- Protesting Too Much:A Response to Linda Melvern et al.
I welcome the opportunity to respond to the complaint by Linda Melvern et al. against my article "NGO Justice: African Rights as Pseudo-Prosecutor of the Rwandan Genocide."1 Before addressing its substance, I have three preliminary remarks. First, it is unclear why plaintiffs would have a right of reply to an article that is not about them or their work, but about an NGO with which they do not claim any association. Significantly, Rakiya Omaar, the former co-director of that NGO, remains silent, while Alex de Waal, her colleague, has published a veiled apology.2 Plaintiffs protest too much, methinks.
Second, plaintiffs' initiative is a part of a broader phenomenon3 in which "Friends of Rwanda" in the West4 denounce and intimidate (copies of the complaint were sent to my employer and sponsor) anybody who dares to criticize the Rwandan government, or challenge the official version of the [End Page 466] events of 1994. Some of these "friends," among them Melvern, recently have been decorated by Rwandan President Kagame for their "outstanding friendship."5
Third, Melvern is known not only for her contributions to the New Times,6 a mouthpiece of the Rwandan government, but also for writing "letters to the editor" to criticize others and promote her own views.7 Sadly, she tends to misread those she disagrees with. Stephen Wertheim, a highly regarded scholar, has accused her of distorting his arguments and falsely quoting his work,8 and Fergal Keane of the Guardian called her critique of the film, Shooting Dogs "misleading."9
II. COMPLAINT AND RESPONSE
The complaint is a smoke and mirrors distraction from the fact that African Rights (AR) was coopted by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in April to July 1994; that Rwanda: Death, Despair and Defiance10 was produced with indispensable—but undisclosed—support from the RPF; that Death, Despair and Defiance was influential in shaping and documenting an easily consumable one-sided narrative of the Rwandan conflict; and that AR has been bankrolled by the RPF since the late 1990s. Instead of addressing these facts, plaintiffs react indignantly, misread my article, and resort to irrelevant counter-accusations.
A. Genocide Denial
In an interview with the New Times, Melvern states that her "life is dedicated to [combating genocide denial], wherever it arises."11 Sure enough, [End Page 467] the email accompanying the complaint denounces "NGO Justice" for being "a vehicle for genocide denial."
However, "NGO Justice" is not about the Rwandan genocide, and nowhere does the article doubt, minimize, or trivialize the organized killing of hundreds of thousands of Tutsi. The first sentence of Part II unambiguously states that "The Rwandan civil war and genocide against the Tutsi minority began in April 1994 and ended in July when the Tutsi dominated RPF declared victory."12
Furthermore, genocide denial is a crime in Rwanda punishable by up to life imprisonment; and as most observers know, the laws against "divisionism" and "genocide ideology" are the government's tools of choice to suppress dissent.13 By making the accusation, plaintiffs align themselves with Kigali's efforts to suppress any challenge to the official version of the events of 1994.14
B. Genocide Conspiracy
Plaintiffs accuse "NGO Justice" of denying that the genocide against the Tutsi was carefully planned in advance. Again, "NGO Justice" is not about the genocide. The article simply notes the acquittal by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda of the so-called "masterminds" of the genocide of conspiracy charges. The part of the complaint where plaintiffs defend the conspiracy narrative is therefore irrelevant. Even de Waal has come around on this point: the genocide was "a hastily improvised policy, cobbled together a few days after the assassination of Habyarimana." The conspiracy narrative was "forged in the heat of the moment, became the dominant narrative, and indeed it is the basis of the state ideology of President Paul Kagame."15
Plaintiffs take issue with my reference to African Rights as "pseudo-prosecutor" of the Rwandan genocide. They claim that AR's mandate was not different from the mandate of other human rights organizations...