Tiphaine Dickson, Lawyer/Scholar
October 18, 2014
Dear Mr. Hall,
Thank you for allowing John Conroy and Jane Corbin to explore this difficult and complex story, and thank you for broadcasting the remarkable results of their investigation.
Allow me to disclose my own history with the issue: In 1997, I became lead defense counsel in the trial of Georges Rutaganda before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. I was the first counsel to petition for the disclosure of the results of the Prosecutor's investigation into the shooting down of President Habyarimana's plane--an act that back in those days was still commonly assumed to have been carried out by Hutu extremists, or even by the President's family. The reaction to my request by the Prosecutor was nothing short of astonishing: "We don't investigate plane crashes or whatever." Yes, the event referred to as having been "the spark" the started the Rwandan genocide was deemed irrelevant, and belittled by the official representative of a Prosecutor whose position was created by the United Nations Security Council.
Conroy and Corbin revisit that key crime in their documentary. They also rely on a number of what I would call witnesses to sketch out what is really an untold (or at least definitely under-told) story. Some of these witnesses ought to be characterized as expert: Professors Davenport, Stam, and Reyntjens, for example, all of whom worked with the prosecutor of the ICTR, and all of whom are highly respected in their field, as well as in their non-Rwandan genocide related scholarship. I am now a scholar and academic in the US, and can inform you that Alan Stam enjoys an excellent reputation as one of the most highly skilled quantitative political scientists in the country. In other words, he is an extremely reliable source where quantitive methodology and numbers are concerned. Other witnesses in the documentary are eyewitnesses, from former Kagame acolytes and comrades, to a Hutu survivor of a perilous life spent as a refugee in both Rwanda, where she was internally displaced, and the Congo, where she was forced to flee.
The questions raised by the documentary are far too rarely addressed, and the main reason explaining the queasy attitude of many journalists to covering the story's more nuanced and troubling aspects is the brutal gatekeeping performed by some of the the very same individuals and groups that have expressed outrage about Conroy and Corwin's contribution to a critical debate. The people who have positioned themselves as experts--with the exception of General Dallaire, who did testify as an eyewitness before the ICTR--were not, contrary to the academics filmed in Rwanda's Untold Story, called upon by the Prosecutor (or the defense) to provide expertise for the court. This may be because the prosecutor did not find that they had relevant expertise to bring to bear to the trials, or that they would be vulnerable in cross-examination due to partiality or other shortcomings on the stand.
I do not and cannot deny that the film may leave people with strong opinions about the events uncomfortable and even angry. The facts, however, fully support Conroy and Corwin's work: Kagame's former close associates turned-opponents most certainly are being assassinated (with impunity); the ICTR has not been forthcoming about the shooting down of the plane, and finally, not only Tutsis were killed in 1994 (and subsequent years). This amply deserves to be said.
This documentary does a great service to freedom of expression, but more than that, it allows a scholarly debate to begin in earnest. I consider myself fortunate that it will be possible for my students to see this film and to challenge their presuppositions about Rwanda. Scholars of politics and history can be grateful to the BBC for broadcasting a nuanced and more scholarly account that will move us beyond a not entirely honest one-sided portrayal of events that arguably supports the impunity that President Kagame enjoys.