President Paul Kagame came out strongly this Wednesday rapping the “one or two countries” he says “stubbornly refuse” to use the appellation ‘genocide against the Tutsi’.
In a lengthy address to a select audience at the Kigali Arena for the start of the 27th commemoration, Kagame suggested that those countries, which he didn’t name, as using “blackmail” towards his government.
The small audience was due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In normal times, tens of thousands would have gathered in the main stadium.
President Kagame first spoke briefly in Kinyarwanda, and then asked to be allowed to speak in a “foreign language so that our friends and others can clearly understand”. He turned to English.
“….despite a unanimous resolution by the United Nations General Assembly, there are still one or two countries which stubbornly refuse to use the phrase ‘Genocide against the Tutsi’…” said Kagame.
“In the whole of the General Assembly they have that understanding, except one or two, just as they resisted using the word ‘genocide’ in 1994, as I told you, until it was too late.”
Kagame was referring to reported internal deliberations within western capitals and at the UN Security Council as the genocide unfolded in Rwanda. For example, high-level discussions within the Bill Clinton Administration at the time was that if the word “genocide” was used, then the US would be forced to intervene.
With the genocide halted by rebel forces led by Kagame, the government of Rwanda embarked on a campaign to have the mass slaughter recognized and called for what it was; the genocide against the Tutsi.
But along the way, as reported by The Chronicles in May last year, the United States and the UK, both of them key backers of President Kagame’s government, have been reading from a different script. For all the years, the two grumbled from behind closed doors. Last year, they went public.
By the US and UK making such a bizarre public turnaround, has provided manna for Rwandan exiles and extremist groups which claim there was a double genocide in Rwanda.
Here is how it all unfolded; at the 2018 UN General Assembly, its adopted that – the genocide in Rwanda would from then on be 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. Indeed, the new UN General Assembly resolution was adopted.
However, two months later, the US and UK published their respective submissions to the UN General Assembly debate on the matter. These are usually secret closed door deliberations.
The Chronicles in reporting from the time detailed the maneuvers that took place before the two resolutions were adopted.
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). The two documents were published online, a tactic clearly designed to ensure they were widely covered by the media.
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 talked about freedom of speech issue in Rwanda.
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.
Speaking today, and sounding clearly unamused, President Kagame addressed the issue for the first time. He said those countries refusing to use ‘genocide against the Tutsi’ were the same ones that speak about the human rights situation in Rwanda.
He said: “It is interesting how history repeats itself. We have almost gone full circle from 1994 to now. We have a repetition of questioning words and definitions and all kinds of things.”
“It is as though this simple recognition of what the word should be would be a reward bestowed on Rwandans in exchange for ‘good behaviour’. In their view, you behave in the way they want you to behave, then they will give you a gift, a reward of recognising what it is. What a shame. But we cannot respond to blackmail on such matters of principle.”
Kagame said this behavior by these “one or two countries” to go against the global narrative, was giving legitimacy to genocide deniers. Particularly, Kagame, in conciliatory language, said some in the diaspora had jumped to the opportunity to continue promoting the double genocide narrative.
Though he didn’t name them in particular, Kagame was referring to JAMBO ASBL, a platform founded by young Rwandan exiles. According to existing information, the parents of some of the members, have been convicted by a UN court for their involvement in the genocide against Tutsis.
For their part though, JAMBO ASBL members, with recent support from other groups, have fashioned themselves as political activists. They say they are only being targeted due to their opposition to the government of President Kagame.
In his speech, Kagame said: “Unfortunately, a new generation of Rwandans in the diaspora —and this is really a small group — who have no personal responsibility for what happened in 1994, draw on these accounts to repackage genocide ideology as a critique of governance and human rights. And they are picking it from [US-UK positions] or being supported by that.”
“For us in Rwanda, we are not being held back. We move forward.”
“There is no difference so big that a hand extended in good faith will not be reciprocated. That is how we Rwandans are, who our history has made us. But the currency of forgiveness is truth. We cannot get tired of talking about the realities we have lived.”
The US and UK, both are the biggest bilateral donors for government of Rwanda. Both have recently issued heavily negative statements condemning what the say is poor rights situation in Rwanda – prompting expected celebration in the exiled opposition.
In the same speech today, Kagame also strongly condemned countries he didn’t name, for repeatedly sending official messages of commemoration of the genocide which were also packaged with lectures about human rights.
He said: “So I took time and wrote a back and just made one simple request. I said, you know, this day, the 7th of April, is a commemoration day. And it’s just one day in the 365 days of the year. Just one.”
“So I asked them, can’t you spare us just this one day? And for the remaining number of days, 364, you can write anything you want. You can abuse us, insult us anyway you want for the rest the year. But spare us this one.”
“Fortunately I think they got the message, it hasn’t happened again, but there are others who don’t learn and maybe their statements are on the way saying the same things. But we really have space to accommodate that as well.”