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. 

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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.

 

The end of “Zurückhaltung”?

Has German foreign policy reached a turning point? Is the country finally ready to leave behind its “culture of restraint”? It certainly seems to be the case. At the Munich Conference last week Bundespräsident Joachim Gauck pronounced an eloquent speech about Germany’s responsibility. Not responsibility for past wrongs but responsibility to stop standing on the sidelines on world issues. For Gauck it is time to move past the “genocide-guilt” and adopt a more robust foreign policy.

This is likely to please Berlin’s partners. European neighbors and the US have been critical of Germany’s poor record in global security and crisis management. Some even claim that Berlin uses the “Nazi past” argument as an excuse not to get involved militarily. It certainly shaped Germany’s decisions on foreign deployments. But as an economic powerhouse in a polyphone Europe, Germany is now expected to do a lot more. Military engagement under Merkel is low and Germany seemed to have no security and foreign policy strategy. While German troops are stationed in Afghanistan and the Balkans, Berlin did not vote on the intervention in Libya and barely contributes to the mission in Mali, leaving crisis-ridden France do the dirty work.

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Most of Berlin’s political class now seems to acknowledge that Germany’s return among the concert of powers must be complemented with more international engagement. Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen told Der Spiegel that given Germany’s capacity and resources, it has the responsibility and obligation to be a bigger player in global crises. “Indifference is not an option,” she said, and announced that Germany plans to send more soldiers to Mali and to the up-coming EU mission in the Central African Republic.

Similarly, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier emphasized that while economic interests and foreign trade are important, it is in the national and moral interest of Germany to engage in other spheres too, especially in security and defense. Like Gauck, he mentioned the principle of the “Responsibility to Protect”, a term that many governments and politicians are reluctant to utter.

Nonetheless, this new rhetoric will not lead to a full revolution in German engagement abroad. Gauck, Steinmeier and von der Leyen made it clear that Germany would never act alone. Responsibility is not simply responsibility to act but also responsibility to abstain, they say. Berlin will continue to rely on multilateralism and partnerships, share military capacities and expertise with its partners, in particular the European Union and NATO. Germany is not ready to be a foreign policy leader yet.

More importantly: what do Germans think? For historic reasons, the question of German military engagement is an old national debate and it is not going away soon. While the political class may more or less agree with Gauck, the German public is a lot more reluctant to see their country commit militarily. Indeed, a new poll suggests that while most of them want Germany to be more engaged internationally, 75% are against military deployments and argue that they are is already doing enough. Skepticism and self-doubt (and fear) remain widespread. Yet, key to mobilizing international support is mobilizing domestic support. Knowing this, would politicians have the courage to move beyond their self-interest and short-term political calculations when the decision must be taken to intervene? Will Gauck’s eloquent rhetoric be translated into action?

Fortunately, Gauck seems to be aware of this. He suggested that municipal and state levels of government, churches, union and parties initiate discussions with civil society in order to define what Germans want – or persuade them that, in a globalized world, it is in their national and moral interests to occasionally contribute to foreign deployments. This is smart. Foreign policy discussions should not be left to the political elite but discussed among Germans. Ultimately, Germans must define their foreign policy values and interests, whether or not they have the courage and will to assume more responsibilities.

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Marking the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide – The “Genocide Fax”

As part of my work at the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, I recently put together a summary of a discussion organized at the UN at the beginning of the month. I thought I’d share some if it.

2014 marks the 20th Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide. Twenty years ago, on January 11, 1994, United Nations military commander LGen The Honourable (Ret’d) Roméo Dallaire sent a fax to UN Headquarters in New York, warning his superiors of a plan to exterminate Tutsis. But U.N. member states, led by the five permanent members of the Security Council, refused to listen and watched as over the course of hundred days more than 500,000 Tutsis were deliberately massacred. As Roméo Dallaire recalled in a press conference last Tuesday “The international community did its best to ignore Rwanda. It wasn’t on their radar, it was of no self-interest, it had no strategic value.”

To commemorate the anniversary of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the United Nations and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect organized “Genocide: A Preventable Crime,” a panel discussion continuing the global conversations advancing understanding of early warning of mass atrocities. The event featured a keynote address by MIGS’ Distinguished Senior Fellow, LGen The Honourable Roméo A. Dallaire (Ret’d) as well as presentations by Jan Eliasson, UN Deputy Secretary-General; H.E. Mrs. Mathilde Mukantabana, Ambassador of the Republic of Rwanda to the U.S;, Eugenie Mukeshimana, a Rwandan genocide survivor; and Dr. Stephen Smith , Executive Director of the Shoah Foundation.

Where are we now? Twenty years after the Rwanda genocide, have we made any progress? The 2005 “responsibility to protect” report and the principles it elaborated have given us the tools  to intervene with UN support. But, as Ambassador Mukantabana asked, “As a global community, would we act differently today if the genocide fax was received? Would we take any action, not only to intervene, but to stop the genocide?” The answer, as Syria shows, is that despite progress, “we are still standing on the sidelines as lives are being lost.”

In an open letter to UN Member States, Dr. Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for R2P, writes that “the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide is an important opportunity to honor the victims”, an opportunity for states “to demonstrate their commitment to the prevention of mass atrocities and R2P (Responsibility to Protect).”

Indeed, the best way to commemorate the victims and survivors would be to show our will to do much better, to make more efforts to make the words “never again” a reality. Although progress has been made, right now it still remains a challenge.  

The video of the event is available Genocide: A Preventable Crime — Understanding Early Warning of Mass Atrocities

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Update and interesting reads

I great lack of update on my part. I have been writing but in French! I’ll post a new piece soon

In the meantime, here are some interested links

Responsibility to Protect:

“Into the Eleventh Hour: R2P, Syria and Humanitarianism

Here is a series of article on R2P and the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria.It brings together some of the most important voices on R2P and humanitarian intervention to examine the doctrine’s validity in the context of Syria’s civil war and humanitarian emergency. Does the Responsibility to Protect have a future?

Also on the same subject “The Responsibility to Protect and the Use of Force in Syria” written by Eamon Aloyo from The Hague Institute

Finally, in “R2P4: The Unsung Fourth Element of Humanitarian Intervention” Mark Lagon calls for a fourth pillar for R2P: ”

“So actually, rather than too much focus on Pillar 3 in place of Pillar 2, what is truly being neglected is an as yet unmentioned “Pillar 4.” If R2P is such a solemn norm, to save the livelihoods of targets of atrocities, then Pillar 4 would represent unilateral or, better, collective action when the Security Council’s approval is not forthcoming.”

The idea of Pillar4 is certainly controversial.

Syria

A lot is being written about Syria, torture committed in Syrian prisons, and Geneva II. But at the end of the day, this is what we have come to: “The politics of starvation: Syria’s civilians go hungry after months of sieges”. Eating rats, dogs, and cats to survive. All Syrians there want is peace and food.

Central African Republic

Civilians in CAR are facing extreme violence at the moment. The images are daunting and remind me the Rwandan genocide. Although the French have sent troops to help African troops, the task is enormous and more help is needed. The European Union will sent in peacekeepers as well but, as always, it is taking a long time. Only 10% of the humanitarian aid has been funded. The African Union, whose members have not shown the capacity to appease tensions, have also discussed establishing a Standby Force. But what is needed is a UN mission – something the new interim president of CAR has also requested. Why is action always so slow?

Human Rights Watch’s researcher Peter Bouckaert is doing an incredible job reporting on the situation and documenting crimes committed by both sides. You can follow him on Twitter or see his Twitter live feed for real time news. Also read his latest report “Riptide in the Central African Republic”. Also published in Foreign Policy, the article is fittingly titled on the main page as “The war nobody wants to see”.

I’m very much admirative of the work these humanitarians and activists are doing on the ground. They are simply reporting and documenting mass atrocity crimes, they also try to speak to those who want or have committed violence in attempt to appease them.

Aid Leap and Irinnews  offer overviews and analyses of the conflict

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Peter Bouckaert in CAR

Occasionally, you’ll read something more positive about the situation there and those who are trying to make a difference. This is the case of two men, one Muslim, one Christian, who are trying to appease their respective communities. Christiana Amanpour managed to interview them for CNN. They want to emphasize that the conflict in itself is not religious but that religion is being use to fuel violence. “In my childhood at the time of the Christmas holidays, we shared our toys with Muslim friends. At the time of Ramadan, we played. In the past we have never been enemies. We were brothers.”

South Sudan

There was hope when South Sudan acquired independence in 2011 but the upsurge of violence in December proves how difficult it is to build a new nation. The two conflicting parties are holding peace talks but are also accusing each other of trying to derail them. New satellite images by U.S.-based monitoring group, the Satellite Sentinel Project, suggest that at least 210 tukuls (houses) have been burned down in  Malaka, a town the rebels and soldiers are fighting over. Pillage is  widespread as well – the World Food Program’s warehouses have been completely looted, which hinders their efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to the 863,000 South Sudanese who have fled their homes.

Want to see a timeline of the conflict in South Sudan? Read it this one put together by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

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Rwanda

2014 marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. Commemorations have already started. People reflect on the inaction of the international community, on lessons learned, and on the effectiveness of reconciliation efforts in Rwanda.

– Foreign Policy Magazine “How Tradition Remade Rwanda. The secret ingredient in Rwanda’s efforts to rebuild its nation after the violence of genocide.”

– Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect: Open Letter to All UN Member States “The ‘Genocide Fax’ and the 20th Commemoration of the Rwandan Genocide of 1994”

– Videos and reports from conference Genocide – A preventable crimes. Understanding early warning of mass atrocities
On 14 January, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect organized two event at the United Nations with Lt. Gen. The Hon. Roméo A. Dallaire and H.E. Eugène-Richard Gasana, Permanent Representative of Rwanda. The press conference marked the anniversary of Dallaire’s sending a fax warning of the impending threat of a genocide perpetrated by Hutu extremists against the Tutsi population of Rwanda. Policymakers then refused to listen.

On 15 January, Roméo Dallaire then delivered a keynote speech at the UN. Also present on the panel were  Dr. Simon Adams, H.E. Mathilde Mukantabana, Ambassador of the Republic of Rwanda to the United States,  Mr. Jan Eliasson, UN Deputy Secretary-General, Eugenie Mukeshimana, Executive Director of the Genocide Survivors Support Network, and Dr. Stephen Smith, Kwibuka and Executive Director of the Shoah Foundation.

An interesting point that also came out of the conference is Romeo Dallaire idea that the recruitment of child soldiers can be used a a warning sign of internal warfare. Militia men who want to build-up an army focus on children because they are easy to recruited or kidnapped, cheap, easily influenced or subdued. In short, children are used a weapons of war.

Myanmar/Burma

There has been more violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar. The government denies the allegations. The Sentinel Project for Genocide Prevention published a new article on the systematic violence and patterns of ethnic cleansing.

Some History: Heinrich Himmler

If you are interested in the Holocaust, German newspaper Die Welt is published recently discovered letters and diaries written by Heinrich Himmler, Chief of the German Police and the Reich’s Commissioner for the “Festigung des deutschen Volkstums” (Consolidation oft he German Race). The material offers a view of the man who is responsible for the death of millions of Jews. This article is in English but for German speakers Die Welt is also publishing the material on a daily basis. An incredible and daunting view of one of the man behind the Holocaust.