EDITOR, - In his apologia on the genocide in Rwanda R Hugh James is selective to the point of misleading readers.1 For a comprehensive analysis, beyond the limits of this letter, I commend the lucid (horrific) 440 page report by African Rights.2,3 The specific points that James raises should, however, be answered before they become received wisdom.
Firstly, he advances the now discredited simplistic view that ethnic antagonism explains the genocide. In fact, the first people to die were the Hutu leaders of opposition parties.
Secondly, he fails to explain why "hundreds of thousands of Tutsis fled to ... Uganda" 30 years ago. It was because Hutu leaders incited the population against them to the extent that tens of thousands were killed in a series of pogroms lasting seven years. And the reason the children of these "refugees ... formed the Patriotic Front [and] invaded Rwanda" was because they were stateless Rwandan citizens persecuted in Uganda yet denied the right to return to their homeland.
Thirdly, and incomprehensibly, James asks, "Given the presence of a war, is it surprising that there were then massacres?" He ignores the fact that the Arusha Peace Accord formally ended the war eight months previously. By November 1993 it had delivered a broad based transitional government and guaranteed early multiparty elections for next year, when it was expected that the then ruling extremist government would lose power to Hutu opposition parties. The arrangements were seen as a model for the future and offered the prospect of peace and democracy.
Sydney Brandon and Kenneth Craig's snapshot of the situation in Rwanda paints a relatively positive picture, yet the future remains precarious.4 The new government inherited a country with no money, no civil administration, no infrastructure, and 14% of its population dead and 70% displaced. The international donor community remains reluctant to contribute critically essential funds: most aid has been channelled into refugee camps in bordering countries, where nearly two million people remain incarcerated, misinformed and terrorised by their leaders and by killer militias who remain politically and homicidally active.
There is now an overwhelming need to promote methods of mediation and reconciliation between the two groups in a society polarised by the carnage. Physicians for Human Rights (UK) has been meeting various groups in Britain, such as Responding to Conflict, which has experience in Uganda and the former Yugoslavia, in the hope of promoting an initiative in the future. Anyone with skill in this or a desire to help might like to contact me.
Physicians for Human Rights (UK), 57 Parliament Hill, London NW3 2TB.
1. James RH. Reflections on a genocide. BMJ 1994;309:875. (1 October.) [Free Full Text]
2. Dillner L. Human rights group condemns UN in Rwanda. BMJ 1994;309:895. (8 October.) [Free Full Text]
3. African Rights. Rwanda: death, despair and defiance. London: AR, 1994.
4. Brandon S, Craig K. Rwanda after the Holocaust. BMJ 1994; 309:963. (8 October.)