Open Letter to Goucher College on the Suspension of Munyakazi

Below is a letter that was written on behalf of Munyakazi the Rwandan Professor of French at Goucher College, who was dismissed for allegations of having taken part in the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. It is addressed to the college’s president, and has very useful information for anyone interested in learning more about the discrepancies in this case, and the handling of the Congolese situation. It raises extremely interesting points for those examining this case. Writers of the letter are encouraging everyone to send this letter to the president of Goucher college (president at goucher dot edu) including name and city/state/country of sender in solidarity.

Dear Mr. President,

I am writing this note to express my disappointment with your removal/suspension of Mr. Munyakazi as French professor at Goucher College. Especially disheartening is the fact that Mr. Munyakazi was removed from his professorship based on unsubstantiated allegations. At the same time, I would like to commend your perspicacious views that were expressed in the New York Times article, On Trail of War Criminals, NBC News Is Criticized, regarding the independence and objectivity being applied to this case (1). It is increasingly clear that anyone who expresses any dissenting opinion from that of the Rwandan Government is accused of being a Genocidaire. According to the same New York Times article, allegations against Mr. Munyakazi were written after he made a speech contradictory to that of the Rwandan Government’s version on the genocide of 1994 (1).

In a country that prides itself on freedom of speech especially in erudite institutions, it is surprising that an unsubstantiated accusation leads to the suspension of a professional. This is to an extent, a contradiction to the first Amendment of the American Constitution. Once the truth about this case comes to light, one could effectively avoid a major disaster for involved parties. Like other cases before Mr. Munyakazi, this instance may simply be a matter of the Rwandan Government looking to silence one of its critics.

For instance, in 2005, a former Rwandan Minister, Juvenal Uwilingiyimana experienced a series of disturbing occurrences related to his role in the Rwandan Genocide. While he was not directly accused of having perpetrated genocide crimes, Uwilingiyimana was coerced into providing false testimony against his former colleagues. When he refused, his body was found after a mysterious death (2). Furthermore, in 2006, Dr. Vincent Bajinya was also falsely accused of partaking in genocide crimes in 1994 by a reporter working for the BBC. He was fired from his job, and his life practically ruined. An independent investigation into his indictment discovered a Rwandan Government’s network of people whose purpose is to scout any dissenting opinions abroad and silence them (3). Could Mr. Munyakazi also be a victim of these networks?

More troubling is that even Americans who dare to contradict the Rwandan Government’s storyline are labeled genocidaires. Case in point, Dr. Peter Erlinder an outspoken critic of the Rwandan Government, has been accused by president Kagame of being a Genocidaire (4). Consider also the case of former US Ambassador to Burundi. Mr Krueger has been accused of providing weapons to Rwanda’s opposition rebels. These preposterous claims have never been substantiated (5). Such silencing tactics are employed to prevent the world from learning about the Rwandan Government’s continuing atrocities against Rwandan and Congolese people. It is regrettable that your college has inadvertently become complicit with the Rwandan Government’s punitive quest to suffocate, silence, kill, and torture anyone who may denounce their crimes against humanity.

It is extremely important to note that through two independent investigations, the Rwandan Government was indicted for war crimes, and crimes against humanity by anti terrorist French Judge Bruguière in 2006 (6), as well as Spanish judge Andreu Merelles in 2008 (7). Also in 2008, when Human Rights Watch called for the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda to end the culture of impunity, and prosecute Rwandan Government officials’ involvement in the Rwandan Genocide, Human Rights Watch’s top official Alison Des Forge was banned from entering Rwanda (8). Curiously enough, additional testimonies from former Rwandan Patriotic Army officers have surfaced detailing high ranking Rwandan officials’ war crimes during the Rwandan genocide in 1994 (9), (10).

Everyday numerous reports from the likes of the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, and other independent journalists are surfacing detailing the Rwandan Government’s involvement in the on-going genocide against the Congolese people. So far, an estimated six million lives have been lost. Among violent crimes being detailed by UN reports at the hands of Rwandan officials and their proxies are rape as a weapon against countless women, sodomizing teenage boys by forcing them to have sex with their own mothers before they are hacked to death, the use of child soldiers (11), amputations, displacement of millions of Congolese people (12), the destruction of Rwandan refugee camps claiming over 300,000 lives in a matter of several months (13), and committing massacres such as the ones in Kibeho in 1995 (14), just to name a few. Perpetrators of such crimes should not be allowed by the civilized world the moral high ground to judge anyone.

It is disheartening and frankly discouraging to learn that such a government has succeeded in making Goucher College take an action that may be unnecessary and could potentially ruin one’s professional life. Please consider looking into the actual facts surrounding Mr. Munyakazi’s suspension. I strongly believe that you will find him to be a victim of the Rwandan Government’s punitive actions against those whose opinions deviate from their official story line. This government is determined to fight, suppress and better yet, eliminate anyone or anything that would provide light to the world into its own crimes in the Great Lakes region of Africa. It is deplorable that the Rwandan Government has found a way of making your institution a victim in their global attempts to remove any dissenting opinions. However, I am confident that this case will be an opportunity for your institution to understand some additional elements of the Rwandan tragedy. Your reaction to the way this case was handled is commendable and I encourage you to remain impartial in this matter.

Should anyone in your college be interested in learning more, the following links will provide references to a rich documentation from reputable organizations and agencies about the topic.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Notes:

1. February 10, 2009; New York Times, NBC’S On Trail of War Criminals; by Brian Stelter

2. Former Rwandan Minister Juvenal Uwilingiyimana’s letter to the ICTR prosecutor

3. Rwandan Government sets up networks to scout dissenting voices and silence them

4. The Real Authors of the Congo Crimes. Nkunda has been arrested but who will arrest Kagame? By Dr Peter Erlinder

5. Former US Ambassador to Burundi Mr Krueger Interview

6. French Warrant seeks associates of Rwanda’s Kagame; by Reuters

7. Spain indicts 40 Rwandan officers, Los Angeles Times

8. Rwanda: End Bar on Human Rights Watch Staff Member; by Human Rights Watch

9. Former RPA Officers and President Kagame’s body guard Abdul Ruzibiza’s Testimony

10. Major General Paul Kagame behind the shooting down of late Habyarimana’s plane: an eye witness testimony, 2nd Lt. Aloys Ruyenzi, Press release, 18 January 2005

11. Lasting Wounds, Human Rights Watch

12. December 2008 UN Report

13. Fuir ou Mourir au Zaire: Le vécu d’une réfugiée rwandaise – To Flee or to Die in Zaire: Tales of a Rwandan Refugee; by Beatrice Umutesi

14. Wikipedia on Kibeho Massacres of April 1995

Other references to consider are under the following links from Amnesty International:

Rwanda: Alarming resurgence of killings

Rwanda: Ending the silence

Rwanda: The hidden violence: “disappearances” and killings continue

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R.I.P. Alison Des Forges

Alison Des Forges was a victim of the recent plane crash near Buffalo New York. From the New York Daily Mail:

The fireball ignited by Flight 3407’s nose-first crash into a suburban Buffalo home raged and smoldered for more than 12 hours after the plane dropped from the sky without warning Thursday night.

“This is a tragic day in the history of New York,” said Gov. Paterson after meeting with some of the victims’ family members. “This is a difficult hour for the families.”

Among the 44 passengers aboard the flight from Newark was a 9/11 widow flying to Buffalo for a celebration of her late husband’s 58th birthday, officials said.

So was Alison Des Forges, a senior adviser with the Human Rights Watch and an expert on Rwandan affairs, Paterson said.

It is extremely saddening due to the work she was doing. While Alison Des Forge was a victim of the RPF propaganda in the past, she was increasingly an outspoken critic of the Rwandan government, and against all of their human rights violations both in Rwanda and DRC.

UPDATE: Human Rights Watch has released a commemorative press release for Alison Des Forges. A french version can be found here.

Human Rights Watch Mourns Loss of Alison Des Forges

Leading Rwanda Expert Killed in Plane Crash

(New York) – It is with enormous sadness that Human Rights Watch announces the death of our beloved colleague Dr. Alison Des Forges, who was killed in the crash of Flight 3407 from Newark to Buffalo on February 12, 2009. Des Forges, senior adviser to Human Rights Watch’s Africa division for almost two decades, dedicated her life to working on Rwanda and was the world’s leading expert on the 1994 Rwanda genocide and its aftermath.

“Alison’s loss is a devastating blow not only to Human Rights Watch but also to the people of Rwanda and the Great Lakes region,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “She was truly wonderful, the epitome of the human rights activist – principled, dispassionate, committed to the truth and to using that truth to protect ordinary people. She was among the first to highlight the ethnic tensions that led to the genocide, and when it happened and the world stood by and watched, Alison did everything humanly possible to save people. Then she wrote the definitive account. There was no one who knew more and did more to document the genocide and to help bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Des Forges, born in Schenectady, New York, in 1942, began working on Rwanda as a student and dedicated her life and work to understanding the country, to exposing the serial abuses suffered by its people and helping to bring about change. She was best known for her award-winning account of the genocide, “Leave None to Tell the Story,” and won a MacArthur Award (the “Genius Grant”) in 1999. She appeared as an expert witness in 11 trials for genocide at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, three trials in Belgium, and at trials in Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Canada. She also provided documents and other assistance in judicial proceedings involving genocide in four other national jurisdictions, including the United States.

Clear-eyed and even-handed, Des Forges made herself unpopular in Rwanda by insisting that the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front forces, which defeated the genocidal regime, should also be held to account for their crimes, including the murder of  30,000 people during and just after the genocide. The Rwandan government banned her from the country in 2008 after Human Rights Watch published an extensive analysis of judicial reform there, drawing attention to problems of inappropriate prosecution and external influence on the judiciary that resulted in trials and verdicts that in several cases failed to conform to facts of the cases.

“She never forgot about the crimes committed by the Rwandan government’s forces, and that was unpopular, especially in the United States and in Britain,” said Roth. “She was really a thorn in everyone’s side, and that’s a testament to her integrity and sense of principle and commitment to the truth.”

Des Forges was not only admired but loved by her colleagues, for her extraordinary commitment to human rights principles and her tremendous generosity as a mentor and friend.

“Alison was the rock within the Africa team, a fount of knowledge, but also a tremendous source of guidance and support to all of us,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “She was almost a mother to us all, unfailingly wise and reasonable, absolutely honest yet diplomatic. She never seemed to get stressed out, in spite of the extreme violence and horror she had to deal with daily. Alison felt the best way to make things better was to be relentlessly professional and scrupulously fair. She didn’t sensationalize; her style was to let the victims speak for themselves.”

Corinne Dufka, another colleague who worked closely with Des Forges, wrote: “She always found the time to listen and helped me see outside the box. Alison inspired me to be a better researcher, a better colleague, a more giving mentor and a more balanced human being. She was also funny – her sardonic sense of humor, usually accompanied with that sparkle in her eye, lightened our burden.”

An historian by training, Des Forges wrote her PhD thesis on Rwanda and spent most of her adult life working on the Great Lakes region, despite an early stint in China with her husband, Roger, a professor of history and China expert at the University of Buffalo.

Des Forges graduated from Radcliffe College in 1964 and received her PhD from Yale in 1972. She began as a volunteer at Human Rights Watch, but was soon working full-time on Rwanda, trying to draw attention to the genocide she feared was looming. Eventually, Roth had to insist she take a salary. She co-chaired an international commission looking at the rise of ethnic violence in the region and published a report on the findings several months before the genocide. Once the violence began, Des Forges managed to convince diplomats in Kigali to move several Rwandans to safety, including the leading human rights activist Monique Mujawamariya.

As senior adviser to the Africa division at Human Rights Watch since the early 1990s, Des Forges oversaw all research work on the Great Lakes region, but also provided counsel to colleagues across the region and beyond. She also worked very closely with the International Justice Program because of all her involvement with the Rwanda tribunal.

“The office of the prosecutor relied on Alison as an expert witness to bring context and background and detailed knowledge of the genocide,” Roth said. “Her expertise was sought again and again and again by national authorities on cases unfolding in their courts of individuals facing deportation, or on trial for alleged involvement in the genocide.”

Most recently, Des Forges was working on a Human Rights Watch report about killings in eastern Congo.

Des Forges leaves a husband, a daughter, and a son, three grandchildren, a brother and a sister-in-law. The staff of Human Rights Watch expressed their deepest condolences to her family and friends. If you would like to send a message of condolence, please email tribute@hrw.org

We are working to set up a web page to honor Alison Des Forges and her work. Please check http://www.hrw.org/ for details.