Debate: Judi Rever will not let anything stand in the way of her quest to document a second Rwandan genocide

Inside the 1994 Kigali Genocide Memorial. Nelson Gashagaza/Wikimedia, CC BY-NC-SA

Published in March 2018, Judi Rever’s investigative work, In Praise of Blood, quickly garnered international attention. It is an indictment of both the Rwandan patriotic front (RPF) and its leader, current Rwandan president Paul Kagame, and foreign governments and international institutions – the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), in particular – that allowed crimes committed against Hutu civilians to go unpunished.

Yet these crimes had been documented. In November 1994, a few months after the genocide of Tutsi Rwandans came to an end, René Degni-Ségui, special rapporteur for the Human Rights Commission on Rwanda, reported mass killings perpetrated by Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA). As early as September and October 1994, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch conducted investigations and published reports on the large-scale massacres of Hutus committed by the RPA.

Judi Rever is a Canadian journalist and author of numerous articles incriminating the RPF. Although there are no revelations in her book, it uncovers new evidence of those already on public record. The new information was chiefly gleaned from RPF dissidents, and from two unpublished reports on the RPF’s suspected crimes by the Bureau of Special Investigations, established by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in 1999. Rever stresses that the reports were sent to her unofficially.

In the interest of full disclosure, we should explain here that we are interested in this book for reasons that are not specific to Rwanda. Like a great many publications, Rever’s work blurs the line between investigation and indictment. While many journalistic investigations aim to highlight the need for judicial intervention, it is precisely this combination of investigation and the pursuit of evidence that would stand up in a court of law that is problematic, at least from the perspective of social scientists, if not from that of journalists.

Indeed, Judi Rever’s book is more than a work of investigation. It reads like a prosecutor’s closing argument: the massacres are described in such a way as to classify them as genocide.

“The darkest secret”

Rever begins with hints, such as a quote from a former RPA soldier stating that the massacre of thousands of people perpetrated in October 1997 was meant to eliminate as much of the Hutu population as possible.

Regarding the large-scale killings carried out in 1994 in the Byumba region, in North-eastern Rwanda, another former RPA soldier claims that the leaders of the RPF had settled on the killings as a way to make the land available for Tutsi refugees, formerly exiled in Uganda. According to Rever, the military authorities who organised and committed the massacres therefore took part in a joint criminal enterprise (emphasis added by Rever).This legal notion, introduced by the ICTY, was retained by the ICTR.

By the conclusion of the book, the hints become an unequivocal statement:

“[The] darkest secret that the FPR hid from the international community is that its troops continued to commit genocide against the Hutus in 1994 and throughout the following years.”

Dancila Nyirabazungu, a survivor and one of curators of the genocide memorial at Queen of the Apostles Church of Ntarama. EPA

Judge and prosecutor

For 20 years, publications on the crimes of the RPF – by NGOs, researchers, and eyewitnesses – have only really appealed to a small number of people. These readers are split into two irreconcilable factions.

One side is aligned with the official history, as maintained by current Rwandan authorities. It rejects the allegations against Kagame and others and calls the accusers negationists seeking to deny the Tutsi genocide. The other uses evidence from various investigations to attack the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, accusing it of implementing a “justice of the winning side” by refusing to put the RPF leaders on trial for their crimes. It demands that international courts prosecute the FPR them for actions that are sometimes labelled as war crimes or crimes against humanity and, more often, as genocide.

Rever’s work was released by the influential publisher Random House Canada, accompanied by a significant media campaign. It sparked off renewed efforts by propagandists, researchers and activists who believe she has uncovered sufficient evidence to prove that FPR authorities, under Paul Kagame, did in fact commit a second genocide, this time against Hutus.

In confirming the author’s assertions, these people set themselves up as both judge and prosecutor. Their aim is clear: to reinforce the accusation of genocide, now seemingly the only way of gaining recognition of a mass crime and eliciting public outcry. But this approach would put the Tutsi genocide, as adjudicated by the ICTR, on a par with FPR massacres of Hutus between 1990 and 1997.

Rwandan Tutsis as second-class citizens

I don’t believe the only relevant criteria are those defining genocide under law. It is enough to deem that the leaders of the FPR did indeed carry out a policy of terror by slaughtering Rwandan Hutus. In our view, there is no need for it to be genocide to justify investigation into these massacres. Furthermore, such investigations would in no way constitute a denial of the Tutsi genocide.

Journalists and social scientists should be calling for investigations equivalent to those carried out into the Tutsi genocide, rather than doing the work of judges and trying to apply a particular legal classification.

Genocides and mass crimes are legal affairs established according to norms and procedures (in particular those set out in the Convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide that was adopted at the UN general assembly on 9 December 1948). But they are also events studied by historians and social scientists, who compare and contrast them, revealing their specific characteristics.

Work in the social sciences has demonstrated that, right from independence (1962), the Rwandan Republic never truly recognized Rwandan Tutsis as part of the citizenry. They did not have the same rights as other citizens; in many respects, they were deprived of their rights.

Hundreds of thousands of Tutsis lived outside of their country as refugees, unable to claim Rwandan nationality. Those who stayed in Rwanda were subject to multiple discriminations and became part of a disenfranchised group, stigmatized by the authorities. This disenfranchisement and loss of rights opened the way for their systematic physical destruction.

The myth of a universal investigation model

Writing to indict is a well-known strategy. It is used in several domains, by journalists, activists, authors, and many others. There are no absolute, objective standards for differentiating ‘good’ and ‘bad’ uses of this strategy.

It is undeniable that research on the genocide of Rwandan Tutsis has raised questions and gathered knowledge that legal professionals may use to reinforce their own investigations.

We thus wish to point that it is vital not to make legal or criminal investigations the universal model of inquiry, because they are restricted to those elements on which verdicts are based. Social science has no such restrictions and is not guided by legal categories.


Translated from the French by Alice Heathwood for Fast for Word.

This article was originally published in French