The Truth Will Out

The United Nations just made public a report about human rights abuses committed by Rwandan troops against Hutu refugees in then-Zaire in 1996-1997.

Paul Kagame. Image via Veni Markovski Flickr

While we were on vacation this past summer, something big happened. Many of you, no doubt, have by now heard of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ mapping report, which, among other things, details the human rights abuses committed by Rwandan troops against Hutu refugees in then-Zaire in 1996-1997. The report, after a delay, is finally set to be made public today.

Many of us, though, have already seen it, or parts of it, thanks to the French paper, Le Monde, which first leaked the report in late August. For those who haven’t, Jason Stearns, who blogs at Congo Siasa, has several excellent posts, starting with this round-up of the report’s most relevant sections.  Anyone reading it will agree with AIAC favorite, Texas in Africa (TIA), who wrote, “The importance of this leaked report cannot be overstated.” And, as TIA, also notes, this report largely vindicates Howard French, who wrote about these crimes during that period for the New York Times. French, himself, recently wrote about the leaked report in the New York Times. If you read nothing else on this subject, read that.

Predictably, the Rwandan government was none too pleased, particularly with the report’s implication that the crimes committed by Rwandan troops against Hutu refugees could constitute genocide. In an interview with Al-Jazeera, Louise Mushikiwabo, Rwanda’s Foreign Minister, remarked that “This report is a report that… for Rwanda is nothing new.” On that, her and I agree. Because, as Howard French and (gasp!) Jeffrey Gettleman wrote in the New York Times yesterday, Rwanda and the U.N. have found themselves in this position before. The last time, it was the fall of 1994, when, as French and Gettleman report, “a team of United Nations investigators concluded that the Rwandan rebels who finally stopped the genocide had killed tens of thousands of people themselves.” That report, widely known as the Gersony Report, was later suppressed.

Fast forward to 2010, a year in which Paul Kagame, leader of those same rebels, has been “re-elected” (by a whopping 93%) to a new term. Kagame, darling of the Western gatekeepers of Team (Aid) Africa, has also wasted no opportunity to lash out at the UN, as he recently did during a recent speech at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. Such attacks, as well as Kagame’s threat to pull Rwandan troops out of peacekeeping missions, most notably in Darfur, led to a very special visit to Kigali from UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon. The result? Rwanda’s troops will remain. What this means for the report will, I suppose, be revealed today.

All this mostly just amounts to politicking. In the end, as TIA also notes, what remains are the stories at the center of this report. Horrifying and heartbreaking stories of human cruelty and suffering. And remarkable and powerful stories of human survival. There’s a reason I don’t write about Rwanda. It is because I know these stories, have heard these stories since that day in April 1994, seen these stories reflected in other people’s eyes—and I have yet to find a way to convey them. It’s likely I never will. Because, after all, these people are my people—they’re my family and my friends. So perhaps, it is more so that these are not my stories to tell. I, who was not even born there and whose last memories are of that one summer long, long ago. I, with my Western education, my France French and my halting Kinyarwanda.

There is a lot more involved, of course. And Rwandans, including those of us in the diaspora, have a long way to go in reconciling with a very complicated history, stretching back decades and decades. Because beyond these more recent stories, there are others that predate me, my parents and, even, my grandparents. Those stories, I heard growing up. In this instance, I don’t know whether those who deserve justice will get it, but this is a start. As my father said upon hearing the news of the leaked report, “La vérité ne meurt jamais” ().

  • I will be traveling today, so won’t be able to keep up with the news, but yesterday brought several updates. The AP first reported that the final report would remain unchanged, then followed up with an item alleging that the final report had been “toned down” by the U.N. For more, I suggest checking in with TIA throughout the day.

Further Reading

The entitlement of Bola Tinubu

The Nigerian presidential candidate’s claim of ’emi lokan’ (it’s my turn) reveals complex ethnic politics and a stagnated democracy. Most responses to it, humor and rumor, reflect how Nigerians enact democratic citizenship.

Father of the nation

The funeral of popular Angolan musician Nagrelha underscored his capacity to mobilize people and it reminds us that popular culture offers a kind of Rorschach test for the body politic.

A city divided

Ethnic enclaves are not unusual in many cities and towns across Sudan, but in Port Sudan, this polarized structure instigated and facilitated communal violence.

The imperial forest

Gregg Mitman’s ‘Empire of Rubber’ is less a historical reading of Liberia than a history of America and racial capitalism through the lens of a US corporate giant.

Africa’s next great war

The international community’s limited attention span is laser-focused on jihadism in the Sahel and the imploding Horn of Africa. But interstate war is potentially brewing in the eastern DRC.

The Cape Colony

The campaign to separate South Africa’s Western Cape from the rest of the country is not only a symptom of white privilege, but also of the myth that the province is better run.

Between East Africa and the Gulf

Political encounters between the Arab Gulf and Africa span centuries. Mahmud Traouri’s novel ‘Maymuna’ demonstrates the significant role of a woman’s journey from East Africa to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.


It’s not common knowledge that there is Iran in Africa and there is Africa in Iran. But there are commonplace signs of this connection.

It could happen to us

Climate negotiations have repeatedly floundered on the unwillingness of rich countries, but let’s hope their own increasing vulnerability instills greater solidarity.