THE RWANDAN GENOCIDE – AN INTRODUCTION
There’s a Rwanda before and a Rwanda after the Genocide and the 1990 civil war that made up its immediate historical background.
A deep journey throughout this country demands the effort of going through this painful zone of total darkness.
And that’s not the only good reason to do it.
The Rwandan genocide was not what still today many believe it was. This misconception is a consequence, among others, of a superficial mass media coverage at that time: Rwandan genocide wasn’t the outbreak of local insanity, the outburst of savagery or primitiveness, the sudden unleashing of brutality linked to old tribal hatred.
The papal envoy, French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, sent to Rwanda by Pope John Paul II soon after the 1994 genocide, sadly said about it: «The blood of tribalism proved deeper than the waters of baptism» (Quoted in J.J. Carney, Rwanda Before the Genocide, see Bibliography). This statement is historically false, imbued with a falsehood that acts as a warm and comfortable blanket for the Catholic Church.
The 1994 Rwandan Genocide was not the regurgitation of bloody tribalism.
Not at all.
It wasn’t a Rwandan tribal issue, not even an Eastern-African affair only.
And it wasn’t an event, nor the outcome of a dramatic turn of events.
The Western media’s failure to accurately interpret and describe the Rwandan Genocide is a fact widely supported by data and shared by most scholars today. Noam Schimmel studied the literature and the meta literature on how the 1994 Rwandan genocide was reported in the American and European mass media. Many Western media covered the issue, so we cannot speak of a lack of media coverage. As Schimmel shows in his analysis, the genocide «was mischaracterized as a ‘tribal war’ and an act of spontaneous violence and primordial hatred, rather than being accurately reported as a meticulously planned and implemented political project of extermination» (N. Schimmel, see Bibliography).
It wasn’t one of those unplanned events that happen all of a sudden, a definition more suitable for a car accident or a surprise diagnosis.
It wasn’t an event, moreover, nor the horrific outcome of a chain of events. Genocide is a process. Sheri P. Rosenberg (Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, New York) wrote a brief essay entitled Genocide Is a Process, Not an Event. She showed that every genocide is a «complex and dynamic process», namely «an unfolding process to be viewed against or within historical, political, and social factors». (Sheri P. Rosenberg, see Bibliography).
The Rwandan genocide was a particularly complex process whose roots can be dated back to the colonial period: the country was under a brief German dominion from 1884 to the late First World War period, in 1916-17, and a longer Belgian colonial rule lasted from the post-war to the formal political independence of the country, reached in 1962. A formal but not substantial autonomy, as Belgium and later France maintained many different kinds of ‘special interests’ in the region. The genocide, in particular, was a political project of annihilation meticulously planned during the Rwandan civil war that began in 1990, involved Uganda and Congo (called Zaire at that time), required the intervention of the UN Peacekeeping agency and was followed by two Congo wars, the last of which officially ended at the beginning of 21st century, after having involved nine African countries plus twenty-five armed groups and having caused millions of deaths.
A tribal local affair only?
There were many actors in the complex Rwandan scenario, with different kinds of legal liabilities and/or historical responsibilities. Some actors and some overwhelming responsibilities were not Rwandan nor African: they were Western and Catholic.
Last but not least, face genocide, we all have a moral obligation. All of us. And this is the best reason to go through this painful zone of total darkness.
«Genocide constitutes the crime of crimes» read the Kambanda judgment by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG), approved by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 and ratified by 149 States (as of January 2018), defines genocide as «any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
- Killing members of the group;
- Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
- Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
- Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
- Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group».
The crime of genocide – whose prohibition is a peremptory norm of international law and consequently, no derogation from it is allowed – is the coordinated and implemented effort to destroy or annihilate, in whole or part, a specific human group as such, in whatever way this last is categorized by perpetrators. (Please, note that with this definition, I’m extending the concept of “group” used by the CPPCG, following some scholars such as M.H. Kakar, F. Chalk and K. Jonassohn, John Cox, Uğur Ümit Üngör, and others; moreover, I’m not talking of an ‘intent’ or an ‘intention’).
Genocide is an attack upon human diversity, which is a necessary condition for human life to thrive. Humanity can only exist in diversity, multiplicity, variety, just as the visible light, a small segment of the electromagnetic spectrum, is a range of wavelengths that can only manifest to our eye as a range of different colors. It’s impossible to find two human beings morphologically and genetically identical (except for artificial clones). We are all diversely colorful as we’re expressions of the very same light. Therefore, an attack upon human diversity is an attempt to destroy humanity itself.
Immaculeé Ilibagiza, a survivor of the Rwandan Genocide, wrote in 2007: «What happened in Rwanda happened to us all – humanity was wounded by the genocide».
As human beings, we all passed through the chimneys of Auschwitz and got dissolved with the wind. We all fell under a pair of machete blows and swallowed our blood mixed with the red dust of the African soil. In a sense, facing a genocide, we’re all victims, and we’re all perpetrators. After Auschwitz, we can no longer pretend to ignore what human beings can do to other human beings, nor claim to be different from both of them. «Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto» wrote the Latin playwright Terence (195? – 159? BC): I’m a human being, and of that which is human, nothing is alien to me nor can be held as such. «Satana sum, et nihil humanum a me alienum puto» echoes Satan-the-banal-middle-aged-gentleman in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.
«The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders». These words have been written by Yehuda Bauer (born in 1926), Israeli historian, professor of Holocaust Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I couldn’t agree more.
Genocide, the mother of all hells, is the failure and the collapse of our humanity.
That area of darkness lies in the core of all of us. It’s inside us.
That’s why we all have a moral obligation: in the face of genocide, we cannot turn our eyes away, we cannot pretend we have nothing to do with it or claim to be a different species. We must understand how and why a genocidal process unfolded and was implemented by some human beings. We must do it not just to bring honor to victims but to prevent it. It’s a categorical imperative for all of us.
Genocide forces us to cross a boundary and throws us into that land of absolute darkness that lies inside us.
It’s frightening darkness, and there’s no flame at all.
We blew out every flame.
You want it darker, We kill the flame.