies with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia making it on the top of the list. Of course there is also Afghanistan, Iraq and Qatar but also on the list are lesser-known relationships with Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Obama was also the first president to visit countries such as Myanmar and Cambodia.

One of the interesting analysis is the relationship between the US and Rwandan president Paul Kagame. He has been a donor darling ever since he came to power, who commanded the RPF rebel forces during the 1994 genocide. The West, who certainly has reasons to feel guilty about not intervening during massacres, has responded by hailing Kagame as a visionary leader and commending him for allowing Rwanda to start recovering from the genocide in quite a remarkable way. Compared to its neighbours, Rwanda has taken quite an impressive economic and political turn. At the same time, Kagame’s fans are quick to forget that the Rwandan military killed civilians in the DRC and is still providing help to rebel groups, making the Congo one of most dramatic humanitarian crisis today. Kagame will also not hesitate to get rid of his opponents and dissidents in the most brutal ways. He is even very open about it: “betraying Rwanda brings consequences”, he says. He is a dictator but the West keeps portraying him as a progressive leader. As Condoleezza Rice (Former United States Secretary of State) apparently once said “The only thing we have to do is look the other way.” I wonder how long it will last but Kagame is certainly not leaving anytime soon.


The Democratic Republic of the Congo from the perspective of an Ambassador

The United States Institute for Peace hosted Ambassador Roger Meece who shared his perspectives on the DRC, a country that has experienced violent conflict and humanitarian crisis for two decades. As the former head of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monusco) Meece is in a good position to comment. In this presentation and Q&A, he shares his view on the conflict, the challenges, the regional implications, the UN’s engagement, and what lies ahead for the country.



 Where to with the Responsibility to Protect?

In “R2P: A Norm of the Past or Future?”, Simon Adams, the director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect reflects on the normative acceptance of R2P and the future of the doctrine. Adams acknowledges that the norm remains controversial and sometimes misunderstood. Some see it as an excuse to change a regime or “colonize” a territory, others regard the intervention in Libya and lack of intervention in Syria as a failure of R2P, and yet another group believes that the doctrine is “the fastest developing international norm in history” (emphasis on developing). What it is clear that “the circumstances that gave rise to the adoption of the Responsibility to Protect at the 2005 UN World Summit” have not ceased to exist. Contrary to what many might believe, there is growing acceptance for R2P: four UN Security Council Presidential Statements, more invocations in resolutions since 2011, and 30 countries have now adopted R2P Focal Points. Adams is good at reminding us that it takes time for norms such as R2P to be accepted, for sovereignty not to be seen not only as a right but as a responsibility. He reminds us that it took time to apply the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and there are still challenges 60 years later. “The Responsibility to Protect, like the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is still only as strong as the determination of the international community to uphold its principles. We cannot let future normative progress be a prisoner of the past.”


African Solutions to African Problems

In Long road to an African rapid reaction force, IRIN looks at the African Union’s idea to create creation of a military capable of rapidly deploying to African countries experiencing crisis. “African solutions to African problems,” as one would say. The idea of an African Capacity for Immediate Responses to Crises (ACIRC) came a response to lack of progress made on the creation of the African Standby Force (ASF), which should have been set up by 2010 but was pushed back to 2015. It also came as a response to the fact that France has had to intervene in Mali and in the African Republic to support African troops already on the ground. African states see this as a humiliation. Yet the creation of the ACIRC is very challenging. South Africa and Algeria are all for it but Nigeria, another big power on the continent, isn’t exactly an active supporter. Then there is also the problem of meddling and partisanship (Chad supporting Seleka in CAR? Uganda and Rwanda in the DRC? Uganda’s involved in South Sudan). However, there is hope. In 2013, 75,000 African peacekeepers took part in UN and African missions. What is needed is leadership, organization, coordination and cooperation among the members of the AU.

For another article on the subject: “Africa can solve its own problems with proper planning and full implementation of the African Standby Force” – Institute for Security Studies


A génocidaire in the dock: is France ready to face its responsibilities?

Here is an article I originally published in French in the Huffington Post but that I have translated for this blog


Twenty years after the tragedy, is France finally ready to confront its role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide?

Two weeks ago, the trial of Pascal Simbikangwa opened in Paris under much media scrutiny. Captain in the Rwandan gendarmerie until a road accident in 1986, Simbikangwa is accused of complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity. Although he minimizes his role, Simbikangwa was a member of the « akazu », the inner circle of Hutu power who organized the extermination of almost one million Tutsi and Hutu moderates. On the eve of the genocide, Simbikangwa was the director of the intelligence services in Kigali and allegedly armed militias who filtered out Tutsis at roadblocks, and encouraged them to kill. There is ample evidence against him and several witnesses will testify in court. 

Simbikangwa is not the first génocidaires to face justice but this trial is historical because, for the first time, it occurs in France, a country that has long been accused of serving as a safe haven for génocidaires. Indeed, Simbikangwa had found refuge on the French overseas département of Mayotte before he was arrested in 2008. He is not the only one. Twenty-seven alleged culprits have rebuilt their lives in France, sometimes as working as doctors or pastors. Not one of them has ever faced justice – until today.

Why the heavy silence?

In reality, it is the French political class of the era who is at risk of being in the dock. Seeing how talkative Simbikangwa is, his trial will shed light on the way the genocide was planned and thus perhaps on the ambiguous relationship between Paris and Kigali in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Indeed, the French government then headed by François Mittérand was one of Kigali’s closest allies. 

In October 1990, when a rebel movement called the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) attacked the Rwandan army (FAR), France came to the help of the government in Kigali because it argued that Rwanda was the victim of an external aggression (France omitted to say that the RPF was mainly composed of Rwandan Tutsi who had found refuge in Uganda and whom the Hutu government in Kigali did not want back). In the end, Paris financially and military assisted an authoritarian regime that maintained mono-ethnic policies and was planning a genocide.

Following the assassination of Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana on 6 April 1994, the well-planned genocide began within a few hours. Instead of helping the Tutsi, France recognized the Hutu interim government responsible for ongoing massacres and even evacuated some of Habyarimana’s entourage and other local notables. Several of them were even received at the Elysée shortly after. At the end of June, when France finally deployed a humanitarian operation (Operation Turquoise) in order to protect the Tutsi, French soldiers failed to systematically disarm militias and did not arrest perpetrators of the massacres, and certainly not the main authors. Many of génocidaires managed to escape to the Congo (then Zaire).

The absence of political will to bring perpetrators to justice, condemned by the European Human Rights Court in 2004, is likely caused by a fear that France’s role may soon be fully out in the open. Yes, the genocide was planned and committed by Rwandans but as the main ally Paris was in a good position to prevent the killings instead of providing resources to what was to become a genocidal regime. The situation was complex, but French leaders had been warned about the Hutu regime’s plans. Instead, like the rest of the international community, they refused to listen and turned their back on the Tutsi community. Graver still, once the massacres started France took two months to act and when it did, the intervention had contradictory effects. France must therefore assume part of the responsibility.

Simbikangwa’s trial is an important step for the victims who are finally being recognized. It is also a victory for the human rights activists, journalists and academics who have been fighting to bring perpetrators to justice. However, there is still a long way to go. In a recent interview, Alain Ngirinshut, a genocide survivor and vice-president of an association for victims, explained that the Paris city hall still refuses to establish a proper memorial for the victims of the genocide. Twenty years after the massacres, the duty of remembrance remains a difficult task to do. 

L’histoire risque-t-elle de se répéter en Centrafrique?

Because sometimes I write in French.Here is an article of mine that appeared in the Huffington Post QC


En 2011, c’était la Libye. En janvier 2013, le Mali. Aujourd’hui c’est la Centrafrique. Pour la seconde fois en un peu plus d’un an le gouvernement Hollande a décidé d’intervenir dans un pays africain, où les violences entre les combattants de la Séléka et les miliciens anti-Balaka entre civils musulmans et chrétiens ont déjà fait des milliers de morts et de déplacés.

Du coup, les questions fustigent. Quel est le but de ces interventions? Que veut la France sur le continent africain? Y a-t-il une «doctrine Hollande»?

Certains taxent la France de néo-colonialisme, de vouloir revigorer la Françafrique malgré les promesses de Hollande que ce temps était révolu. « Le président français doit arrêter de nous pomper l’air », dénonce le quotidien burkinabé Le Pays. D’autres pensent que la France veut contrecarrer les avancées chinoises sur le continent. Finalement, il y a ceux qui suggèrent que Hollande utilise la politique étrangère pour redorer son blason alors que son taux de popularité est au plus bas dans une France en crise économique.

Vu la nature complexe et parfois très douteuse des relations Franco-Africaines, ces interrogations sont légitimes. Il serait naïf de penser que la France n’a pas d’intérêts économiques dans ces pays. Mais il faut aussi rappeler que les Centrafricains, comme les Maliens, il y a un an, font face à une violence inouïe. Avant l’intervention française, 450 personnes avaient été tuées en deux jours, le Président Michel Djotodia étant incapable de faire quoi que ce soit pour protéger son peuple.

Sur le plan diplomatique, on ne peut pas dire que l’Union africaine ait montré beaucoup d’efficacité. Sur le plan militaire, la Mission internationale de Soutien à la Centrafrique sous conduite africaine (MISCA) ne semblait pas en mesure de ramener la sécurité. Après avoir alerté l’ONU et l’Union européenne, seule la France a pris la décision de venir en aide aux forces africaines. Le premier ministre Jean-Marc Ayrault déclarait alors que la France prenait ses responsabilités internationales et que « l’inaction n’était pas une option. » Personne d’autre ne semblait prêt ou capable de prendre l’initiative.

Vu l’ampleur de la tâche et la gravité de la situation, la France et les forces africaines ne peuvent pas agir seules. Catherine Samba-Panza, la présidente intérimaire centrafricaine, est favorable à une intervention de l’ONU. Une action concertée et multilatérale avec les membres de l’Union africaine est donc essentielle. La semaine dernière l’Union européenne a finalement décidé d’envoyer des troupes – une décision qui a d’ailleurs enfin été validée par l’ONU.

Mais certains pays, comme le Canada par ailleurs, semblent croire qu’ils ne doivent pas s’intéresser à ces conflits. Ni le Canada ni les États-Unis ne sont implantés dans la région et la Centrafrique semble si éloignée. C’est une erreur. Quand le Mali ou Centrafrique s’embrasent, c’est toute la région qui est affectée. Ce que cherchent les djihadistes, c’est des territoires instables où s’installer, comme on l’a observé au Mali. La France l’a bien compris : ce n’est pas seulement la sécurité des populations locales qui est en jeux – la sienne aussi.

Faut-il rappeler au gouvernement Harper que le Canada a pris des engagements en adhérant à des normes internationales comme la Responsabilité de protéger. La doctrine n’est certes pas parfaite, mais il est question de protéger des civils et de prévenir une montée de la violence alors que les Nations Unies ainsi que les soldats rwandais sur place s’inquiètent déjà d’un possible génocide.

Si l’ambassadeur canadien pour la liberté de religion, M. Andrew Bennett, se déplace en Ukraine afin de montrer son indignation suite aux menaces contre la liberté religieuse de l’Église grecque catholique ukrainienne, pourquoi ne prend-il pas position sur la Centrafrique ? La communauté ukrainienne étant importante au Canada, il semble que le gouvernement ne pense qu’à l’appui électoral et évite donc de s’engager dans un conflit qui semble lointain. Mais, encore une fois, ne pas comprendre que dans un monde interconnecté, les conflits dans l’Afrique subsahélienne, tout comme dans le Sahel, peuvent éventuellement affecter les intérêts et la sécurité des Canadiens aussi.

Au début du mois, le sénateur Roméo Dallaire se trouvait devant les Nations Unies afin de rappeler à l’assemblée que 20 ans plus tôt, on lui avait tourné le dos tandis que des atrocités de masse se profilaient à l’horizon au Rwanda. Alors que nous entamons les commémorations du génocide rwandais, les atrocités qui se déroulent en ce moment en Centrafrique, les images des machettes et des corps, font resurgir de mauvais souvenirs. Il serait donc plus qu’opportun de montrer que nous savons apprendre de nos erreurs du passé.