If anyone is celebrating the two letters that have been published outlining US and UK opposition to the appellation of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, not so quickly. The details of what happened at the UN headquarters between March and April tell a different story.
The United States and the United Kingdom, have for the first time gone on record, disagreeing with the Government of Rwanda on what to call the catastrophic events of 1994. The questions on everyone’s mind today are; what happened that led US-UK letters to come out? Have the two changed policy on Rwanda? What happens going forward?
First, here are the facts so far. In March, Rwanda together with close ally Qatar and two other nations, formulated a new UN resolution to back up, or even replace the one adopted by the UN General Assembly in April 2018. The resolution put end to a sometimes dirty global debate.
The genocide in Rwanda was called what it ought to be; ‘the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi’ and April 7, became the “International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda”. It became illegal under international law to negate the genocide with any other demeaning language.
Fast forward to March 2020, and Rwanda was not satisfied with the contents of the 2018 UN resolution. It partnered up with key ally Qatar, Argentina, The Gambia and another key ally Norway for a modification of the existing text. The new new draft required the UN to help the survivors, among other demands.
The new draft resolution also sought to require the UN Secretary General “to modify the title of the outreach programme to “outreach programme on the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda and the United Nations” and to take measures to mobilize civil society for remembrance and education in the context of the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, in order to help to prevent future acts of genocide, and to report annually to the General Assembly on the implementation of the programme.”
With its text ready in early March, Rwanda’s UN envoy Valentine Rugwabiza shared it with UN General Assemby President for circulation. And then the highly secret closed door negotiations began among members on the spirit and wording of the new draft resolution.
We will never know who said what exactly to Rwanda and its allies. But somehow the United States and United Kingdom, separately unable to have their modifications reflectedideas in the draft text, decided to go public with their concerns.
The Chronicles understands that the US and UK felt that contrary to the conventional mechanism within the UN which gives plenty of time for extensive talks on a draft resolution, that is not what happened with the Rwanda draft.
The 2018 resolution was in the works for over five years, right from the time Rwanda took up its seat in the UN Security Council 20136. This was the timeframe within which the new terminology of the genocide became a serious issue for Rwanda.
From 1994 up until the early 2000s, according to various accounts, President Kagame’s government was OK with the “Rwandan genocide” appellation as the specific terminology seems not to have been really important at the timeit accommodated other peoples of Rwandan society killed during the genocide. However, the genocide negationist machinery took advantage of the language loophole, and was getting ever more powerful. And one incident convinced Kigali that something had to be done, and fast!
On October 1, 2014, the British broadcaster BBC aired a highly controversial documentary ‘Rwanda’s Untold Story’. Based on interviews with Rwandan dissidents in South Africa, Europe and US, the documentary questioned the number of genocide victims. It actually suggested that far more Hutus were killed than Tutsis.
The 1hr project alleged that the RPF rebels, on orders of leader Gen Paul Kagame, killed thousands of Hutu people in deliberate policy. After all was done and dusted in Rwanda, according to the BBC documentary, the RPF moved to Zaire (now DR Congo) to pursue the Rwandan refugees there.
Based on the personal story of Marie Bamutese, a Rwandan woman married to Flemish journalist Peter Verlinden, the BBC claimed the war in Congo had killed more than 5m people. The allegations in the documentary were outrageous, but since it had been watched by millions globally, it became the point of reference about Rwanda, President Kagame and the RPF.
In Kigali, the system went into action. Various things happened, including the banning of the BBC greatlakes service which aired in Kinyarwanda language on FM. Parliament even issued resolution condemning the BBC, a rare feat. President Kagame himself made a very strongly worded speech at some point.
From then on, Kagame and his team new something had to be done to shape the narrative history of Rwanda. That was to remove all ambiguity on what really happened in Rwanda between April 7, 1994 to July 17, the same year. The Apocalypse of the time had to be called with the exact terminology. Plenty happened, between the BBC documentary and the 2018 UN resolution.
Actually, in Kinyarwanda language up until the terminology changed, the genocide was called ‘Itsembabwoko n’itsembatsemba’ literary translated as ‘the genocide and massacres’. From around 2011, government began pushing through modifications in the legal regime in Rwanda, and specific wording to “Jenoside yakorewe abatutsi mu 1994” (which is exactly what was adopted by the UN in English translation).
Back to the new draft resolution which Rwanda and its allies had put forward this past March, it was in the works for less than a month. For such a fundamental issue, perhaps some key UN diplomats felt they were not getting as much time.
Within days, a new resolution was already done. The Americans and the British, unable to push anything through, because the Rwandan government had mobilised the entire UN General Assembly, decided to file what is called “Explanation of Position” (EoP).
First, both US and UK wanted the terminology of the text to be broadened to make it more inclusive, changed from “the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi”, to reflect “other” Rwandans also killed. The Americans accused Rwanda of forcing through the resolution without sufficient consultation. Washington also talks about freedom of speech.
Under normal circumstances, the Americans and British would have had their positions adapted in the text, somehow, since they are key political backers and funders of Kigali. But unable to do so, Washington and London, opted for the highway; write their Positions for the public record. The UN resolution passed anyway. However, it will always be accompanied by the two letters of the UK and US.
Make no mistake though about the Explanation of Position from UK and US. It DOES NOT mean there is a change of policy by London and Washington on the genocide. The two letters clearly state the genocide was planned to kill Tutsis. It doesn’t also mean that the UK and US are negating or denying that the genocide targeted Tutsis. What the UK and US are trying to do was to ensure the non-Tutsi victims are also recognized as the Americans and British view this as key to national reconciliation and healing in Rwanda.
US policy, and with it the politico-economic support remains in place going forward. The same is with the UK. Only that this time, Kigali knows there is an elephant in the room.
The Americans and British sseem to beay they have been adamant to accept any literature in international archives which doesn’t highlight the fact that Hutus killed need to be recognized. The difference this time with their Explanation of Position, is that their positions have now been added onto the public global narrative about Rwanda.
With these new developments, the negationist platform has never been this emboldened. The UK-US public outbursts have come like manna from heaven for the genocide denial movement.
Important to note is that, even though UN General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding on member states, there is a real and persuasive point in having these resolutions.. Most experts agree that the resolutions weigh significantly on global politics. The resolutions have a significant effect in world politics it is due to their political influence rather than to the legal obligations that they carry.
Indeed, the mere existence of these resolutions can be used by member States as an instrument of persuasion or a point of reference to substantiate their claims. Some major resolutions have been transformed into a new legal norm or used as reference in settling international law cases.
As The Chronicles wrote earlier, a big Pandora’s box has been opened with the UK-US public positions.