Rwanda’s leader has no place at the G7

The Manoir Richelieu is an imposing, Norman-style castle that sits on a cliff overlooking the St. Lawrence River. Sprawling enough to host modern day kings, it is no wonder that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has chosen this luxury hotel in the Charlevoix region of Quebec as the venue for the 44th annual Group of Seven summit. On the sidelines of this event, Mr. Trudeau has also invited the leaders of a dozen other countries and international organizations to discuss how to protect oceans and coastal communities. Among those invited is Paul Kagame, President of the landlocked country Rwanda, and current head of the African Union.

While Canadian security is fully braced for protests against the policies of industrialized countries, Mr. Kagame’s presence in La Malbaie, Que., this weekend is controversial and likely to fuel the unrest. Presumably, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invited him to share in the pomp and circumstance because the Rwandan leader is afforded some measure of moral authority for presiding over a country that suffered a genocide in 1994. On the international stage, Mr. Kagame is credited with halting the extermination of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis, the ethnic group to which he belongs, by Hutu extremists. Mr. Kagame’s supporters often overlook his authoritarianism and point to the clean, efficient-looking country that his Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) has built from the ashes of mass violence. But as my reporting and the work of others such as Belgian scholar Filip Reyntjens and journalist Peter Verlinden have shown, his rule is beyond authoritarian; it is tyrannical and predatory. And his legacy is based on myth.

Dignitaries who have worked at international institutions such as the United Nations are aware of this myth. The United States, Britain, Canada and France know it, too. They have been privy to evidence for years – although much of it has been hidden from the wider public – that Mr. Kagame’s hand in the violence is shocking and should disqualify him from any moral authority or international accolade. The families of millions of Rwandan and Congolese victims who died in violence he helped spark know it painfully.

Evidence is overwhelming that the Rwandan leader did not stop the genocide against Tutsis. Evidence indicates that he and his troops ignited the violence against Tutsis by shooting down the plane and killing Rwanda’s president Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira on April 6, 1994.

Testimony collected by investigators at the UN tribunal for Rwanda, the ICTR, which I have accessed, indicates that Mr. Kagame and his commanders planned to kill Mr. Habyarimana and trained a commando team to fire the missile that ultimately brought down the plane. The UN evidence dates from 2003 and corroborates the findings of an inquiry in 2006 by French Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière. In 2005, two Canadian investigators working for the United Nations, Richard Renaud and Réjean Tremblay, collected testimony from a former member of Mr. Kagame’s intelligence network who said senior RPF officials held an important meeting a week before the plane attack to “prepare for a big battle and a major cleaning of the Hutu population.”

After the assassination, while Tutsis were being systematically targeted by Hutu militias, Mr. Kagame’s death squads methodically slaughtered Hutu intellectuals and peasants. His mobile forces worked behind the battlefront, luring Hutu civilians to meetings, shooting or killing them with hoes known as agafuni, and burying them with Tutsi victims. When the victims became too numerous, Mr. Kagame’s killing units quietly loaded families onto trucks and took them to a remote park where they were hacked, shot, burned and incinerated. It was mass murder without a trace.

The most devastating evidence to emerge from confidential UN documents is that Mr. Kagame’s commandos infiltrated Hutu militia during the genocide, and helped kill Tutsis. Mr. Kagame and his RPF evidently used the murder of Tutsis as stock in trade to justify their military operations, and rule for many years to come.

The United Nations became aware of Mr. Kagame’s troops slaughtering Hutu civilians during and after the genocide, but it ignored the evidence in order to protect him. He has been a staunch ally of Washington and London since the early 1990s. The UN also found that Mr. Kagame’s troops may have committed genocide against Rwandan refugees in Congo in 1996-97 when his army invaded and overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko. Since then, Rwanda has created and sponsored a myriad of militias that has killed countless Congolese in a never-ending war.

UN investigators collected evidence that Mr. Kagame’s intelligence agents murdered two Québécois priests, Claude Simard and Guy Pinard, in 1994 and 1997. Both men dearly loved Rwanda and denounced RPF crimes against Hutu civilians in the aftermath of the genocide. Mr. Kagame has waged a war against the truth for nearly 25 years, targeting dissidents abroad who dare to expose his true record.

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On Friday, the Rwandan leader will dine with Canada’s Governor-General Julie Payette at Quebec City’s La Citadelle, a national historic site and the oldest military building in Canada. It’s a sad spectacle for the families of Mr. Kagame’s victims, who view his invitation to Canada as a tacit endorsement of his barbarity. These people, whether in Canada or abroad, deserve better than this. At the very least, they deserve an explanation from our Prime Minister.

BY JUDI REVER
SPECIAL TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL
PUBLISHED 1 DAY AGO
UPDATED JUNE 8, 2018
Judi Rever is a freelance journalist and the author of In Praise of Blood: The Crimes of The Rwandan Patriotic Front