By Eric Vandebroeck and co-workers

The Rwandan genocide is widely acknowledged by genocide scholars to have been one of the biggest modern genocides, as many sources point to the sheer scale of the death toll as evidence for a systematic, organized plan to eliminate the victims, yet nevertheless, there are those who spread disinformation and denial, a tactic also recently used by the authorities in Myanmar.

It also doesn't come as a surprise that heading to its 26th Commemoration Rwanda has kicked off 2020 battling denial and trivialization of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi at the international level.

Not to mention the actuality that the French Court is soon to rule on Habyarimana assassination (a subject we cover underneath) by 4 July 2020.

Having covered the subject as well as we could in 2003, in particular also the French side (which contradicts a disputed article in the Larousse Junior edition 2020) it is time to revisit this subject.

In fact, since 2003 there has been a fair share of misleading information, so for example in The Politics of Genocide (2010), writers Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, while not denying the scale of the killing during the period of extreme violence of April–July 1994, questioned the distribution of the victims for those months, arguing among others that Hutus comprised the majority of the dead, not Tutsis.

Africa specialist Gerald Caplan rightfully criticized Herman and Peterson's account, charging that "why the Hutu members of the government 'couldn't possibly have planned genocide against the Tutsi' is never remotely explained". Herman and Peterson's position on the genocide was found "deplorable" by James Wizeye, first secretary at the Rwandan High Commission in London. Adam Jones has compared Herman and Peterson's approach to Holocaust denial a term rejected by said authors.

This while U.S. officials in Rwanda had been warned more than a year before the 1994 slaughter began that Hutu extremists were contemplating the extermination of ethnic Tutsis, according to a review panel’s released transcript and declassified State Department documents obtained by Foreign Policy from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

An August 1992 diplomatic cable to Washington, written by Joyce Leader, the U.S. Embassy’s deputy chief of mission in Kigali, cited warnings that Hutu extremists with links to Rwanda’s ruling party were believed to be advocating the extermination of ethnic Tutsis. On the morning the killing began in April 1994, there was little doubt about what was happening in Rwanda.

A good example of the denial campaign could be seen when a few weeks before the tenth anniversary of the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi, in March 2004, a news story on the front page of Le Monde caused a sensation. It claimed to have untied a Gordian knot, and offered new information about who assassinated President Habyarimana on Wednesday, 6 April 1994. The paper announced that after six years of investigation, a French judge determined that the responsibility belonged to the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) and that the current president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, gave the order.1

The story was timed to perfection, dominating the coverage of the anniversary and continuing into the following weeks. The information had come from the office of a French investigating magistrate, Judge Jean-Louis  Bruguière, who, in March 1998, began an inquiry on behalf of the families of the three French aircrews whose salaries were paid by the French state and who had died in the missile attack on the Falcon jet. Le Monde claimed the judge had ‘hundreds of witnesses’ including dissidents, who had spoken of a ‘network commando’, a hit squad that was under the orders of Kagame and responsible for the attack.

The newspaper quoted a  key witness, Abdul Ruzibiza, who explained, ‘Paul Kagame did not care about the Tutsi living in Rwanda, and they had to be eliminated.’ Ruzibiza revealed how he had helped to stake out the location for the assassins at a farm in Masaka some four kilometers from the airport. He saw them arrive in a Toyota, the missiles hidden in the back under rubbish and empty cardboard boxes. Ruzibiza eventually wrote a book which, published in 2005 at over 400 pages, provided a  litany of alleged RPF human rights violations.2

When Le Monde published its scoop, the trial of Bagosora had been underway for two years at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). This new element was quickly introduced into the courtrooms and used to support the idea that Hutu Power was the victim of a monster plot and that a French judge had proved it. The story in Le Monde supported the claims already suggested in the trial that the killing was an angry reaction to the death of the president.3

After the publication of his report two years later, on 17 November 2006, Bruguière wrote to Kofi Annan, UN secretary-general, to ask the then prosecutor of the ICTR, Carla Del Ponte, to take action. He lobbied Del Ponte to put Kagame and the RPF in the dock. The reaction at the ICTR came from spokesperson Everard O’Donnell, who told excited reporters the court was of the opinion that the assassination did not cause the genocide.4 In response to the publication of the full report, the Rwandan government severed diplomatic relations with France.

Later in November, Judge Bruguière issued international arrest warrants for nine members of the RPF he deemed responsible for the assassination. As a classified cable from the US embassy in Paris informed the state department in Washington, the judge could simply have gone to Rwanda and asked to interview the nine rather than make them the objects of international arrest warrants.5 All nine were currently serving in senior government positions in the government. Kagame himself was immune from prosecution under French law as a head of state.

In early 2007, Judge Bruguière met the US ambassador, Craig Roberts Stapleton, in Paris. The judge admitted to Stapleton that he consulted President Jacques Chirac before issuing the warrants to ensure the French government was prepared for a backlash from Rwanda. Bruguière explained that the ‘international community had a moral responsibility’ to pursue justice. Stapleton reported how Bruguière did not hide his personal desire to see the government of Paul Kagame isolated and had warned him that closer US ties with Rwanda would be a mistake. Bruguière casually mentioned that he was standing for a parliamentary seat later in the year and that a cabinet post as minister of justice would be his first choice.6

In the years to come, the story of the guilt of Kagame and the RPF filled books, newspaper articles, and academic research. Not everyone was fooled.7 Colette Braeckman, a member of the editorial board and African editor of the Belgian newspaper Le Soir, said she had heard the story before in an ‘investigation’ produced by an investigator at the ICTR, Michael Hourigan, an Australian prosecutor researching evidence against Bagosora. Witnesses had come forward just as Colonel Théoneste Bagosora made his first appearance in court, in February 1997. They approached investigators in a Kigali bar to say they knew all about the assassination and were part of a secret ‘network’ that was created by Paul Kagame. They were implicated in the assassination, they said.

Strangely, however, none was subject to arrest, and Hourigan told superiors he could not ‘provide any advice as to the reliability’ of these informers.8 Hourigan explained how his team members began to meet former members of the defeated Rwandan army in Kenya and Europe who urged them to investigate another ‘possibility’ and the secretive Paul Kagame. He seemed to believe without question what he was told.

For Braeckman, the only new element in the Le Monde article in March 2004 was testimony provided by Ruzibiza, the star witness. Braeckman met him a year earlier in May 2003 in Kampala, Uganda, at a time when he was peddling information about the assassination. Braeckman had spent the evening with him when he suggested they write a book together and look for finance. Braeckman asked about the topography of the places he mentioned; where had the team of assassins waited?

How did they get there? How long had they waited? Who told them the plane’s arrival was imminent? Ruzibiza was confused, said Braeckman, and unsure of details. She never saw him again and was told later he had gone to Paris. Braeckman thought the French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) picked him up and until the story broke in Le Monde, she had no news of him.9 Braeckman may not have known that a year earlier, Ruzibiza had been in touch with investigators from the ICTR, and had given a statement in Kampala in May 2002.10

One claim in the Bruguière report cast doubt on all the others, calling into question the thoroughness of his ongoing investigation. In his report, Judge Bruguière accused the RPF of the earlier assassination in February 1994, only weeks before the genocide of the Tutsi began, of the popular, moderate and conciliatory politician Félicien Gatabazi. Gatabazi was shot three times in the back as he ran from his vehicle to escape his killers. Bruguière claimed he had information from witnesses, and took this information at face value. As a result, he failed to acknowledge an investigation carried out by three members of an international unit of sixty civilian police officers from the UN Civilian Police (CIVPOL), a component of the UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR). Their inquiries had shown Hutu Power operatives killed Gatabazi and the assassination was the subject of a high-level cover-up in an attempt to blame the RPF. Two vital witnesses, a female taxi driver and a driver for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) who saw the killers make a getaway, died soon afterward, one in a grenade attack the following day and the other in a supposed suicide.

The CIVPOL officers had cooperated with the public prosecutor, François-Xavier Nsanzuwera, who conducted his own inquiries into the murder of Gatabazi immediately after the event. On 28 March, two CIVPOL officers witnessed his arrest of Faustin Rwagatera, the manager of the Las Vegas bar in Kigali who operated his own gang of Interahamwe, was a brothel-keeper, and allegedly accompanied the assassins. He was spotted with four suspects, three of the Presidential Guards.

When Rwagatera refused to provide information about the murder, Nsanzuwera charged him with obstruction of justice and sent him in handcuffs to the 1930 prison. Immediately afterward, Nsanzuwera received a death threat and wrote the next day to General Augustin Ndindiliyimana, the head of the gendarmerie, for immediate protection.11 At the same time, the minister of defense, Major-General Augustin Bizimana, warned the CIVPOL officers to find a ‘new orientation’ in their work.

Despite these attempts at the highest level to prevent their investigation, the CIVPOL police inspectors continued to make headway. They obtained access to the white Mitsubishi that Gatabazi had abandoned that night, fleeing a hail of bullets. The police officers retrieved four cartridges from the vehicle from R-4 rifles used by both Rwandan gendarmes and the army.

The CIVPOL investigation was further hampered by the Centre de Recherche Criminelle et de Documentation (CRCD), a corrupt criminal investigation branch of the national gendarmerie, a largely incompetent force. An officer of the CRCD refused to hand over an AK-47, complete with a shoulder strap, found hidden near the crime scene. The CIVPOL officers made sure their superior officers were aware of their difficulties and sent regular reports on the Gatabazi inquiry to the head of CIVPOL, Colonel Manfred Bliem, an Austrian police commissioner.12 They copied their information to the UN special representative, the Cameroonian diplomat Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh. Their superiors were informed that in the course of their inquiries they needed to interview senior politicians, army officers, and Presidential Guards and that there was interference with their investigation at the highest possible levels. No one seemed interested.13

Eventually, the CIVPOL police acquired the names of the alleged organizers of the assassination, as well as the identities of four suspects who fired the shots. Nsanzuwera believed that if events in April had not intervened, the case could have gone to trial. Instead, as the genocide of the Tutsi began, the gates of Kigali’s prisons were opened, and Rwagatera was among the hundreds of prisoners released. He went looking for Nsanzuwera, breaking into his house in Rugenge, a residential district in the capital, on Tuesday, 12 April, along with a gang of Interahamwe, and found and killed a student, Médard Twahirwa, Nsanzuwera’s brother-in-law. Nsanzuwera also discovered that gendarmes and Interahamwe had broken into his office and taken away his safe.14 Inside were the files on the murder of Félicien Gatabazi that were now lost for ever.15

If Judge Bruguière had wanted to interview Nsanzuwera on what he knew of the assassination of Gatabazi, again he would have been able to do so. After the genocide, Nsanzuwera went to work in Arusha for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Here he wrote a landmark report on the Interahamwe for the prosecutors. It provided a valuable list of the terrorist crimes of this militia between 1992 and 1994.16 From its early beginnings as the youth wing of the presidential party, Mouvement Révolutionnaire National pour le Développement (MRND), it had been transformed into a killing machine. Unlike the youth groups of the other political parties, this was a criminal organization, he wrote, with an effective command structure, comprising a national committee divided into six commissions. It had support at the highest level, from the ruling Hutu elite, the senior ranks of the gendarmerie and the Presidential Guard.

There was no doubt that the Bruguière report was flawed. Another failure of his argument was the lack of forensic work, ballistics or on-the-ground investigation of the crash site. A credibility gap existed in the report’s material evidence that only included five photographs showing parts of missile launchers and some serial numbers. These photographs had already been dismissed in a 1998 French National Assembly report and could have come from anywhere.17

The story of missile launchers and serial numbers originated with Colonel Théoneste Bagosora.18 The numbers were on missile launchers apparently discovered by chance on 25 April 1994 on Masaka Hill by an anonymous peasant. The missile parts were then taken to an army camp where a Rwandan soldier, Lieutenant Augustin Munyaneza, had examined them and written a report. The information on the launchers was given by Colonel Bagosora to a Belgian academic, Filip Reyntjens, who was writing a book about the assassination. By this time, inconveniently, the launchers had apparently been taken abroad and given to a Zairean general, where they had disappeared. According to the Bruguière report, the numbers on these missiles corresponded with missiles that could be traced and had been ‘sold by Russia to Uganda and then given to the RPF’.

The Bruguière investigators appeared not to have interviewed any of the direct witnesses to the event. Within minutes of the assassination, Colonel Luc Marchal, commander of the Kigali sector of UNAMIR, was aware of two eyewitnesses close enough to see where the missiles came from, both agreeing it was the military camp at Kanombe. Another witness, Dr. Massimo Pasuch, a Belgian military doctor, was at his home in the heavily fortified Rwandan camp with all windows and doors open and so close that he distinctly heard the ‘whoosh’ as each missile left its casing. Pasuch described traces in the night sky as they went towards the plane. Lieutenant Colonel Walter Balis, the liaison officer between UNAMIR and the RPF, saw the missiles depart and believed it impossible for the RPF to infiltrate Kanombe camp. A Belgian corporal, Mathieu Gerlache, Gerlache, on the viewing platform of a disused air control tower, had a perfect view as the missiles left from the direction of Kanombe, the second scoring a direct hit when the aircraft exploded.

As a result of these failings, Bruguière received wide criticism for his partial text. He seemed determined to accuse the president of Rwanda rather than seek the truth.19 This did not prevent journalists from happily quoting him, while not apparently having read his report. For example, in 2007, the BBC’s Stephen Sackur on HARDtalk accused President Kagame directly:

You know that Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière has been working on that case for many, many years. You also know that he is one of the most respected judges in all of France. He has a track record of tracking down terrorists, bringing them to justice. He has been working on your case and he has, I have it here, about seventy pages of documentary evidence …

Judge Bruguière comes up with this conclusion: ‘the final order to attack the presidential plane was given by Paul Kagame himself during a meeting held in Mulindi on 31 March 1994’. That same year, in a major development, the investigating magistrate Marc Trévidic and his colleague Nathalie Poux assumed responsibility for the outstanding Judge Bruguière dossiers in Paris. Bruguière had left the service, having been told that his political activity was incompatible with judicial duties.20 Trévidic was to become one of the best-known investigating magistrates in France. In interviews, he made a point of saying that being a nuisance to governments was exactly what an investigating magistrate was meant to do. Old investigations never died, he said. It was often the case that with unsolved crimes, the information could surface many years later. The dossier he inherited on the assassination of the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi proved his point.21

Trévidic suspended the arrest warrants for the nine Rwandan officials and, with a team of six French scientists and his colleague Nathalie Poux, he visited the crash site. The team included experts in missile technology and aviation, air accident investigators, a geometrician, and an explosives expert. They carried out a series of tests on the Falcon 50 jet wreckage that remained where it had fallen sixteen years earlier.

The investigation broadened in other ways. In the course of the visit, they interviewed previously ignored Rwandan witnesses who had seen the missile fire in the sky and took them back to where they had been standing that night. They included the president’s bodyguards and soldiers from Kanombe camp who had given evidence to Rwanda’s own commission of experts established in 2008 to investigate the assassination. The commission, named after its chair, Justice Jean Mutsinzi, a former president of the Supreme Court, brought in experts from the United Kingdom’s National Defence Academy for scientific advice and analysis.22 In a detailed report in January 2010, it had concluded that the plane was brought down by Hutu extremists in an effort to destroy the Arusha Accords, and the missiles came from an area controlled by the Presidential Guard.23

The keen interest the French judges took in the Mutsinzi report was matched only by a concern to properly understand events in the immediate aftermath including the targeted killings of pro-democracy politicians, among them the prime minister and the president of the Constitutional Court. They asked for information on the circumstances of the murder of the ten Belgian peacekeepers. They asked for copies of Hutu extremist newspapers and magazines, and the transcripts of recordings of the hate radio station, RTLM, all of which predicted that the president would die for having agreed to share power with ‘Tutsi rebels’.

An initial 400-page report published by the French investigating magistrates in January 2012 explained how the first missile missed the plane but the second ignited 3,000 liters of kerosene in the fuel tank.24 The plane, traveling at 222 kilometers an hour and at an altitude of  1,646 meters, became a ball of fire in the night sky and, traveling onwards for some seven seconds, eventually hit the ground, disintegrating as it did so. The plane fell into the garden of the presidential villa, where the president’s wife was preparing a barbecue for her husband. The mangled bodies of the twelve victims were in the wreckage.

The missile fire came, in all probability, from a 300-meter radius within the confines of the most secure army camp in the country at Kanombe, adjacent to the airport. This domain of some thirty hectares was under twenty-four-hour surveillance by platoons of soldiers operating a shift system and linked to the presidential villa by a private track. The missile fire could only have come from within the camp perimeter, mostly likely the scrubland to the south.

The new report effectively destroyed the Bruguière conclusions that the missiles had been fired from Masaka, a hill four kilometers east of the airport. The judge had relied solely on witness testimony and all of them, including several convicted génocidaires, convinced him that the missiles came from Masaka, where a peasant found the launchers. Bruguière apparently fell for an elaborately staged deception. It was fake news from the start, intended to cause a diversion, propped up with false statements, manufactured evidence, manipulated witnesses and forged testimony. Jean-François Dupaquier, author and expert on these matters, described it as having been the responsibility of malevolent people who had taken part in the corruption of the judicial process. Their aim was to ‘lend support to their extremist Rwandan friends who launched genocide’.25

On the day of the release of the report, a series of filmed interviews became available, including one with survivor Esther Mujawayo, author, sociologist, psychotherapist, and trauma specialist, who lived in Germany and worked for the Psychosocial Centre for Refugees (PSZ) in Düsseldorf.26 Mujawayo wondered why so many people were taken in:

At last. How could he [Bruguière] possibly have advanced such a thesis? How could anyone have believed this for an instant? The intellectuals, people in universities who were taken in like this?  Even if the RPF had magic powers … how could they have got into the camp? With this lie a million people died. They killed my husband. They killed my mother, my parents in law … they killed everyone … killed the Tutsi because of a fable invented for the purpose that said ‘their’ president was killed by us [the Tutsi] and they wanted revenge.

She had always known who was responsible: ‘It was so obvious.’

But the suspicions persisted.

A panel discussion on the English-language channel on France 24 included the journalist Stephen Smith, who broke the story in Le Monde in 2004. Now a visiting professor of African & American Studies at Duke University, Smith said that Trévidic provided a new thrust to the investigation, but one should not dismiss the serial number evidence that traced missiles to Uganda. The Trévidic report was, Smith argued, only part of an ‘ongoing discussion’ and was ‘another element’ to take into account. Smith also maintained his position that there was no master plan to commit genocide. ‘The special court … charged with trying genocidal planners and killers, has found no one guilty of conspiracy to commit genocide,’ he claimed in the London Review of Books a year earlier.27

On 22 September 2010, the key witness for Bruguière, Abdul Ruzibiza, died in Norway, where he been granted asylum. He turned out to have been a nurse in the RPF and had pretended to have an inside track, claimed to have known all about the assassination but at the time was miles away in the north, in Ruhengeri. He eventually retracted his testimony, like some of the other witnesses involved with the Bruguière inquiry.28

In October 2006, another key witness, Emmanuel Ruzigana, had written to Bruguière to deny he ever belonged to a ‘network commando’ and to say he was ignorant about the plane. He did not speak or understand the French language and had been interviewed without an interpreter.29 In an interview on 2 December, on Radio Rwanda, Ruzigana said he had wanted to go to Europe and a friend at the embassy of France in Dar es Salaam had helped him out. As soon as he arrived at the airport in Paris, there had been men who worked in the office of Judge Bruguière waiting for him.

Only later would it emerge that a Kinyarwanda interpreter used in interviews by Judge Bruguière, a man at the heart of his investigation, was Fabien Singaye. This man had operated a European spy ring for President Habyarimana and had occupied the post of the first secretary at the Rwandan embassy in Bern, Switzerland. Some of his secret reports were discovered in the abandoned presidential villa.30 His father-in-law was Félicien Kabuga, the businessman who provided large sums to finance the genocide and who remains a fugitive to this day. Singaye was thrown out of Switzerland in August 1994 and found a safe haven living comfortably in France.

Central to the Bruguière report, however, was testimony from Colonel Théoneste Bagosora. On 18 May 2000, Judge Bruguière spent a day with Bagosora in the UN Detention Facility outside Arusha, the first of two visits.31 A transcript produced of the encounter showed the lack of precise questions that the French judge asked about the assassination. Furthermore, the transcript left a gaping hole in the story of the whereabouts of Bagosora on the evening of 6 April. Bagosora claimed that between 6:30 p.m. and 8:20 p.m. he had been at Amahoro Stadium with the Bangladeshi contingent at a reception. A Bangladeshi officer could not recall this event. Bagosora says he then returned home at  8:20, where he found his wife in tears on the doorstep, and she told him the news.

The sound of the destruction of the president’s plane echoed all over Kigali, but Bagosora appeared to be the only person not to hear it.32 Bagosora had even been unaware that the president was going to Dar es Salaam that day. However, in his testimony at his trial, he said he was already at home when his wife received a call from the general staff of the army informing her that the president’s plane had been shot down.33

Bagosora told the judge the missile attack on the aircraft was an international plot abetted by UNAMIR. He suspected the ten UN peacekeepers, Lieutenant Thierry Lotin and his men, murdered on 7 April, had a role in this plot. On the day before the assassination, they had escorted RPF personnel, taking the road that bypassed Masaka Hill, where the missiles were supposedly launched. Lotin and his men were seen at the airport at 8:30 p.m. only minutes after the missile fire. They should not have been there at all. They had stayed there until 3:00 p.m. when ordered to go into town to form an escort for the prime minister.

The RPF could not have accessed Masaka without a convincing escort, said Bagosora, and the most convincing escort was UNAMIR. The UN peacekeepers had freedom of movement. Therefore, UNAMIR escorted the RPF to the place from where the missiles were fired. ‘There was a coup d’état by the RPF with UNAMIR as an accomplice and with a part of the political opposition, which was pro-RPF, I tell you,’ Bagosora said.

The most senior French officer in Camp Kanombe, Major Grégoire de Saint-Quentin, was an adviser to Major Aloys Ntabakuze, head of the para-commando battalion at Kanombe. The French officer was a tall and imposing figure who eventually commanded a brigade with the French army in Senegal and later in 2013 commander of French forces in Mali. He is today head of special operations. In April 1994, he was at his home in the Kanombe military camp when the missiles were fired at the presidential jet. His garden backed onto that of the camp commander, Félicien Muberuka, and he could see the comings and goings on the commander’s driveway.34 The three large windows in his living room overlooked the flight path, while the presidential villa was little more than 350 meters away. Saint-Quentin recalled that the launch of the two missiles seemed so close to him he thought the camp was under attack.

In a house nearby, a young girl thought the missile fire sounded like an American movie. She was sixteen and spent the rest of that night awake sheltering with her mother and brothers in the front room, just twelve meters from the road. She too thought the missile fire signified the camp was under attack but, strangely, there was no further activity. Normally there were tall and effective streetlights which were left on all night, and twenty-four-hour patrols, soldiers on foot and in vehicles, each group assigned individual zones to patrol. This evening, there was no activity, no trucks, no patrols and no sounds of soldiers. At dawn, they crept out and were told that all the families were leaving the camp, and the transport was already arranged.

Saint-Quentin had wanted to retrieve the jet’s black box and remembered two French officers in helmets who carried torches and searched the smoldering wreckage. The bodies of the casualties were laid out in a reception room in the presidential villa but were removed the next morning in an army truck to a cold store at Kanombe Hospital, where other bodies were piling up in the morgue.35

Saint-Quentin, in his interview with the judge, told Bruguière that the Rwandan forces did not have a surface to air missiles.36 Perhaps he was unaware of them. Human Rights Watch believed that when the Rwandan army retreated it took fifty SA-7 missiles and fifteen Mistral missiles into exile.37 An army would not keep such an arsenal if it did not know how to use it. While France officially denied giving French-made Mistral missiles to Rwanda, this did not mean the Rwandan army did not have any.

A document found in UNAMIR archives and prepared by senior officers contained a list of the military hardware in the possession of the Rwandan government army, compiled in accordance with the peace agreement, a list dated 6 April 1994.38 The list included fifteen French-made Mistral missiles and an ‘unknown quantity’ of SA-7 missiles. The force commander of UNAMIR, Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire, confirmed the list as genuine and compiled with the greatest difficulty from sources within the military, this information gathered in accordance with his mandate. The missiles, fired at the plane from the Kanombe military camp, had effectively destroyed any hope of his resupply by air during the genocide. ‘They had shot down one plane, and could shoot down another,’ Dallaire said. The peacekeepers were unable to guarantee the safety of Kigali Airport, and no company was found willing to insure an aircraft that the UN had on standby.

In a declassified CIA report called ‘Rwanda: Security Conditions at Kigali Airport – Capabilities and Intentions’, dated 13 July 1994, there is information that Kigali’s international airport was less dangerous once the RPF had driven out the troops of the Interim Government. ‘Hutu regime troops, most likely including elements of the  Presidential Guard, were almost certainly responsible for downing the airplane of the late President Habyarimana as it was landing at Kigali.’ When the fighting broke out, the Hutu regime had some thirty-five pieces of air defense artillery, reported a classified informant, as well as the fifteen Mistral missiles.

Whole sections of this fascinating eleven-page CIA cable remain classified, and the US was clearly well informed.39 The carefully planned operation to escort all the US citizens from the country on 9 April ensured they went by road. From Paris, information continued to arrive from the ambassador, Pamela Harriman, who told Washington at the end of April 1994 that her informant said the accusations of RPF involvement in the assassination were not credible since the site from which the attack took place was near the president’s residence and was secured by forces loyal to Habyarimana.

The death of the president was a signal for a preplanned ethnic massacre to begin. The RPF offensive towards Kigali began only after the massacres of Tutsi had started.

The signals intelligence acquired by the US in the crucial first days was said to have included intercepted telephone calls from extremist officers in Kigali to counterparts in Gisenyi in the north as well as communications captured between politicians and militia and captured information about the downing of the presidential jet. It is likely that the tracking and recording of the entirety of the local and regional radio traffic were conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA) where, in the Maryland headquarters, people fluent in Kinyarwanda were known to have worked.

The information gathered contained invaluable evidence of the activities of the génocidaires as they seized power. The US satellite imagery was such that burning tires and bodies were visible at the roadblocks.

Despite the wealth of material that undermined the Bruguière conclusion, some people remained unconvinced and paid no heed to the retraction of the testimony of the witnesses upon whom the judge had relied. Ignoring the scientific evidence, a school of thought persisted that pronounced the RPF guilty of the assassination of the president. As a result, there had been no coup d’état.

In a book published in 2010 that bolstered the earlier Bruguière conclusion of RPF guilt, a Parisian academic, André Guichaoua of the Pantheon-Sorbonne University, dismissed the murder of the political opposition on Thursday, 7 April, as evidence of a coup and called it a ‘recalibrated political transition’, simply part of ‘political infighting’. In this theory, the RPF downed the jet and deliberately sacrificed the  Tutsi population. No plan had existed to exterminate Tutsi. Not until 12 April and the new Interim Government had been installed was a genocide policy adopted and a genocide begun. His theory took no account of the targeted killing of Tutsi at the roadblocks that began on Thursday, 7 April, nor the first large-scale massacres of Tutsi in Kigali – one in the church grounds in Gikondo in the morning on Saturday, 9 April, to which UN military observers were eyewitnesses. Another massacre of Tutsi families who had sheltered at the École Technique Officielle (ETO) on Monday, 11 April, saw an estimated 2,000 people killed.

These were early examples of the massacre of large numbers of people that would now recur in a pattern; Rwandan soldiers and gendarmes sealed exits where Tutsi people sought shelter, and then ushered in the Interahamwe to carry out the killing, thereby economizing on bullets. It was in Gikondo, on the afternoon of Saturday, 9 April, that the chief delegate of the ICRC, Philippe Gaillard, recognized that genocide of the Tutsi was by now underway.

In his book published four years after the Bruguière report, Guichaoua expressed his belief that the genocide had been a desperate reaction by the most extremist faction in the face of a military advance by the RPF. Guichaoua categorized the killings as a crime against humanity committed  by a government against a part of its population. Guichaoua wrote the preface for the book by Abdul Ruzibiza, the star witness used by Judge Bruguière, and indeed had first introduced the witness to the judge and had persuaded Ruzibiza to write a book.40

Another member of this school of thought is the acknowledged expert René Lemarchand, a French-American political scientist known for his work on Rwanda and Burundi and professor emeritus at the University of Florida. Lemarchand insisted the RPF downed the plane. He disparaged the Mutsinzi report and noted in 2018 that ‘all facts pointing to Kagame’s responsibility were conveniently ignored’. He failed to specify which particular facts he meant. ‘The scantiness of the evidence notwithstanding, the notion of a criminal plot concocted by Hutu extremists is still the standard explanation advanced,’ he  wrote. Lemarchand believed it a subject fit for debate as people took up a number of ‘contradictory positions’.41

Reyntjens, emeritus professor of law and politics at the University of Antwerp, remained an advocate for the Bruguière report and wrote about the existence of a ‘whole heap of indications’ that showed the RPF was responsible for the assassination. In an account of events published in 2017, Reyntjens omitted any mention of scientific reports about how missiles came from Kanombe military camp, which was inaccessible to the RPF. Reyntjens seemed unaware of the existence of witnesses in Kanombe camp that night. Reyntjens did not believe in genocide planning, and said the killing happened because of the aggression of the enemies of the regime that set off a chain reaction that led to it. The RPF had a historical and political responsibility in the extermination of the Tutsi.42

The story about Masaka Hill lingered on, the scientific and direct eyewitness testimony continually ignored. In 2017, in a book by Helen C. Epstein, Another Fine Mess: America, Uganda, and the War on Terror, the author accused President Paul Kagame of the assassination, repeating the claim in an extract from the book in the Guardian.43 The missiles came from Masaka Hill, she wrote, and the weapons used were Russian-made SAM-16s because ‘two SA-16 single-use launchers’ were found near the launch site. She relied on the report by French investigating magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguière and pointed out that the serial numbers on the Masaka launchers came from a consignment shipped from Russia to Uganda. Her source was Filip Reyntjens who told Epstein the weapons were Russian-made SAM-16s and he said that ‘two SA-16 single-use launchers’ were found near Masaka Hill, a place more ‘accessible’ to the  rebel fighters of Kagame’s RPF than the Kanombe military camp. What Reyntjens may not have told her was that the information about launchers at Masaka Hill and their serial numbers originated with the prime suspect, Colonel Théoneste Bagosora, a convicted génocidaire.

With little fanfare, on 24 December 2018, French magistrates in Paris dropped the case brought against the nine senior RPF leaders suspected of the assassination of President Habyarimana and for whom there had been international arrest warrants issued. The twenty-year investigation had ensured the real culprits escaped scrutiny.


1. Stephen W. Smith, ‘Révélations sur l’attentat qui a déclenché le génocide rwandais’, Le Monde, 10 March 2004.

2. Abdul Joshua Ruzibiza, Rwanda: L’histoire secrète, Editions du Panama, 2005.

3. There is an English translation of this report from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda:

4 Jacques Morel and George Kapler, ‘Analyse de l’ordonnance de soit-communiqué du juge Bruguière mettant en cause Paul Kagame pour l’attentat du 6 avril 1994 à Kigali’, 12 January 2007.

5 Wikileaks, Classified Cable 1349 Rwanda: ‘French Judge ends questioning of Rose’, from Paris to Sec State, 11 October 2009.

6 Wikileaks cable, Secret, 07 Paris 322, ‘Judge on France, Rwanda, Pakistan, and his political future’, from Embassy Paris to Secretary of State Washington, signed Stapleton, 7 January 2007.

7 Morel and Kapler, ‘Analyse de l’ordonnance’.


9 Commission of a Citizens’ Inquiry into the Role of France during the Genocide of the Tutsi in 1994, Report, L’horreur qui nous prend au visage’, Testimony Colette Braeckman, 349.

10 Déclaration de Témoin, Abdul Ruzibiza, Investigators Hamidou Maiga and Mohamed Ali Lejmi, Redacted, 14, 17, 19 May 2002.

11 Letter to Le Chef d’État-Major de la Gendarmerie, from F.-X. Nsanzuwera.

12 UNAMIR CIVPOL from CPIO, H. J. Kranzl, Inspector to SRSG, ‘Shooting of Minister of Public Works and Energy’, 23 March 1994.

13 Interviews, Sources prefer to remain anonymous.

14 François-Xavier Nsanzuwera, ‘Rapport d’expertise rédigé à la demande du tribunal  tribunal pénal international sur le Rwanda: Procès contre Rutaqanda Georges, La criminalité des Interahamwe entre 1992 et avril 1994’, Brussels, 21 June 1997.

15 Colette Braeckman, ‘Le Rwanda le dos au mur’, Le Soir, 23 February 1994.

16 Nsanzuwera, ‘Rapport d’expertise’.

17 Assemblée Nationale, Mission d’Information Commune, Enquête sur la tragédie rwandaise (1990–1994), 15 December 1998, Paris.

18 Ibid., Letter from Filip Reyntjens to Bernard Cazeneuve, 10 December 1998, Annexe 6, p. 251.

19 Morel and Kapler.

20 Alain Gabet and Sébastien Jahan, ‘Quand la boussole perd le nord: ‘Analyse de l’ordonnance’ «Que sais-je ?» sur le génocide des Tutsi du Rwanda’, Cahiers d’Histoire. Revue d’Histoire Critique, 139, 2018, 171–193.

21 The president of Burundi was Cyprien Ntaryamira.

22 Defense Academy of the UK, Cranfield University, Investigation into the Crash of Dassault Falcon 50. Contract Report by Mike C. Warden, Department of Applied Science, Defence Academy, Shrivenham, and W. Alan McClue, Fellow of Cranfield Forensic Institute, Annexes.

23 Republic of Rwanda, Committee of Experts Investigation of the 6 April 1994 Crash of President Habyarimana’s Dassault Falcon 50 Aircraft, January 2010.

24 Report of Judge Marc Trévidic, Cour d’Appel de Paris, Paris, Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris, Rapport d’expertise, Destruction en Vol du Falon 50, Kigali (Rwanda), 5 January 2012. The Commission of Experts comprised Claudine Oosterlinck, Daniel van Schendel, Jean Huon, Jean Sompayrac and Olivier Chavanis. The report is 314 pages long with twenty-four pages of conclusions  numbered C1 to C24 and four annexes.

25 The interviews of Esther Mujawayo and Jean-François Dupaquier, ‘Rapport Trévidic – Les Rwandais de France s’expriment, YouTube, 11 January 2012.

26 Esther Mujawayo, Souâd Belhaddad and Simone Veil, Survivantes: Rwanda, dix ans après le génocide, Aube: La Tour d’Aigues, 2004.

27 Stephen W. Smith, ‘Rwanda in six scenes’, London Review  Review of Books, 17 March 2011.

28 Colette Braeckman, ‘Ruzibiza était un temoin clé de l’attentat’, Le Soir, 24 September 2010.

29 Letter from Emmanuel Ruzigana to Judge Bruguière, Oslo, 30 October 2006. See Morel and Kapler, ‘Analyse de Cordennance’, 6, note 23.

30 Jean-Philippe Ceppi, ‘Les services secrets rwandais avaient leur central à Berne’, Le Quotidien, 9 June 1994.

31 Commission Rogatoire Internationale siégeant au TPIR, Interrogatoire de M. Théoneste Bagosora, interrogé par le juge Jean-Louis Bruguière, le 18 mai 2000. Annexe 53 André Guichaoua: accessed on

32 Luc de Temmerman, 26 June 1994. Devant la Cour de Cassation, 2éme Chambre. Audience du 26 juin 1994. Attached Ex Far equipment summary as of 6 April 1994.

33 ICTR-98-41 Testimony, Théoneste Bagosora, 2 November 2005.

34 Kanombe camp, July 2012.

35 Grégoire de Saint Quentin has given the following statements: 26 May 1998 to the French Assembly Mission d’Information; on 8 June 2000 to the inquiry of Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière and on 7 December 2011 he sent a ten-page email to the Trévidic/Poux inquiry.

36 Bruguière report, 43.

37 Human Rights Watch Africa, Rwanda: A New Catastrophe?, London, December 1994.

38 UN Restricted, Daily Information Digest, Special Report Rwanda, DPKO-Situation Centre, CNR 530, 1 September 1994 (author’s archive).

39 CIA, Rwanda: Security Conditions at Kigali Airport: Capabilities and Intentions, 13 July 1994,

40 Gabet and Jahan, ‘Quand la boussole perd le nord’, 10.

41 René Lemarchand, ‘Reconsidering France’s role in the Rwandan genocide’,, 13 June 2018.

42 Filip Reyntjens, Le Génocide des Tutsi au Rwanda, Paris: Que sais-je?, 2017.

43 Helen C. Epstein, Another Fine Mess: America, Uganda, and the War on Terror, Columbia Global Reports, 2017; Helen C. Epstein, ‘America’s hidden role in the Rwandan genocide’, Guardian, 12 September 2017.


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