Did America Conspire to Cover Up a Genocide in the Congo?

(10 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Last week, Bernard Ntaganda was sentenced  to four years imprisonment for “endangering state security” and “harboring ethnic divisionism.”  The former charge is all too familiar to human rights activists and is little different from similar politically-motivated prosecutions across the globe.  The crime of “divisionism,” however, codified as “sectarianism” under Rwandese law, is relatively unique.  The closest parallels to these laws are probably most familiar to Americans as “hate speech” laws common to Europe, but prohibited by the First Amendment in the United States.  

   International human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have concluded that Mr. Ntaganda was almost certainly targeted for his opposition to the regime of President Paul Kagame.  President Kagame is not well known in the United States, but he owes his prominence to the role he played in ending the 1994 Rwandan genocide as leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, or RPF.  The sanitized version of this story was distributed to American audiences briefly in the award winning film Hotel Rwanda.  Unfortunately, the politcally correct version omits several important facts, omissions that help explain the current political climate in Rwanda and the slide toward authoritarianism on the part of Kagame and the rest of the political leadership.

Writing for Foreign Policy magazine last August, former Democratic Senator Robert Krueger, who served as ambassador to Burundi, a neighbor of Rwanda with similar laws and ethnic divisions, offered some personal insight into Kagame that was far from flattering.  He describes a man engaged in a retaliatory, politically-charged campaign of revenge against Rwandan Hutus.  Indeed, the Rwandan genocide and subsequent RPF campaign would ultimately trigger the Second Congo War, an event with a staggering if still disputed death toll.  Although he does not mention Clinton by name, the passing reference to the complicity of the United States speaks volumes.  

Enter Peter Erlinder.  After failing to prevent the genocide or to effectively manage the humanitarian and security crises that followed in its wake, the international community decided to prosecute those responsible.  Security Council Resolution 955, passed in November of 1994, established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.  China abstained, and Rwanda opposed the resolution as enacted.  Nevertheless, the vote of the Security Council was final, and the ICTR was made manifest. Eventually, Erlinder would join the defense team.  

As a defense attorney, he has been relatively successful.  One of his more high profile clients, General Gratien Kabiligi, was acquitted of all charges two years ago, in a decision that infuriated the Kagame regime in Rwanda.  His success has not been free of controversy. The emerging version of the Rwandan genocide brought out by the publication of the tribunal’s decisions as well as academics, witness accounts and the memoirs of Carla Del Ponte, the former chief prosecutor, conflicts with the prevailing narrative preferred in the United States, a version that first embraced by the Clinton administration in an effort to minimize its complicity with both the onset of the Tutsi mass murders and the retaliatory campaign waged by Kagame against Hutus and “traitorous” Tutsi.  This transnational terror campaign helped provoke the Second Congo War, a mass ball of suffering that has snuffed out the lives of nearly six million Africans by some estimates.  

An ICTR exhibit, a memorandum issued by George Moose to U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, shows that the Clinton administration was aware of this retaliatory campaign by at least September of 1994:

ICTR Military-1 Exhibit, DNT 264, September 10, 1994 Memo from George Moose to Warren Christopher, U.S. Secretary of State:

               A UNCHR investigative team that spent July and August in Rwanda [i.e. Gersony] has reported systematic human rights abuses by the GOR (i.e. RPA/F) forces – including systematic killings – in the south and southeast of the country.  The team has concluded that the GOR is aware of these reprisals against Hutu civilians and may have sanctioned them

               On the basis of interviews with refugees/individuals, the UNCHR team concluded that a pattern of killing had emerged.  The RPA convened meetings of displaced persons to discuss peace and security.  Once the displaced persons were assembled, RPA soldiers moved in and killed them.  In addition to these massacres, the RPA engaged in house to house sweeps and hunted down individuals hiding in camps.  Victims were usually killed with hoes, axes, machetes and with fire. Although males 18-40 were at the highest risk the young and elderly were no spared. The team estimated that the RPA and Tutsi civilian surrogates had killed 10,000 or more Hutu civilians per month, with the RPA accounting for 95% of the killing.

               The UNCHR team speculated that the purpose of the killing was a campaign of ethnic cleansing intended to clear areas in the south of Rwanda for Tutsi habitation.  The killings also served to reduce the population of Hutu males and discouraged refugees from returning to claim their land.

Defense Exhibit DNT 264

Why did the United States ignore this humanitarian disaster that was unfolding before its very eyes? There are a variety of reasons, but for the most part it can probably be reduced to political expediency and an unwillingness to further complicate an already complex situation.  It was, in short, a “quick fix,” and because Africans were involved, it was not a pressing matter that would require much deliberation or investigation.  Even before our “first black president” William Jefferson Clinton was embroiled too deeply in his sex scandals, Rwanda was a minor annoyance.  After all, a year and a half into his presidency he was confronted with a genocide that the U.S. and other Western states (most notably France) had failed to prevent, despite our noble but ultimately empty promise of “Never Again.” Or as Gerard Prunier, a French historian, puts it:  

“These combined factors-a fatal attraction for what U.S.. National Security Adviser Anthony Lake once called ‘a quick fix solution,’ the lack of a genuine interest at the government level, and the short attention span of the general public-have given us the “Great Lakes crisis” storyboard of the past thirteen years:

1994: Genocide in Rwanda.  Horror.

1995: Festering camps.  Keep feeding them and it will eventually work out.

1996: Refugees have gone home.  It is now all over except in Zaire.

1997: Mobutu has fallen.  Democracy has won.

1998: Another war.  These people are crazy.

1999: Diplomats are negotiating.  It will eventually work out.

2000: Blank.

2001: President Kabila is shot.  But his son seems like a good sort, doesn’t he?

2002: Pretoria Peace Agreement.  We are now back to normal.  

2003: These fellows still insist on money.  What is the minimum price?

2004: Do you think Osama bin Laden is still alive?

2005: Three million Africans have died.  This is unfortunate.

2006: Actually it might be four million.  But since the real problem is Al Qaeda, this remains peripheral.  

2007: They have had their election, haven’t they? Then everything should be all right.

The result is rather strange.  A situation of major conflict is reduced to a comic book atmosphere in which absolute horror alternates with periods of almost complete disinterest from the nonspecialists.  Massive levels of physical violence and cultural upheavals are looked upon from a great distance by theoretically powerful international institutions who only dimly understand what is actually happening.  There is great use of stereotyped categories (advance warning, failed state, humanitarian emergency, confidence-building process, national reconciliation, negative forces, national dialogue, African ownership of the peace process) which are more relevant to the Western way of thinking than to the realities they are supposed to address.  The desperate African struggle for survival is bowdlerized beyond recognition, and at times the participant-observer has the feeling of being caught between a Shakespearian tragedy and a hiccuping computer.”

Africa’s World War: Congoa, The Rewandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe, by Gerard Prunier.

  It is against this backdrop that we enter the strange case of Erlinder and the Rwandese crimes of “divisionism” and promotion of “genocide ideology.”  President Kagame, by most accounts, was not interested in slaughtering the Hutus, but he was interested in terrorizing his political opponents, playing the West (including the United States) like a fiddle and discouraging any further investigation into the retaliatory atrocities committed under his leadership.  There is no denying that Kagame was aware of these massacres; he was silent in the face of United Nations documents that reported the retaliatory massacres committed under his watch, although they were submitted to him.  You see dear American reader, in the aftermath of the Hutu campaign against the Tutsi, there was a period of recrimination and finger pointing, the “gutunga agatoki” system of justice.  Thousands were arrested, a mix of genuine killers, victims of property disputes, common criminals, hapless bystanders and the rest.  The RPF, under Kagame’s leadership, was able to do whatever it pleased.  The retaliatory killings were nasty, to be sure, but by February of 1996, an additional 80,000 people were in “detention centers,” facilities that were often makeshift and almost always overcrowded.  In Gitarama, where over six thousand prisoners were stuffed in a jail designed for 600, Medecins San Frontieres recorded a thousand deaths over an eight month span between October 1994 and June of 1995.  These “places of detention” included only sixteen actual jails, according to the Red Cross.  The rest included, inter alia, holes dug into the ground covered with corrugated iron sheets weighted down by cement blocks.  In October of 1994, Judge Gratien Ruhorahoza made the mistake of attempting to free forty people who had no files.  One of the few judges left standing in the chaos (there were 36), he was promptly kidnapped by Kagame’s military and later murdered.  Indeed, 26 magistrates (out of 270 left after the genocide from a previous population of about 800) were arrested as “genocidaires” when they attempted to free detainees they considered innocent.  

Lovely people, the RPF.  They may have had additional reasons for quashing any thorough investigation.  The event that precipitated the Rwandan genocide was the 1994 assassination of Rwandan President JuvĂ©nal Habyarimana and Burundi President Cyprien Ntaryamira.  In 2008, former Chief Prosecutor for the ICTR Carla Del Ponte published her memoirs, Madame Prosecutor: Confrontations with Humanity’s Worst Criminals, and the Culture of Impunity.  In her book, Del Ponte reveals that she was on the brink of indicting Kagame for the 1994 assassinations before Pierre Prosper, the Bush administration’s Ambassador-At-Large for War Crimes, intervened and warned her that she would be fired if she refused to help the U.S. cover-up of Kagame’s crimes.  She refused, and found herself out of a job:

According to Del Ponte, her ICTR Office had the evidence to prosecute Kagame for “touching-off” the Rwanda Genocide by ordering the assassination of Rwanda’s former President Juvenal, Habyarimana, long before 2003. She also details the dozens of massacre sites, involving thousands of victims, for which the current Rwandan President, Paul Kagame and his military, should be prosecuted.   The well-publicized canard, that “the identity of the assassins of Habyarimana is unknown” is a bald-faced lie, well -known by ICTR Prosecutors, according to Ms. Del Ponte.

Two years after Del Ponte was removed from office, Stephen Rapp became “Chief” of ICTR Prosecutions with access to all of the evidence known to Ms. Del Ponte, and more that has been made public in the past few years. During his four years at the ICTR,  Rapp like Del Ponte, also  was in a position to prosecute Kagame and members of the current government of Rwanda but, not ONE member of Kagame’s military has been prosecuted at the ICTR, to date…and the “cover-up” revealed by Del Ponte, continues today.  And, unlike, Ms. Del Ponte, who was fired by the U.S., Mr. Rapp was first rewarded with an appointment as Chief  Prosecutor at the U.S.-funded Sierra Leone Tribunal and now, a coveted ambassadorship.

The Rwandan War Crimes Cover-Up, by Peter Erlinder

Not to be outdone by the complicity of the Clinton and Bush administrations, President Obama, our first president of African descent, rewarded Rapp with his current job.  Like most U.S. presidents, Obama is hoping that no one will notice, or care…or perhaps he does not even care himself.  This is the periphery, after all, and his administration is too busy following AIPAC’s lead at the UN Security Council to be bothered with justice for millions of victims in a region that simply does not interest the beltway.

President Obama and our Rwandan clients have their hands full, however.  Last year,  Le Monde Diplomatique  released a leaked 2010 report of the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  This report documents the crimes of the RPF under President Kagame.  It is quite damning, according to  The Guardian:

The Rwandan government reacted angrily to the report today, dismissing it as “amateurish” and “outrageous” after reportedly attempting to pressure the UN not to publish it by threatening to pull out of international peacekeeping missions. Rwanda’s Tutsi leaders will be particularly discomforted by the accusation of genocide when they have long claimed the moral high ground for bringing to an end the 1994 genocide in their own country. But the report was welcomed by human rights groups, which called for the prosecution of those responsible for war crimes.

The report by the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) covers two periods: Rwanda’s 1996 invasion of the country then called Zaire in pursuit of Hutu soldiers and others who fled there after carrying out the 1994 genocide of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis, and a second invasion two years later that broadened into a regional war involving eight countries.

Rwanda’s attack on Zaire in 1996 was initially aimed at clearing the vast UN refugee camps around Goma and Bukavu, which were being used as cover by Hutu armed forces to continue the war against the new Tutsi-led government in Kigali.

Hundreds of thousands of the more than 1 million Hutus in eastern Zaire were forced back to Rwanda. Many more, including men who carried out the genocide but also large numbers of women and children, fled deeper into Zaire. They were pursued and attacked by the Rwandan army and a Zairean rebel group sponsored by Kigali, the AFDL.

The UN report describes “the systematic, methodical and premeditated nature of the attacks on the Hutus [which] took place in all areas where the refugees had been tracked down”.

This leak followed the Rwandan government’s decision to prosecute Peter Erlinder for “genocide ideology” based on his ICTR work.  The Kagame regime also arrested and prosecuted one of his clients, Victoire Ingabire, for the same upon her return from exile in advance of the 2010 elections.  A cosmopolitan, liberal activist who resided in Europe for the better part of the last decade, the regime is not risking Ms. Ingabire’s release.  

Why not? Because the prosecution of defense attorneys and exiled activists fits a much larger pattern of cover-ups by the United Nations, the United States and the Kagame regime.  As Christopher Black, who serves as lead counsel for the Hutu former Gen. Augustin at the ICTR, explained last September when detailing the accidental discovery of an inculpatory 1994 letter by Kagame:

The accidental discovery of this Aug. 10, 1994, letter from Paul Kagame to his “Dear Brother Jean Baptiste Bagaza” was met with an immediate reaction by the prosecution, who accused the defense of fabricating it, pointing out a typo in the letterhead. But this line of criticism failed, as it was shown that there are other letters in existence from the RPF on the same stationary, with the same typo in the letterhead, and these letters are regarded as authentic.

That someone regarded the letter as authentic and dangerous is highlighted by the fact that I was followed by a Tanzanian police officer the night after I produced it in court and was forced to complain about this surveillance in court the next day. Yet the prosecution continued its attacks on the letter’s authenticity, even though the document came from the files of the prosecutor. And this important revelation during the Military II trial was never reported in the mass media – though I did send it to many journalists, including the New York Times.

Now that the draft U.N. report on the atrocities committed by the RPF in the Congo has been leaked, the findings of the very first U.N. report of RPF atrocities against the Hutus beginning in 1994 should also be recognized and addressed.

The U.N. must explain why the record of that 1994 presentation by Robert Gersony was marked “confidential” and why the latest draft U.N. report does not refer to it.

The prosecutors at the ICTR must explain why they hid these documents from the defense for nearly 15 years and why, even though they have these documents in their possession, they have never once used these documents to bring charges against a single member of the RPF.

Last, Paul Kagame and his American, Belgian and British collaborators must explain the meaning of the letter – and, in particular, the meaning of the phrase, “plan for Zaire.”

The letter is very short, but very revealing:

“‘Dear Brother Jean Baptiste Bagaza, we have the greatest honor to extend our sincere gratitude to you both for your financial and technical support in our struggle that has just ended with the taking of Kigali.

“‘Rest assured that our plan to continue shall be pursued as we agreed at our last meeting in Kampala. Last week I communicated with our big brother Yoweri Museveni and decided to make some modifications to the plan. Indeed, as you have noted, the taking of Kigali quickly provoked a panic among the Hutus who fled to Goma and Bukavu. We have found that the presence of a large number of Rwandan refugees at Goma and the international community can cause our plan for Zaire to fail. We cannot occupy ourselves with Zaire until after the return of these Hutus. All means are being used for their return as rapidly as possible. In any case, our external intelligence services continue to crisscross the east of Zaire and our Belgian, British and American collaborators the rest of Zaire. The action reports are expected in the next few days.

“‘Concerning the Burundi plan, we are very content with your work to ensure the failure of the policies of FRODEBU. It is necessary to paralyze the power of FRODEBU until the total ruin of the situation in order to justify your action that must not miss its target. Our soldiers will be deployed this time not only in Bujumbura but in the places you judge strategic. Our elements stationed at Bugesera are ready to intervene at any moment. The plan for Burundi must be executed as soon as possible before the Hutus of Rwanda can organize themselves.

“‘In the hope of seeing you next time at Kigali, we ask you to accept, dear brother, our most respectful greetings’.

“Gen. Paul Kagame

“Minister of Defense (signed by his assistant, Mr. Rwego)”

Christopher Black,  U.S./U.N. Cover-Up of Kagame’s Genocide in Rwanda and Congo

The United States House of Representatives and Senate must begin an investigation into the possible complicity of the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations immediately.  Our hands may be soiled with the blood of millions, but we can begin to rinse at a moment’s notice.  As Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report puts it, in light of the leaked UN OHCHR report:

Carnage on such a scale could not have occurred were it not for the connivance of the United States, which has nurtured Kagame at every juncture. After training him for major operational command, the U.S. funded Kagame’s rebels through its Ugandan client, President Yoweri Museveni. When Kagame’s rebels invaded Rwanda, some of them still dressed in Ugandan uniforms, the Americans dismissed the Hutu president’s complaints. When the plane carrying the Hutu president and his Burundian counterpart was shot down by a missile – almost certainly by Kagame’s men – and mass killing broke out, the US. forced the United Nations to withdraw from the country – a move that could only have been of advantage to Kagame’s well-trained and armed forces, which quickly conquered all of Rwanda. When United Nations reports showed Kagame was killing 10,000 Hutus a month inside Rwanda, even after the opposition had collapsed or fled, the United States halted an investigation. Then Kagame’s men swarmed into Congo, and the larger genocide began.

The leaked UN report cannot be put back in the bottle. Kagame, who labels all critics “genocidaires” or apologists for genocide, is exposed as “the greatest mass killer on the face of the earth, today,” as described by Edward S. Herman, co-author of The Politics of Genocide. Kagame’s mentors and funders in the U.S. government, who aided and abetted his genocide in Congo, must be held equally accountable – if not more so, since United States corporations derive the greatest benefit from Congo’s blood minerals, and the U.S. military gains the most advantage from Rwandan and Ugandan services as mercenaries at America’s beck and call in Africa.

It would be great if Kagame pitched a pathological fit and made good on his threat to withdraw his soldiers from Haiti, Chad, Liberia and Sudan. But that would seriously inconvenience the United States, whose interests the UN “peacekeeping” missions serve. Kagame has no problem killing Hutus by the millions in Congo, but he will not dare upset the superpower to which he owes his bloody career.

Rwanda Crisis Could Expose US Role in Congo Genocide

My own interest in Peter Erlinder’s case began in June of last year, when a friend of mine alerted me to the ICTR’s “Note Verable” to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of the Government of Rwanda.  This was the second note sent to the Ministry.  As Kate Gibson, an ICTR defense attorney, explained in an American Law Institute article published last year:

The response from the ICTR was neither as swift nor as clear. Despite filings

from defense teams requesting varied forms of relief, such as the

suspension of proceedings and the withdrawal of a defense counsel, the

ICTR took the following steps. On May 31, 2010, the ICTR sent a Note

Verbale to the Rwandan authorities seeking clarification of whether Erlinder’s

arrest was related to his mandate as an ICTR defense counsel. Secondly,

the ICTR spokesman announced that because Erlinder was not on an official

mission in Rwanda as lead counsel for Major Ntabakuze, the ICTR did not

have the “power or the vocation for giving lawyers any immunity in cases that

are not related to the ICTR’s mandate.”Following this announcement, the

Rwandan Prosecutor-General responded to the ICTR Note Verbale,

predictably stating that Erlinder’s arrest was in no way connected to his

assignment at the ICTR, thus clearing the way for his prosecution.

The ICTR’s hands-off approach became more difficult when, contrary to

earlier public statements, the Rwandan authorities continued to link

Erlinder’s arrest to his work as a defense counsel at the ICTR. On June 7,

2010, the High Court of Gasabo rendered a decision denying Erlinder’s

request for provisional release. This decision focused on Erlinder’s academic

writing, parts of which are critical of and impute criminal responsibility to

members of the current regime in Rwanda for crimes committed in 1994.

However, in summarizing the Prosecution’s submissions, the High Court

referred on three occasions to statements made by the Rwandan

prosecutors regarding the link between the alleged genocide denial and

Erlinder’s pleadings as a defense counsel in the Military I case. For

example, according to one statement, “during the Military I Trial at the ICTR,

Carl Peter Erlinder denied and downplayed genocide. He managed to prove

that genocide had not been planned nor executed by the military officials he

was representing.” The Court itself concluded that Erlinder should

“answer for his acts at the ICTR.”

This was the critical link. And one which was reinforced by public statements

made by officials in Rwanda. On June 11, 2010, the Rwandan Minister of

Foreign Affairs and Cooperation was reported as stating, “[i]t is important to

alert the public on [sic] this deliberate confusion by defence lawyers.

Rwandans will not sit back and watch as the history of Genocide is being

distorted. We will prosecute them aggressively.”

Despite the establishment of this link, the ICTR remained without a

consistent position. On June 9, 2010, defense teams were presented with

two irreconcilable statements from the Registrar and Chambers on the

ICTR’s stance. For his part, the Registrar, in response to a request for

withdrawal from another defense counsel, ruled that he was “not persuaded

that Mr. Erlinder’s arrest has anything to do with his work in ICTR, as his

travel to Kigali was not in any way connected in any way to his mandate at

the ICTR.” In a decision rendered on the same day in Niyezimana, Trial

Chamber III held that “it appears from the available information that the

charges against Peter Erlinder are partly related to his submissions before

the Tribunal during the Military I case.”

As such, the situation remained unclear. It was at this point that the United

Nations Office of Legal Affairs in New York “advised the ICTR to formally

assert immunity for Professor Erlinder without delay and request his

immediate release.”[16] Consequently, on June 15, 2010, after Erlinder had

already been imprisoned for nineteen days and hospitalized twice, the ICTR

Registrar reversed his position and sent a Note Verbale to the Rwandan

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, notifying Rwandan authorities

that Erlinder enjoys immunity and requesting his immediate release.

This raises serious questions about the ICTR itself, particularly in light of the refusal to prosecute the Kagame regime for its war crimes, and the apparently substantiated allegations of conspiracy and cover-up that have been raised by defense counsel working in Arusha.  One thing is certain: We need a prompt thorough domestic investigation into these allegations.  If they are substantiated, there are officials within the U.S. government who helped Kagame carry out war crimes in the mid to late 1990s, and have used the United Nations to orchestrate a cover-up of their complicity.  

Defense attorneys, human rights activists and interested watchers have serious questions for our political leadership.  Three presidential administration’s may have played a role in a serious crime and a cover up of the same.  

Does anyone care? Is anyone listening? For now, the answer appears to be no.



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    • Alec82 on February 19, 2011 at 21:06

    I also published it at the GOS, but it seemed like an appropriate topic for this site as well.  

    Hope you are all well.  

  1. Next question.

  2. It’s hard to judge the perspective of this article when it makes a very big deal about the UN’s failure to cover Peter Erlinder with diplomatic immunity, in the long blockquote beginning “The response from the ICTR was neither as swift nor as clear…” and then it transpires that Erlinder was indeed covered after only 19 days, which is the blink of an eye in the context of UN diplomacy.

    On the upside, while I was looking around at Obama’s murky dealings with Kagame, I found a silly-looking photo and an even sillier article comparing Obama to Kagame, and embedded those pearls of absurdity in an absurdist diariy which I am about to post.

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