The 'Rwanda Genocide' Cover-up Commentary
The 'Rwanda Genocide' Cover-up
Edited by: Jeremiah Lee

JURIST Guest Columnist Peter Erlinder of William Mitchell College of Law, lead defense counsel for former Major Aloys Ntabakuze in the Military 1 Trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and president of the UN-ICTR Defense Lawyers Association, says that recently issued French and Spanish international war crimes warrants and new evidence at the UN Rwanda Tribunal have exposed current Rwandan President Paul Kagame as the man primarily responsible for the 1994 “Rwanda Genocide” and the beneficiary of a decades-long US-sponsored “cover-up” of Pentagon complicity in the massacres committed by his regime…

Editor's Note: a response by Brian Atwood, a former USAID Administrator during the Clinton Administration, follows this piece.

As George Bush continues his much ballyhooed African safari, he has heaped praise on Rwandan President Kagame as a “model for Africa,” and mourned with Kagame the victims of the “Rwanda Genocide”. But recently issued French and Spanish international “war-crimes” warrants, and new evidence at the UN Rwanda Tribunal, have exposed Kagame as the war criminal who actually touched off the 1994 “Rwanda Genocide” by assassinating the previous President and who is benefiting from a decades-long U.S.-sponsored “cover-up” of Pentagon complicity in massacres committed by Kagame’s regime, which even Britain’s Economist has called “the most repressive in Africa.” [1]

Multiple “War Crimes” Warrants Issued for Rwanda’s Leaders

Just last week, a Spanish judge issued 40 international warrants for current and former members of Kagame’s government, including senior staff at Rwanda’s Washington Embassy. Judge Abreau’s warrants charge Kagame’s clique with war crimes and crimes against humanity that may even fit the definition of “genocide.” But these are not the only international arrest warrants issued for Rwanda’s current leaders.

French Judge Bruguiere (famous for indicting “The Jackal”) has also issued international warrants against nearly a dozen members of Kagame’s inner circle. Bruguiere also met with Kofi Annan in late 2006 to personally urge the U.N. Rwanda Tribunal to prosecute Kagame for the assassination of Juvenal Habyarimana, the war crime that re-ignited the four-year Rwanda War and the massive civilian killings in the war’s final 90-days.

Could it be that no-one in the Bush Administration was aware of these pending charges against their Rwandan hosts – or is it that they just don’t care?

In either case, the French and Spanish international arrest warrants have pierced the wall of U.S./UK/Rwandan propaganda about who bears primary responsibility for the massive tragedy that unfolded in Rwanda – but the “official story” has actually been unraveling for some time.

Chief UN Prosecutor Del Ponte in 2003: “Rwanda’s Leaders Guilty of War Crimes”

In the summer of 2003, Swiss Judge Carla Del Ponte, then Chief Prosecutor for both the Yugoslavia and Rwanda tribunals, publicly announced that she would soon begin the prosecution of members of Kagame’s government for the same kinds of crimes now charged in the French and Spanish warrants. But nearly five years later, not one case has been filed against one member of Kagame’s government, nor against Kagame himself, despite the direct request of Judge Bruguiere.

The Del Ponte-announced prosecutions did not go forward because she was replaced at the ICTR within 90 days of her announcement by Abubacar Jallow, a US/UK-approved Prosecutor who pledged not to prosecute any on Kagame’s side, no matter what the Del Ponte and the European judges’ findings! Prosecutor Del Ponte’s long-time press-aide, Florence Hartmann, published a book in Paris in September 2007 that explains exactly how and why Del Ponte was replaced.

According to the Hartmann book, that Del Ponte has not repudicated, Del Ponte was called to Washington just after her 2003 announcement and threatened with removal from office by Bush “war crimes ambassador” Pierre Prosper because of a long-standing political quid pro quo between Washington and the Kagame regime that is spelled out in detail in the book. (Ironically, Prosper was a former ICTR prosecutor under Del Ponte, and must have had access to the same information motivated her decision to prosecute the U.S. ally). When she refused to ignore her UN-mandate, to prosecute all crimes committed during the 1994 Rwanda War, she was sacked by the U.S. and U.K.[2]

ICTR Chief Investigator in 1997: “Rwanda’s Kagame Assassinated Previous President”

But this is not the first time that crimes of Kagame have been “covered-up” at the ICTR. According to sworn affidavits, placed in the ICTR record in early 2006, well respected ICTR Lead Investigative Prosecutor Michael Hourigan, an Australian QC, recommended that Kagame himself, be prosecuted for the assassination of Habyarimana in 1997! But then-Chief UN Prosecutor, Louise Arbour of Canada, ordered him to drop the Kagame investigation; to forget it ever happened; and, to burn his notes! Hourigan resigned rather than comply and copies of his original notes are now part of the ICTR public record for all to see. [3]

The “Rwanda Genocide” Cover-up on Clinton’s Watch

The Hourigan affidavit makes clear that the “Rwanda Genocide" cover-up has been going on for at least a decade, but the reasons for the cover-up did not become clear until late 2007, when a senior Clinton administration diplomat, Brian Atwood, was confronted with UN documents describing a 1994 “cover-up” meeting with the Rwandan Foreign Minister in Kigali and the UN’s Kofi Annan. According to the UN documents, U.S.-sponsored human rights reports by investigator Robert Gersony had documented massive military-style executions of civilians by Kagame’s troops, during and after the final 90 days of the four-year Rwanda War.[4]

The former Rwandan Foreign Minister at the meeting, Jean Marie Ndagiyimana, testified at the ICTR that, rather than participate in the proposed “cover-up,” he resigned and went into exile, where he remains today. His ICTR testimony confirmed that Clinton’s USAID Chief for Africa, Brian Atwood, and the chief of the UN Department of Peace Keeping Operations Kofi Annan, were both in his office in late October 1994 urging him to assist in the “cover-up” the war crimes committed by Kagame’s forces. [5]

The “Inconvenient Truth” Behind the Cover-up: Pentagon Complicity in the 1994 Rwanda War

The damning “Gersony Report” included first-hand evidence of tens of thousands of civilians being massacred by Kagame’s troops in eastern Rwanda, later confirmed by similar reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The U.N. document (also in the ICTR record) says that Annan told the Foreign Minister that public knowledge of the Report would be “embarrassing to the UN” and the former U.S. Clinton administration diplomat, Brian Atwood, not only confirmed he was at the meeting, but explained that he had engaged Gersony, and that Gersony’s findings of war-crimes being committed by Kagame were “…an inconvenient truth” for both the United States and the UN.

According to Atwood, unknown to the State Department, “the Pentagon had been supporting Kagame since before the 1990 invasion, when he was the head of Military Intelligence for the Museveni gov
ernment of Uganda.” The “Gersony Report” tied the Pentagon to the crimes of Kagame’s invading, Pentagon-trained and funded forces. More UN documents in the ICTR record reveal that the State Department was negotiating for a peaceful settlement of the war at the same time the Pentagon was supporting Kagame’s invasion. The Clinton Administration sought to enlist Atwood and Kofi Annan in keeping evidence of Kagame’s crimes from ever seeing the light of day, to prevent Pentagon involvement in the “Rwandan Genocide” from ever coming to light.[6]

The existence of a separate Pentagon foreign policy on Rwanda also tallies with the ICTR testimony of former Ambassador Robert Flaten, who testified that he seriously doubted that Habyarimana’s supporters planned to kill civilians on a massive scale because the CIA and other intelligence agencies would have reported it when he was in Rwanda from 1990 to late 93.[7] He said that his requests for Pentagon-DIA spy satellite photographs showing the status of the war in the countryside were turned down because of “clouds over Rwanda,” during his entire 3-plus years in Rwanda. [8]

Former Amb. Flaten also noted the obvious: Uganda’s military assistance for the 1990 Kagame invasion coincided with increased Ugandan military funding by the U.S./U.K. Most importantly, Flaten also testified that he personally warned Kagame that “he (Kagame) would be responsible for massacres like just happened in Burundi, if Kagame broke the cease-fire and re-started that war". Now the evidence in the ICTR record, shows Kagame did exactly that!

In short, the evidence that is now in the public record shows that during the 1994 Rwanda Genocide, the Pentagon could have stopped the carnage with a phone call, and the State Department apparently did not know enough about the Pentagon’s close ties to Kagame to ask them to do so, at least until USAID’s Atwood was informed of Pentagon panicked reaction to the “Gersony Report,” in the summer of 1994.

Other de-classified State Department documents show that it was the invading Kagame forces that were the aggressors, and were blocking the State Departments efforts to implement the Arusha Accords, peace agreement.[9] The UN’s General Dallaire has testified that Kagame would not agree to a ceasefire to use troops to stop the massacres because “he was winning the war.”[10] And, now we know what Dallaire may not have known, until later…Kagame was winning with the Pentagon’s help.

The Great “Rwanda Genocide” Cover-up Continues under Bush

The “Rwanda Genocide” cover-up of Pentagon complicity in Kagame’s crimes is almost complete, with the U.S. cutting ICTR funding to shut it down by the end of 2008. Carla Del Ponte’s replacement, Abubacar Jallow, will be conveniently unable to carry out the prosecutions that Del Ponte urged in 2003, or those initiated by Judge Bruguiere in 2006, or Judge Abreau, just last week.

However, the international warrants are still in effect, and the Del Ponte book and Hourigan’s affidavit have begun to unravel the whole sordid manipulation, but unless the “Rwanda Genocide” cover-up makes it onto "page one" in Europe and North America, it may be too late for the ICTR detainees who are being held responsible for the crimes of the Kagame regime – a bit like the UN holding the Japanese responsible for Hiroshima and the Germans for the fire-bombing of Dresden.

With U.S. and U.K. support, Kagame’s government is actively campaigning to have all ICTR matters transferred to Rwanda and has issued 40,000 warrants for Kagame’s Hutu and Tutsi opponents in the worldwide Rwandan diaspora (a movement that includes such as figures Paul Rusesabagina, the real hero of Hotel Rwanda).

Correcting the Historical Record and Ending the Cover-up

But I have to disclose my own bias. Under the laws of Rwanda, I too am a criminal “negationist” for writing this essay, and President Kagame has personally denounced me as a “genocidaire” for my work as an ICTR defense lawyer. My former investigator is seeking asylum in Europe and the ICTR Prosecutor who replaced Carla Del Ponte is now prosecuting another defense investigator for asking too many questions in Rwanda while denouncing Judge Bruguiere’s request for the UN to prosecute Kagame and Spanish Judge Abreau as well.

An ICTR defense lawyer like me has to hope that despite all that is now known about the manipulations of the ICTR by the U.S. and U.K. for their own political purposes, the ICTR judges will not be influenced by the sacking of Del Ponte and that they will carefully evaluate the evidence in my client’s case. But it it is hard to be too optimistic.

At least my conscience is clear, now that the great “Rwanda Genocide” cover-up has been exposed. But I wonder if the judges, prosecutors, other UN-ICTR officials (who now know about the manipulation of their best efforts) will be able to say the same, if they allow the cover-up to continue?

During the week’s festivities in Rwanda, Presidents Bush and Kagame are sure to find much in common, as would Tony Blair, who has recently signed-on as an “unpaid” advisor to Kagame. All three stand accused of war crimes, and are mutually benefiting from the US/UK/Rwandan “cover-up” of their own complicity in the “Rwandan Genocide” tragedy that should put all three in the dock at the ICTR.

(c) 2008 Peter Erlinder. All of the documents and testimony referenced above are in the court record at the ICTR, except for the interview of Ambassador Brian Atwood, which occurred in December 2007 at his office at the University of Minnesota, Humphrey Institute, Mpls. MN.


[1] The Economist, April, 2004

[2] Hartmann, Paix et chatiment: les guerres del la politique (2007 Flammarion, Paris)

[3] See Hourigan Affidavit and related documents in Miltary 1 record at the ICTR.

[4] See, UN documents in the Military 1 trial record at the ICTR.

[5] See ICTR Testimony of Ndagiyimana, November 2006, and related documents

[6] Interview with Dean Brian Atwood, Humphrey Institute, University of Minnesota, December 22, 2007.

[7] See Flaten ICTR testimony, June 2006.

[8] Interview with Robert Flaten in Arusha TZ, June 2006.

[9] See, April 1, 1994 Cable from U.S. Embassy in Kigali to Kampala Uganda in the ICTR Military 1 Trial Record.

[10] See ICTR Testimony of Gen. Romeo Dallaire and associated documents, January 2006.

Peter Erlinder is a professor at William Mitchell College of Law. He is a past-President of the National Lawyers Guild.

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.