Fergal Keane: Will we ever learn the truth about this genocide?

Rwanda is a story from another lifetime, unable to compete with Iraq and Afghanistan
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The Independent Online

In the months leading up to the explosion of genocide in Rwanda in April 1994, human rights groups, diplomats and UN peacekeepers were warning of the danger of large-scale killing. Here is what the human rights organisation Africa Watch wrote:

"The perpetrators, high within government circles, had made meticulous plans. A radio station under their control, Radio Mille Collines, had been whipping up anti-Tutsi hysteria for months. Secret arms caches were kept ready for use by government soldiers and the party militia, the core cadre of which had been trained in the tactics of slaughter. Lists of Tutsis and their Hutu sympathisers had been compiled for targeting. Only a trigger was needed."

None of this would have escaped the attention of the leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, Major General Paul Kagame. Like everybody else watching Rwanda closely, he would have been well aware that Rwanda was a tinderbox. Any violent action by a group linked to the Tutsi minority could provoke a terrible response from the Hutu extremists.

And it is this which makes the allegations from the French judge Jean-Louis Bruguière so potentially devastating if proved to be true. It is an important "if". As yet, nobody has seen the evidence which Judge Bruguière has gathered, let alone tested it in open court. What we have had are leaks, including one which came shortly before the tenth anniversary of the genocide, a development many observers believed was more than coincidental, and which infuriated Rwanda as survivors prepared to mourn the dead. In essence, Paris is alleging that Paul Kagame and senior colleagues not only murdered two heads of state (Burundi's president was also travelling on the plane) but threw a match on a bonfire they knew to be soaked in petrol.

When the French first made these charges several years ago, President Kagame reacted with outrage. One consequence was a Rwandan commission of inquiry into the role of France in supporting the old genocidal regime. French support for the Hutu regime has been well documented. It included military and intelligence support that helped keep President Juvénal Habyarimana in power. Human rights groups have criticised the French for failing to conduct any top level investigation into the country's links with the genocidal forces.

Some observers and supporters of Mr Kagame will see the latest French allegations as an attempt to distract attention from France's own role in 1994. Judge Bruguière is a man renowned for his toughness and independence of mind. Over the past decade he has emerged as probably the leading anti-terrorist judge in Europe. But given the secrecy surrounding the Bruguière investigation, apart from his selected leaks to the French media, it has been impossible for observers to get any idea of what further evidence he may have gathered.

Will any of this ever come before a French or United Nations court? The short-term verdict must be that it is highly unlikely. The head of the UN tribunal has already declared the assassination of President Habyarimana to be outside the court's mandate. Investigators who did look at the matter for the UN have claimed their inquiries were shut down on orders from above.

The UN court's mandate finishes in two years and nobody close to the process believes there is much chance of any indictments against Paul Kagame or any other RPF representative before then. And given the past record of French support for the Hutu state there isn't the remotest possibility of any Rwandan co-operation with a judicial process launched from Paris.

An independent inquiry would not alter the fact that a campaign of extermination was launched against the Tutsi minority and moderate Hutus. But just as we have discovered in painful detail how the genocide was planned and carried out by Hutu extremists, we need to know who was behind the killing of the Hutu president. Was it hardline Hutus opposed to power sharing with Tutsis , as many believed at the time of the genocide, or was it, as Judge Bruguière alleges, the Rwandan Patriotic Front? An independent UN inquiry with full judicial powers might have a chance of determining the truth. Even then it is not certain.

But let me finish on a note of cold realism. I don't believe it will happen. Realpolitik will see to that. Rwanda is a story from another lifetime, haunting those who were close to it, but unable to compete with the political demands of Iraq and Afghanistan. The world is preoccupied with other things. Rwanda is a sideshow now.

The writer is a BBC Special Correspondent