During the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly in April 2020, the US and UK were the only two countries to object to the resolution (74/273) designating 7th April as the International Day of Remembrance of the Genocide Against the Tutsi. The objections of the two countries had to do with the terminology “Genocide against the Tutsi”, arguing that the designation wasn’t inclusive enough since “others” were also killed in the genocide in 1994. They argued that this exclusion would under- mine reconciliation. This thinking is fallacious and denialist. Here’s why.
For one thing, the list of other groups killed in Rwanda in April 1994 is long: Hutu civilians, Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA), government forces (FAR), Belgian and Senegalese UN Soldiers (Blue Helmets), etc. Since what is at issue is the reconciliation amongst Rwandans, I limit the scope of this analysis to Rwandans who died in April 1994. In this exercise, RPA and FAR soldiers can also be excluded since they were armed combatants. It is unlikely that the US and UK are referring to RPA and FAR soldiers when they talk about the “others” who should be included among the victims of genocide.
This leaves Hutu civilians who were killed in April 1994 as the “others.” These civilians fall into three main categories:
1) Bystanders (they neither killed nor tried saving those being hunted and didn’t resist the killings; they were killed in crossfire of armed combatants)
2) The heroes and martyrs (they opposed the genocide in words and in deeds and were killed by perpetrators).
3) Perpetrators of the genocide (targeted in revenge killings of some RPA elements)
None of these groups of Hutu civilians was targeted with the intent to eliminate the ethnic group they belong to. In fact, if that had happened, then the categorization would not be necessary since it would be redundant. In other words, although they were killed during the genocide, they didn’t die of genocide. Only those the perpetrators identified as ethnic Tutsi were targeted with the “intent to destroy” their ethnic group. Therefore, you cannot suggest that the “others” get recognized as a target of genocide without suggesting that there was more than one genocide.
Significantly, the position of the UK and the US that excluding “others” in the terminology of victims targeted for genocide would undermine reconciliation cannot stand close scrutiny. If by “others” the UK and US indeed refer to Hutus as a group, the unspoken assumption that the two governments are promoting is the idea that reconciliation has to take place between Hutus and Tutsis as groups, as if these groups were antagonistic. Moreover, if identity-based reconciliation (grievances around race and racism) in their own countries is possible to undertake as a nation rather than along racial lines, then it is also possible to reconcile as Rwandans rather than doing so along ethnic lines. After all, genocide ideology is ethnic supremacy the way racism is race supremacy. Both define peace in terms of subordination and threaten to uproot those who demand equality. If the US and UK were to remain consistent and preach what they practice, then they ought to support reconciliation between perpetrators (and their accomplices) and the rest of society – the nation. The Manichean view that suggests that reconciliation should be an issue between two ethnic groups is simplistic and dangerous.
Indeed, such a simplistic framing suggests that Hutus would be collectively guilty of having committed genocide if the correct terminology “genocide against the Tutsi” were applied. Why the US and UK would entertain such beliefs is beyond reason. In fact, doing so is the standard denialist argument of genocidaires who seek to confound themselves with innocent Hutus in order to evade accountability. The majority of Hutus – those the US and UK are debasing through this ridiculous objection on the terminology – know and admit that they should not be characterised as the victims of genocide in order to be considered innocent. Indeed, although they (along with other Rwandans) assume collective responsibility, commiserate and identify with the survivors of the genocide, they carry no guilt for it since they are not the killers. They also know that the killers want to use them as a cleansing agent. It is the killers who are ascribing guilt to Hutus as a group in order to bring all Hutus to their camp and to incite them to subscribe to their “self-defence” strategy of denial. In doing so, the killers seek to associate them with criminality and to ascribe victimhood onto themselves in order to trade places with survivors.
People who committed the genocide have two identities: one ethnic; the other criminal. Their ethnic identity before they committed genocide was Hutu. However, after committing genocide they renounced their right to belong to any community and assumed the criminal identity of genocidaires or, in Kinyarwanda, Interahamwe (a term that has been extended to all killers, although it originally meant a youth wing militia of the genocidal government). (Ubwoko bwabo batarahemuka).
In other words, one can share ethnic identity with criminals and not the second. To share the first doesn’t imply the sharing of the second. Yet, this is what the UK and the US governments are indirectly implying. By so doing, they are playing from the genocidaires’ handbook.
This strategy isn’t new for the killers. In 1994, when they were inciting ordinary Rwandans to go out and kill, the genocidaires told Hutus that as more of them participated in the killings, it would be impossible to hold any of them accountable. This is exactly what they are doing with the terminology. They believe that by confounding their criminal identity with the Hutu identity they will evade accountability since their crimes get whitewashed. This is identity theft.
How the US and the UK are inciting killers
The US and UK have emboldened the killers to the point that the latter are making claims to political power as representatives of the Hutus. The criminals have been branding themselves “the majority” as if Rwanda is a gangster paradise. In fact, they are – and ought to remain – on the fringes of society and, therefore, far removed from any consideration for political leadership at any level. Those among them who have evaded justice and who show no remorse belong in prison since their criminal identity defines who they are and what they stand for. They ought to take responsibility for their criminality without having to drag others into it.
Moreover, there is no society where criminals are allowed to legitimately organize and pursue political power. But the criminals of the genocide have managed to delude themselves into this possibility because two powerful countries, the UK and the US, have signalled support. Ironically, this is happening when more Hutus are coming out to reject confounding them with criminality; they are demanding that the killers carry their cross. Instead of amplifying these voices to help build an unbreakable, reassuring wall of unity around survivors, the US and the UK are once again feigning ignorance so that one day they get to claim, “We didn’t know.”
Reconciliation and peace cannot come from ambiguity about the 7th of April. It certainly cannot come from confounding Hutus with criminals. The majority of Hutus know that they don’t have to deny the genocide, or to create ambiguity around it – which the designation of “others” does – in order to affirm their innocence. They can, and do, remember the genocide without claiming to be its targeted victims. If the US and UK can hold remembrance for Holocaust victims without feeling that they are excluding other Germans, then to suggest otherwise for Rwanda is to attack the dignity of all Hutus (by associating them with perpetrators of genocide) and make a mockery of the survivors.
The two countries can – and ought to – do better.