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  • Rwanda: L'Histoire Secrète
  • Filip Reyntjens
Ruzibiza, Abdul Joshua . 2005. Rwanda: L'Histoire Secrète. Paris: Editions du Panama. 494 pp. £22.00

In July 1994, when the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) won the war ending the genocide in Rwanda, its victory was portrayed as the triumph of good over evil. Except for a handful of scholars, Rwanda was "discovered" in 1994 through the lens of genocide, and most "newcomer" analysts (the expression comes from Pottier 2002) reasoned in comfortable terms of "good guys" versus "bad guys," the RPF of course being the good guys. A fair example of his presentation can be found in a book by Philip Gourevitch (1998), which was extremely well received and became something of a bible, particularly in [End Page 141] the United States, though it added nothing to our knowledge of the genocide and was a thinly veiled apology for the RPF, whose crimes it systematically minimized or explained away.

An increasing number of Rwandan and expatriate sources from inside and outside the country indicated that—before, during, and after the genocide—the RPF killed tens of thousands of innocent civilians (Des Forges 1999:692–735). From the first days after the RPF's victory, abuse was covered by a conspiracy of silence, induced in part by an international feeling of guilt. An early report by UNHCR consultant Robert Gersony, who estimated that between 25,000 and 45,000 civilians were killed by the RPF between April and August 1994, was suppressed and never released (Des Forges 1999:726–731).

Apart from considerations of guilt and political correctness, several factors explain the conspiracy of silence. On the one hand, most massacres by the RPF occurred discreetly, and investigations were difficult: areas where they were committed were declared "military zones" (closed to outsiders), victims' remains were removed or burned, and regions were closed to access and even air traffic (Smith 1996). On the other hand, observers had an interest in keeping silent: witnesses of NGOs and international organizations feared expulsion, and Rwandans ran the risk of reprisals against themselves or their families. Bradol and Guibert of Médecins sans Frontières denounced a real "law of silence" on the part of the aid organizations: "Closed eyes and mouths are a condition for the perpetuation of these crimes. Apart from the political and juridical impunity automatically offered by the states, the authorities thus benefit from the moral and media impunity resulting from the resignation of the witnesses" (Bradol and Guibert 1997:131). This complicity of silence was enhanced by the "genocide credit" the new regime in Kigali enjoyed. Of course, the genocide is a massive reality with a lasting impact, but it has become a source of legitimacy astutely exploited by the RPF to enjoy impunity.

Reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations, and others have denounced massive violations of international humanitarian law by the RPF. To these denunciations, Ruzibiza's book offers a compelling contribution "from the inside." The author is a Rwandan Tutsi, whose family was killed during the 1994 genocide. A refugee in Burundi, he was a member of the RPF since its creation, and he joined its military wing, the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA), where he became a lieutenant. He fell out with the regime because of its undemocratic behavior and human-rights abuse, and fled Rwanda in 2001. Its precision makes this book so important. Like an officer keeping his field journal, Ruzibiza notes facts in an almost tedious, surgical fashion, without showing much emotion.

He describes three types of abuse. The first relates to the massive killing of Hutu by the RPF in the years preceding the genocide and during the RPF's military advance in 1994. The second concerns massacres committed after the RPF took power, particularly during the insurrection in the Northwest during 1997–1998. The third is smaller in scale: it details the killing of [End Page 142] officials, including officers of the RPF itself. Ruzibiza proceeds in great detail when describing dozens of massacres, involving tens of thousands of victims. He mentions the precise circumstances (for instance adding types of vehicles used and licence plates), the identity of the...


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