In 1994 and 1997 when Paul Kagame’s intelligence agents organized the murder of two Quebecois priests in Rwanda — Claude Simard and Guy Pinard — the Canadian government demanded answers in its inimitable diplomatic manner. As the years wore on Ottawa became even meeker, suggesting that Kigali should itself conduct an investigation, that it tacitly expected the killers to prosecute themselves, as it were. Of course Rwanda — whose army has always been notoriously obedient — had no intention of prosecuting itself. Canada was quick to acquiesce; according to the official historical meme, Kagame is credited with having stopped the genocide against interior Tutsis and saved Rwanda from oblivion. All was forgiven if not forgotten, with the notable exception of the aggrieved priests’ families who became aware that Kagame’s Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) was indeed responsible. Evidence from confidential UN documents has shown the RPF planned and executed the killings. The priests were targeted because they dared to speak out about the RPF’s post genocide massacres of Hutu civilians. Simard was beaten to death with a hammer and left in a pool of blood. Pinard was shot in the back while giving communion to hundreds of parishioners.
In the intervening years Kagame’s army was accused of killing hundreds of thousands of Rwandan refugees in the forests of neighboring Congo and backing militias in a war that left millions of Congolese dead, yet Canada continued to be geopolitically sympathetic. Not even a tut-tut from Ottawa as Rwanda inflamed a huge swath of African humanity – a country considered the cradle of humankind. Financial and political support continued unabated as Kagame and his military junta enriched themselves on everything from Congolese timber and extortion networks to black mud coltan used in cell phones.
In 2010 shortly before a UN report announced Kagame’s army likely committed genocide in the Congo, Canadian Governor General Michaëlle Jean visited Kigali and asked for atonement. She warmly greeted Kagame and said Canada had failed to respond soon enough during the 1994 genocide. This despite the fact that Kagame warned Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian commander of the UN’s peacekeeping mission in Rwanda, that the RPF would attack any intervening force that dared to deploy troops. On April 30, as the carnage was intensifying and Kagame’s army was militarily gaining ground, RPF officials flatly told the United Nations that it should not authorize a second intervention force; there was no need.
Human rights organizations and international agencies estimated between 500,000 and one million Rwandans died during the violence that ostensibly ended in July. The principle victims were Tutsis targeted for extermination by Hutu extremists, but Hutus considered political obstacles were also killed. An unknown number of Hutu civilians — possibly in the hundreds of thousands – were slaughtered in clandestine operations by Kagame’s troops.
In later years Kagame would revise the narrative and appropriate the status of victim, accusing the international community of abandoning Rwanda during its darkest hour. It was an effective propaganda tool for leveraging guilt, bolstering aid and manufacturing a moral high ground that was fraudulent. Permanent victimhood also helped establish Rwanda as a nation apart, granting it sui generis and allowing the state to flout international law and target perceived opponents within and beyond its borders.
Over the last two decades, to the tune of a half a billion dollars, Canada has willfully backed a government that is as clever and manipulative as it is murderous.
Kagame has now plied Rwanda’s Supreme Court and parliament to amend the constitution so that he can stay in power until 2034. In the meantime, in a bid to silence critics everywhere — even on Canadian soil — he’s strengthened his sinewy intelligence apparatus, where coercion is born and the levers of presidential power fundamentally reside.
In light of this, the question should be asked whether Ottawa will continue to enable the tyranny, as the US and UK have done since 1994, or will it chart an altogether new, principled path?
Creating conditions for genocide
The ancient theologian Saint Augustine wrote that the awful catastrophe is not the end but the beginning. History does not end so. It is the way its chapters open.
When it comes to the ruling RPF where should we start? One could easily start in Uganda in the refugee camps where Rwandan Tutsi families had been driven to in the late 1950s, and that no doubt were a festering blight on history. But for argument’s sake let’s begin in Rwanda in 1994 — when the country’s most frightening chapter in history began.
By that time upwards of a million Hutus had been uprooted from their homes and were living in squalid refugee camps in the north as a result of Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) invading in October 1990. Inside the camps, children played and defecated in the dirt between makeshift shelters dotting Rwanda’s hillsides; mothers scrounged for food and malnutrition and infections were rife.
The camps themselves would become military targets. Alphonse Furuma, a former senior RPF official that fled the country in 2000 said RPA units routinely shelled the refugees using rocket launchers and guns mounted on hilltops, and massacred civilians throughout RPA-controlled territory. Ethnic resentment among Hutus escalated and retaliatory massacres against Tutsis were not uncommon. International right organizations documented the violations against Tutsis, but none — including Human Rights Watch — documented and denounced the systematic war crimes committed by the RPA against Hutus during this period. There is simply no record of these violations. Furuma said that the RPA carried out a scorched earth campaign against Hutu peasants, deliberately destroying their livelihoods and creating a Tutsi land in the north of the country. In the context of this massive displacement, the RPF brought back scores of Tutsis who’d been forced into exile in Uganda from 1959 onward. “I should know,” he said: “because my own family was resettled there.”
Amid the humanitarian crisis, the international community brokered a peace agreement known as the Arusha accords and sent in a UN peacekeeping force to monitor it. The protocols were meant to force the majority Hutu to share political power with the minority Tutsi but the compromise inevitably stuck in the craw of ideologues on opposites ends of the ethnic spectrum. Kagame, like other extremists, sought to undermine the agreement. He wanted absolute power and knew he had to grab it then, since the RPF could never win democratic elections at the end of the transition period, as outlined in Arusha.
Evidence from a confidential UN document suggests that RPF intelligence operatives – or technicians as they were called – quickly organized the assassination of two Hutu politicians, Felicien Gatabazi and Martin Bucyana. The murders had the intended effect: they fomented chaos, entrenched ethnic divisionism and instilled paranoia in the general population; Rwanda was about to catch fire: it just needed a match.
By late March, in violation of the Arusha accords, RPA soldiers had massively infiltrated the capital and were suspected by the United Nations of having secretly transported weapons into Kigali, hidden in trucks covered with wood. At the same time, the Rwandan Hutu army — aided by local authorities — increased their weaponry and drew up lists of people suspected of collaborating with the enemy, according to Human Rights Watch.
On April 6th, shortly after 8 pm, a surface-to-air missile tore into a plane carrying Rwanda’s president Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira, as it was preparing to land at the airport. The downing of Habyarimana’s plane would prove to be apocalyptic; the assassinations unleashed the genocide and would later pave the way for Rwanda’s invasion in the Congo.
Shockingly, the United Nations refused to launch an official inquiry into the plane attack; it wasn’t politically convenient. Yet three independent investigations — two of them truncated — suggested Kagame’s commandos killed the Rwandan president.
An internal investigation at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) led by Australian lawyer Michael Hourigan established that a covert team planned and executed the operation. Hourigan’s findings were based on three informants claiming to be members of an elite RPA group known as ‘the network’. Hourigan and his team of investigators wanted to probe the matter further but were immediately shut down by ICTR’s then chief prosecutor, Louise Arbour.
Another probe was conducted in 2003, under prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, by members of the ICTR’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU). This team interviewed several former RPA members who testified that Kagame and his colleagues James Kabarebe and Kayumba Nyamwasa, along with other senior figures held three preparatory meetings during which they discussed attacking the plane.
The SIU said that Kagame set up a team in charge of the missiles, and that two missiles were placed under guard of the RPA’s High Command unit. The investigators went on to name suspects involved in the planning and execution of the operations, and recommended further investigations. Yet the ICTR failed to follow up.
What is intriguing is that suspects named in a confidential SIU report correlate with those cited in a French inquiry led by anti terrorist judge Louis Bruguière — released a good three years later. Bruguiere, an intrepid man credited with tracking down Carlos the Jackal, concluded in 2006 that Kagame was intent on eliminating Habyarimana in order to seize power and he set up a commando team that accomplished the task. The judge issued arrest warrants against nine senior RPF officials. Rwanda was enraged and severed ties.
In 2007, in a bid to mend relations, France assigned Marc Trévidic to the case. His inquiry, like the previous one, has been marred by accusations of incompetence. Bruguière’s investigation concluded that the missiles fired at the plane were Soviet made and came from Uganda — the RPF’s organic ally. Further obscuring matters — the Trévidic probe decided to simulate acoustic tests in northern France using different missiles — 25H rockets instead of SAM-16s. Despite the technical drawbacks, acoustic experts inferred that the missiles could not have been launched from the RPF-controlled area of Masaka, a deduction that presumably invalidated, to some extent, the findings of Bruguière. Kigali and its allies claimed the report exonerated Kagame. To be fair, the Trévidic inquiry has yet to release its final conclusions but observers remain astonished at the level of investigative floundering.
In November 2014, a former soldier in Kagame’s army who was due to testify as a witness in the French inquiry was kidnapped by suspected Rwandan agents in Nairobi after Trévidic revealed his name in legal documents. Emile Gafirita, who joined the RPA as a child soldier and served in Kagame’s High Command unit for more than a decade, was due to tell the judge that he helped transport the missiles that were used to kill Habyarimana. As soon as his identity was revealed, a French lawyer representing Kagame’s senior officials passed on that information to his clients in Kigali. Gafirita disappeared immediately and has not resurfaced since.
The weight of history
Recognizing this history is important because unlike the former regime that faced justice in the aftermath of genocide, the current regime committed abominable crimes and got away with them. The impunity Kagame has enjoyed for two decades has only fueled his despotism and military misadventures. In Rwanda, we now behold an Orwellian society whose structure is flagrantly artificial, where the ruling class succeeds in clinging to power by force and fraud.
All this matters because millions of lives are at stake in Rwanda, in the Congo and throughout the world, including Canada. These people know the Rwandan government operates like a criminal syndicate where murder, incarceration and protection of elite gains are pillars of policy.
A few recent cases in Canada are worth looking at.
Jean Berchmans Habinshuti is a Rwandan who fled his homeland in 2011 to seek asylum in Canada, where his wife and children had been living for several years.
Normally, his application should have been easy. Habinshuti was the private secretary to Agathe Uwilingiyimana, Rwanda’s former prime minister who was killed by presidential guards the day after president Habyarimana’s plane was shot down. Uwilingiyimana was a well-known Hutu moderate who was highly respected by the international community; she was also the first target of extremist factions of the former ruling MRND party and of the far right CDR vying for power when the chaos ensued. And because Habinshuti was close to Uwilingiyimana, he became a target too. He and his family went into hiding during the genocide.
Uwilingiyimana had been chosen under the Arusha accords to play a role in a future broad-based, transitional government, but she was never sworn in. The genocide began and a new interim government under Jean Kambanda took power. It is selected members of this government — along with former military officials and local authorities — that the ICTR holds responsible for committing genocide in Rwanda.
Habinshuti was never an official in Kambanda’s government. After the genocide he went on to become a member of parliament, was a trusted colleague and later worked for a prominent NGO. He was never once accused of crimes by the ICTR or Rwanda’s Gacaca courts.
But he eventually fell out with RPF officials when he refused to provide false testimony against someone the current regime wanted to frame. He then found himself in danger and fled. He is currently in prison in Ontario, sitting in a cell at Lindsay Superjail, waiting to be deported to Rwanda on November 16th.
How could this possibly happen? A Canadian immigration official with no grasp of Rwandan history determined that Habinshuti was a senior official in a government that committed genocide in 1994 and that he was therefore inadmissible to Canada. That is factually incorrect. Habinshuti worked for a woman who became a martyr and was eliminated as soon as the killings began. He did not hold a senior position or an informal position in which he was able to exercise a significant influence on the actions or politics of a regime that committed genocide.
Shortly after Habinshuti was jailed in May 2014 and awaiting deportation, the Rwandan government sensed an opportunity for political leverage. Twenty years after the genocide — in a world where international justice remains Kafkaesque — Rwanda accused Habinshuti of committing a mother lode of crimes.
“He (Habinshuti ) is suspected of having played a major role in the planning and execution of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi,” Alain Mukuralinda, a spokesman for Rwanda’s National Public Prosecution Authority, told ShanghaiDaily.com.
Mukuralinda said Habinshuti was charged with “genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, complicity in genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, murder and extermination as crimes against humanity.”
If the Canadian Border Services Agency deports Habinshuti on November 16th, Canada will be violating his right to protection under the refugee convention. In other words, Canada will be breaking the law.
Two other cases of Rwandans wishing to join their families in Canada have been stymied because of Canada’s designation that prohibits admission to all members of a government that committed genocide and crimes against humanity.
And yet not every senior official or minister in Rwanda’s interim government during the genocide actually committed crimes. The RPF’s official narrative is that every Hutu is potentially guilty of genocide against Tutsis, and that even Hutu children should atone for their parents’ sins. The RPF’s demonization and objectification of an entire ethnic group has had a devastating impact on the way Hutu refugees are portrayed in mainstream media and treated by governments around the world.
Jérome Bicamumpaka, Rwanda’s former foreign minister and Casimir Bizimungu, former health minister were accused of genocide and complicity to commit genocide, along with other crimes. In 2011, after lengthy ICTR trials, both men were declared not guilty and acquitted of all charges. In theory they should have been able to join their families in Canada but Ottawa’s blanket designation — which should be reviewed for the sake of those found not guilty by international courts — is keeping these families from being reunited.
“It has been painful for all of us,” Bicamumpaka said in an interview from his safe house in Arusha, Tanzania. “There are no words to describe it, really.”
Their cases highlight a significant failure in international law and have reinforced notions of victor’s justice at the UN tribunal, where a succession of chief prosecutors have refused to indict Kagame and his senior commanders despite overwhelming evidence that his troops committed war crimes and genocide in 1994 against Hutu civilians.
Notwithstanding this injustice, Rwandans are cautiously hopeful that Canada’s new government might be bolder and allow a fairer treatment of those seeking protection from a regime that has enjoyed shocking levels of impunity and has silenced critics — through assassination and terror — since it seized power in 1994.