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Rwanda: Beyond Reasonable Doubt
Jan 24, 2010 (100124)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"The April 6, 1994 assassination of Rwandan President Habyarimana
was the work of Hutu extremists who calculated that killing their
own leader would torpedo a power-sharing agreement known as the
Arusha Accords. The landmark deal would have ended years of
conflict by creating a broad-based transitional government and an
integrated Rwandan army. ... Despite the far-fetched conspiracy
theories that have circulated over the years, the assassination
plot was relatively straightforward. Colonel Bagosora was
intimately familiar with the president's travel schedule and
sufficiently powerful that the night before the summit, he was
able to change the composition of the Rwandan delegation to
ensure that Army Chief of Staff General Deogratias Nsabimana -
who opposed Bagosora's genocidal plans - would be on the
president's plane." Mutszinzi Report,
The report, released on January 10 and available in full
at http://mutsinzireport.com, including annexes with extensive
documentation, is based on two years of research by a
Rwandan "Committee of Experts Investigation of the April 6, 1994
Crash of President Habyarimana's Dassault Falcon-50 Aircraft."
Some critics will dismiss the report because the committee was
appointed by the Rwandan government. But it presents a wealth of
detailed evidence that should make the conclusion beyond
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a summary analysis of the
report by Gerald Caplan, who notes a number of flaws that "
reduce the authoritativeness of this report." But the cumulative
evidence is overwhelming, he concludes. "the strengths of the
committee's report overwhelmingly outweigh its few, unfortunate
Caplan notes, for example, that "The missiles [that shot down the
plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana on April 6,
1994] could only have been fired from an area near the Kanombe
military camp, the President's home, and the main Kigali airport,
and this entire area was completely controlled by the Rwandan
army. ... This key conclusion by the committee is based on a
large number of eyewitnesses and what it calls ear witnesses,
including pre-genocide Rwandan soldiers, employees of the
adjacent airport where the plane was to land, and soldiers from
UNAMIR and the Belgian Military Technical Cooperation. Perhaps
most significantly, it's also the conclusion of the report
prepared for the committee by Mike Warden and Alan McClue of the
Department of Applied Science, Security and Resilience, Cranfield
University, Defence Academy of the UK."
Although the report indirectly implicates France in later coverups
of the plot, French relations with Rwanda are currently improving.
President Sarkozy is expected to visit Rwanda in February (see
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Rwanda, including links to
recent books on Rwanda, visit
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++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Who killed the president of Rwanda?
by Gerald Caplan
Pambazuka News 466 January 21, 2010
[Gerald Caplan's most recent book is The Betrayal of Africa He
was the principal author of the Organization of African Unity
2000 report Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide, available in pdf
format at: http://www.africa-union.org/Official_documents/reports/Report_rowanda_genocide.pdf
Has one of the great political murder mysteries of our time
finally been solved? I'd say the answer is probably yes, although
we can be confident the solution will be rejected by many.
On the evening of 6 April 1994, just as it was approaching
Kigali, a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana
home from Tanzania was shot down by missiles fired from the
ground. Also on the flight was the president of Burundi, Cyprian
Ntaryamira, as well as several high-level Rwandan political and
military officials. But from the first moment there was no doubt
that the target was Habyarimana. What was in doubt was the
culprit, and on this the debate has raged furiously for the past
almost 16 years.
To most of those who have studied the genocide, commonsense
always pointed to Hutu extremists in the Rwandan government and
military. They passionately opposed the agreement that had been
reached at Arusha, Tanzania, in mid-1993, for power to be shared
among Habyarimana's followers, other political parties, and the
Tutsi-led rebels of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF). To prevent
this betrayal, the extremists had decided on a final solution -
the extermination of the entire Tutsi minority in Rwanda, between
10 and 15 per cent of the population. When Habyarimana was about
to capitulate to international pressure and implement these
power-sharing arrangements, they murdered him and implemented
their carefully-planned genocidal conspiracy.
This analysis seemed logical enough in all respects, but there
has never been an official investigation of the crash or evidence
beyond the circumstantial. In fact, from the first there was an
alternative interpretation. It has always been quite
counter-intuitive and based on dubious foundations, and yet has
been embraced not only among those who deny the genocide
entirely, but also, quite surprisingly, among those who are
hostile for whatever reasons to the RPF and particularly its
long-time leader and now Rwanda president, Paul Kagame.
From the moment the plane crashed, Hutu extremist propagandists,
directed by hate-radio station RTLM and echoed by officials of
the government of France, pointed the finger directly at the RPF.
From time to time, Belgium was implicated by France, as was
Uganda. Uganda's only known connection to the crash was that it
was an English-speaking country where the RPF had originally
formed. But for France, speaking English is evidence enough of
culpability when it comes to Africa.
It's never been entirely clear what motive Kagame could have had
for murdering Habyarimana at the very moment when the president
intended to implement the Arusha Accords. The RPF had been the
huge winner at Arusha, about to receive substantial political and
military power. Conversely, Habyarimana's officials were the
great losers, about to surrender the monopoly on power and
resources they had cherished for the previous two decades. How
could the RPF benefit from the chaos, anarchy and lust for
vengeance that was sure to follow Habyarimana's assassination?
The on-and-off again low-intensity civil war since 1990 had
bogged down in a stalemate; why assume the hot war that was sure
to follow the plane crash would lead to an RPF victory rather
than an RPF rout, especially if France came in behind
But, if attributing the missile attack to the RPF didn't make
much sense, it was extremely functional to the Hutu extremists.
If the RPF was guilty, it meant the attack on the plane was not
the first step in the genocide plan. The killings of the
subsequent 100 days could simply be put down to mass Hutu fury at
the murder of their beloved president, and no genocide would have
taken place. This spin has been the motive driving many of those
who have busily spent the past decade and a half devising a
multiplicity of 'proofs' to pin the evil deed on Kagame and his
The New Report
Now along comes a new document prepared by an 'Independent
Committee of Experts' appointed by the government of Rwanda, with
the explicit title Report of the Investigation into the Causes
and Circumstances of and Responsibility for the Attack of
06/04/1994 against the Falcon 50 Rwandan Presidential Aeroplane
[sic], Registration Number 9xR-NN. The head of the 7-person
committee was Dr Jean Mutsinzi, former Justice of the Supreme
Court of Rwanda, now a judge of the African Court on Human and
Peoples' Rights. The other members are apparently lawyers or
authorities on aircraft matters, but an annex offering their
resumes is not unfortunately part of the commission's report
(which is easily available online at http://mutsinzireport.com).
In my view, the Commission's report is largely persuasive. But
you can immediately see how much more credible it would be if the
members hadn't all been Rwandans appointed by the Kagame
government. I am confident that an independent commission
appointed, say, by the African Union, would have delivered the
same conclusions but with far more credibility. An obvious
precedent was the OAU-appointed independent International Panel
of Eminent Personalities (IPEP) whose report, Rwanda: The
Preventable Genocide[ PDF], has achieved a certain authority. But
I readily acknowledge that genocide deniers, Hutu extremists and
Kagame-haters will reject any and all conclusions that give
Kagame the benefit of the doubt, and the evidence be damned.
Perhaps that's why his government consistently acts on its own,
without waiting for external validation. It did the same with the
report on the role of France in the genocide, delivered by a
panel of Rwandans also appointed by the government and headed by
well-known RPF militant. In my view its report was overwhelmingly
accurate and appropriately damning for France. But I wished they
had asked outside experts like Linda Melvern to undertake that
project, to give it real international credibility. But that is
not the way the Kagame government does things.
We are left, then, to judge the report on the plane crash on its
merits, and in this respect it seems to me to have made a major
contribution to settling the great question of who was
responsible. In a word, the 'Committee of Experts' documents the
logic most of us have accepted since the start. They pin the
blame directly and fully on a group of Hutu extremists who were
simply not prepared to accept the power-sharing provisions of the
Arusha Accords. In this sense, they prove a terrible point: The
very agreement that was to bring harmony to Rwanda led directly
to the genocide. This is a staggering truth for all those
involved in conflict resolution and peace-making to conjure with.
The committee took two years to complete its report, which
contains 169 pages plus many appendixes with countless documents,
plus a ballistics report from staff at the Defence Academy of the
United Kingdom based at Cranfield University. Its members heard
557 witnesses, including former officials of the UN military
mission to Rwanda at the time (UNAMIR), former members of the
Rwandan army and Presidential Guard under Habyarimana; and they
perused post-genocide reports by Belgium, France, and the United
Nations, plus the work of western authors who have studied the
genocide, plus the book written by UNAMIR's head, General Romeo
Dallaire, based on his experiences at the time. While all the
authorities they consulted won't be happy with the way their work
has been used, an overwhelming consensus emerges from the
Committee's research and interviews.
Let me try to summarise briefly the main points of what is often
lengthy, highly technical, and geography-specific material.
1. For months before Habyarimana's assassination on 6 April 1994,
rumours abounded that senior government and military officials in
his own government were determined the Arusha Accords would never
These stories included specific suggestions that
the President would be murdered if he dared to put their
power-sharing arrangements into practice. For years we have known
that radio station RTLM and Kangura, a small publication that
functioned as the voice of Hutu extremism, had publicly stated
that something dramatic was going to happen to Habyarimana in
late March or early April.
In its cover story of December 1993, for example, Kangura
declared that Habyarimana would be assassinated the following
March. General Dallaire and others have cited the threat uttered
at a social occasion on 4 April by Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, a
leader of the extremists widely considered the mastermind of the
genocide. 'The only plausible solution for Rwanda,' Bagosora said
to a small group that included Dallaire's senior Belgian aide,
'appears to be the extermination of the Tutsi.'
What the new report adds to our knowledge is how widespread these
stories were. Dozens of witnesses had heard them beginning late
in 1993 and escalating through the early months of 1994. There
was even a specific rumour that Habyarimana's plane would be shot
down. The President himself had heard such stories, it appears,
as had the French crew that came with the Falcon 50 that
President Mitterrand had gifted to Habyarimana (apparently that's
how a socialist president of France rewarded his favourite
On 6 April Habyarimana flew to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, for a
summit with fellow regional presidents. (The Burundian president,
who had no luxury jet, made the fatal mistake of later hitching a
ride home with Habyarimana via Kigali.) That summit is usually
described as focusing on Rwanda. In fact, the new report informs
us, it was about the unstable situations in both Rwanda and
Burundi. Habyarimana began the meeting by telling his peers that
he was implementing Arusha two days later, and the rest of the
day was spent discussing Burundi's extremely turbulent political
But if Habyarimana was aware of threats against his plane, why
did Habyarimana agree to fly to Dar es Salaam that day? He could
simply have told them by phone or through an emissary of his
intentions to introduce the Arusha arrangements. Why did his
pilots agree to fly him there? Why did some of the leading
plotters against him, like his brother-in-law Colonel Elie
Sagatwa, an extremist Hutu ironically in charge of the
president's personal security, agree to accompany him? All went
down to their fiery deaths on 6 April, yet all apparently were
aware of the risk. It is a glaring omission in the report that it
never asks this obvious question, let alone attempts in any way
to answer it.
Still, the fact remains that Hutu extremists were known to be
furious at Habyarimana and were determined to stop the
implementation of the Arusha Accords. Since the President
announced explicitly on 2 April that he intended to swear in a
new broadly-based coalition government on 8 April, it has always
been logical to assume that attacking the plane on 6 April was
the execution of their plan.
2. The RPF couldn't have infiltrated anti-aircraft missiles and
missile launchers into Kigali. It could not have smuggled them
into Parliament, where an RPF contingent was temporarily
billeted, as agreed by the Arusha Accords.
It could not have then
snuck them to the area where those who blame the RPF claim the
missiles were fired. The committee establishes persuasively that
both UNAMIR (United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda) and
above all the Rwandan army maintained very close surveillance of
the RPF troops holed up in the parliament building, and these
monitors could not possibly have missed the activity required to
bring the missiles in, set them up and fire them.
The committee also shows that the alleged firing area was
constantly patrolled by Rwandan troops and no RPF soldiers
carrying missiles and launchers could have infiltrated the area
without being spotted.
3. The missiles could only have been fired from an area near the
Kanombe military camp, the President's home, and the main Kigali
airport, and this entire area was completely controlled by the
This is the area where Rwandan soldiers suddenly
refused UNAMIR to enter during the day on 6 April. This key
conclusion by the committee is based on a large number of
eyewitnesses and what it calls ear witnesses, including
pre-genocide Rwandan soldiers, employees of the adjacent airport
where the plane was to land, and soldiers from UNAMIR and the
Belgian Military Technical Cooperation. Perhaps most
significantly, it's also the conclusion of the report prepared
for the committee by Mike Warden and Alan McClue of the
Department of Applied Science, Security and Resilience, Cranfield
University, Defence Academy of the UK.
The online documentation of the committee's work includes the
formal contract that the committee signed with the two
researchers, so that every part of it is transparent. In turn,
the two presented a 109-page paper, often extremely technical,
which concludes that the missiles must have been fired from the
Kanombe area. Beyond dispute, this area was wholly controlled by
Rwandan government forces. So the missiles were not fired from
the area where those who blame the RPF say they came from, and
they were fired from the area where only government soldiers (and
French soldiers) could go.
It is hard to imagine staff at the Defence Academy of the UK
exaggerating or falsifying their conclusions. It, therefore,
seems to me that this independent ballistics report adds great
credibility to the findings of the Committee of Experts, with
which it of course concurs.
4. The committee shows that the Rwandan army possessed the kind
of surface-to-air missiles that might have shot down the Focus
50, even though earlier reports, especially from France, claimed
they did not.
Conversely, it shows that the repeated assertion by
those who blame the RPF - that Kagame's rebels received the
missiles from Uganda (who got them from Russia) - is wrong and
based on a deliberate deception at the time by Rwandan government
soldiers, which enemies of the RPF have been only too happy to
5. Colonel Theoneste Bagosora is named as the instigator both of
the attack on Habyarimana's plane and the genocide that it
triggered, as planned.
This corroborates the widespread view of
Bagosora's role by everyone from General Dallaire to many of the
historians of the genocide to the justices at the International
Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, who found Bagosora guilty
of genocide and sentenced him to life imprisonment.
6. In the process of their report, the committee does a useful
job of discrediting the hatchet job performed on the RPF by
French Judge, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, in his own 2006 report on the
Bruguiere, following completely the script long
favoured by the French establishment, baldy accused Kagame and
the RPF of shooting down the plane in order, somehow, to take
power in Rwanda.
Bruguiere's research was always problematic, to say the least. He
relied on alleged eyewitness who were dissident Tutsi RPF
members, with plenty of motive to malign the RPF. Some of these
have since recanted their accusations against Kagame and the RPF
or claim they never said what Bruguiere claims they said. And
while the judge, remarkably, never went to Rwanda to investigate
the crash site or to interview anyone in the RPF government or
army whom he indicted, he did go to Arusha to interview men being
held by the ICTR for their alleged role in the genocide.
This included Colonel Bagosora himself, who even before his
formal conviction was almost universally believed to have been a
leader of the genocide. At one stage Bruguiere writes of a
particular matter: 'The real nature of the message.was also
confirmed by the evidence in Arusha from former FAR soldiers
[Habyarimana's army].' He names four of these soldiers, including
Colonel Theoneste Bagosora. This would be akin to asking P. W.
Botha about apartheid and not asking Nelson Mandela.
7. France's cynical hand is felt throughout the committee's
report, as indeed it must be in any recounting of the genocide.
French soldiers were allowed in to the Kanombe military base on 6
April, while Belgian UNAMIR soldiers were not. French soldiers
were at the plane wreck within moments, going through the debris
and looking for the black box, which they removed. French
officials scrupulously followed the original extremist Hutu line
of blaming the Belgians, along with the RPF, for the missile
attack. When the accusation against the Belgians had lost any
credibility, President Mitterrand's senior Africa advisor, his
chief of staff and the French ambassador to Rwanda all accused
the RPF of responsibility.
During the French parliamentary inquiry into the France's role in
the genocide, French officials were anxious to implicate the
Ugandan government in the plane attack. Never did they suggest
that their close allies among the Hutu extremists, many of whom
have long been hiding in France, may have had the slightest
As one former western diploma has put it, 'In an ideal world,
France would apologise to Rwanda, put 20 former senior French
officials in the dock, and extradite 15 or 20 genocidaires living
in France.' We will see whether the recent France-Rwanda
rapprochement will usher in a more ideal world.
The report of the Committee of Experts could have been better
(although I dare say this is true of every report ever written).
The organisation and the writing are sometimes confusing. Loose
ends are left hanging, not least obscure references to three
'whites' who somehow might have been involved in the attack on
Habyarimana's plane. At times it seems the plot to assassinate
the president was hatched in late 1993, elsewhere that it all
happened in the first few days of April 1994. It fails to analyse
why Habyarimana agreed to fly to Dar es Salaam on 6 April even in
the face of explicit death threats.
Despite an obvious attempt to be objective, its biases
occasionally slip out. The committee asserts that 'the practice
of genocide against the Tutsi' was initiated by the first
Hutu-dominated government in the early 1960s, and that 1994 was
'the final stage of genocide'. This is bad, partisan history that
is accepted by no reputable historians of whom I'm aware. The
fact is the massacres launched against the Tutsi after 1959
stopped after Habyarimana's coup in 1973 and didn't begin again
until 17 years later, with the RPF invasion of Rwanda. Those
early killings were terrible, but they were just that -
massacres, pogroms, not the first stage in a 45-year plan to
exterminate all Tutsi. The final genocidal plot only began some
time after the 1990 RPF invasion.
These flaws reduce the authoritativeness of this report. They
will be jumped all over by those who will never accept any
conclusion that fails to blame Kagame and the RPF for
Habyarimana's murder. So there's no point whatever in trying to
prove anything else to these deniers and extremists. They have no
interest in the truth.
But for those genuinely searching for the most convincing answer
to this great political murder mystery, the strengths of the
committee's report overwhelmingly outweigh its few, unfortunate
flaws. Of course it would still be best to have the definitive
report by a truly independent group of international experts. But
until we do, the conclusions of this report should stand. And if
there ever were an independent external study, I'm confident its
conclusions would echo those of this Rwandan committee of
'We know who shot Habyarimana's plane down. We know why they did
it. We know how they did it. And we know that they came within an
inch of success in their diabolical plan. Before they were
defeated, the Hutu extremists who assassinated President
Habyarimana wiped out thousands of decent Hutu who wouldn't go
along with their fiendish plot and three-quarters of their
country's Tutsi. The attack on the president's plane was the
opening shot in one of the purest genocides of the past 100
years, launched for no better reason than the greed of a few
power-hungry Hutu fanatics. It was one of the greatest man-made
tragedies of our time.'
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