You are on page 1of 5

BOOK REVIEWS

The strength of Justice on the Grass is that it guides the reader inside a fasci- nating trial and its personalities. Temple-Raston’s discussion of the importance of these three defendants and the media they created is intelligent and well reasoned. Yet the author misses important opportunities to reveal the ICTR’s waste and hypocrisy. In addition, she draws only faint connections between the ICTR’s judg- ments and important broader issues—notably the impact of this decision on freedom of expression, both in international law (as with the operations of the International Criminal Court), and in the United States in the context of the “global war on terror.”

Aaron Karnell, PhD

Accounting for Horror: Post-Genocide Debates in Rwanda

Nigel Eltringham London: Pluto Press, 2004 232 pp, US$79.95 (hbk), US$26.95 (pbk)

More than a decade after the 1994 genocide, Rwandans are still struggling to inter- pret the events that gave their country such notoriety. In Accounting for Horror, Nigel Eltringham, a lecturer in anthropology at the University of Sussex, provides an engaging analysis of the debates and competing narratives that have divided Rwandan elites in their attempts to come to terms with their country’s troubled past. The study benefits from numerous interviews with Rwandan government officials and prominent members of civil society. It also draws on interviews with several Rwandan exiles in Europe. Not surprisingly, the latter’s views on the causes and meaning of the 1994 genocide tend to differ significantly from those of the Rwandan elites who currently enjoy the favour of the authorities in Kigali. The discrepancies between these two narratives are the focus of Eltringham’s inquiry. Genocide scholars will find much that is useful in this crisply-written, well- researched monograph. In addition to the fresh evidence provided by interviews, Eltringham’s account is solidly grounded in the existing literature. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the first chapter, which tackles the debate over ethnicity. While the author acknowledges the controversy over ethnic origins in Rwanda, he suggests that perhaps the debate is beside the point, at least when it comes to making sense of the 1994 genocide. Indeed, it is hard to deny that ethno-racial beliefs inherited from the colonial era were eventually internalized by the perpe- trators of the genocide. This “process of ethnic learning,” or “racial construction of ethnicity,” can be traced back to the Bahutu Manifesto of 1957 and the subsequent “Social Revolution.” This is hardly a novel argument; but Eltringham carries the analysis a step further by highlighting the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR)’s failure to address coherently the issue of ethnicity. The following two chapters are historiographical in scope. Chapter 2, “The precursor debate,” examines how Rwandans interpret the relationship between

91

BOOK REVIEWS

the 1959 Social Revolution and the events of 1994. For the post-1994 Rwandan government, the genocide is not restricted to the spring and summer of 1994. Rather, the post-independence period from 1959 is considered an ongoing “geno- cidal project,” one that aimed at the destruction of the Tutsi. However, Eltringham suggests that the “fetishization” of the 1959 crisis largely ignores the events of 1963–1964, in which thousands of Tutsis were killed or driven into exile by government forces following an armed incursion by the inyenzi. 1 He makes a per- suasive case that the events of 1963–1964 present striking similarities to the 1990–1994 period, and indeed may have been a precursor to the 1994 genocide. The third chapter highlights the extent to which the Jewish Holocaust has emerged, for both Rwandans and Westerners, as the dominant paradigm to explain the 1994 genocide. Eltringham argues that the United Nations Genocide Convention (UNGC) provides a much more fruitful point of reference, analyti- cally as well as for purposes of preventing future genocides. Powerful arguments, though, compel the Rwandan elites interviewed by Eltringam to rely on the Holo- caust analogy. First, it allows them to insulate their country’s historical experience from the ethnocentric cliche´ s of the “heart of darkness” and “tribalism.” Second, and perhaps more importantly, Rwandans are well aware of the privileged place accorded the Holocaust in Western consciousness. Many authors have discussed the revealing parallels between these two genocides, but far less atten- tion has been paid to the analogy’s potential for distorting our understanding

of Rwanda’s historical specificity.

2

Eltringham, to his credit, appraises the

Holocaust–Rwanda continuum with a healthy dose of scepticism. Perhaps this study’s most significant contribution is Eltringham’s discussion of

collective guilt, outlined in Chapter 4. Scholars disagree over how many Hutu par- ticipated in the genocide. Estimates run from a low of 25,000 to several hundred thousand. Yet even if one accepts the higher figure, this still leaves millions of Hutu who did not participate in the killings. The ubiquitous category of the “Hutu moderate,” which includes both Hutu who were killed because of their opposition to extremism and many more who refused to participate in the killings, remains ambiguous, and has never been properly defined by jurists and scholars. The author is right to note that designating Hutu moderates as “anomalies” leads to an implicit globalizing of guilt for the entire Hutu ethnic group. This runs counter to the principle of individual criminal responsibility, which, as Eltringham reminds us, is intrinsic to recognizing and prosecuting the crime of genocide. The need to focus on individual criminal responsibility, and to end the culture of impunity that has poisoned Rwandan society since the colonial era, is addressed in the fifth chapter. Scholars of the Great Lakes region will no doubt concur with Eltringham’s assertion that the failure to denounce and prosecute individuals guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity has contributed to the collectivi- zation of guilt for both Tutsi and Hutu. An important step towards countering this

pervasive culture of impunity was the ICTR’s 1998 Akayesu judgment,

3

which

emphasized the centrality of individual responsibility. Unfortunately, as the author points out, too many crimes and atrocities remain unaccounted for and unpunished in Rwanda’s recent past. Eltringham here relies on three brief

92

BOOK REVIEWS

case-studies: (1) the alleged massacres perpetrated by the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) in Rwanda in 1990–1994; (2) the responsibility for the attack on the presidential plane of April 6, 1994, that sparked the genocide; and (3) the involve- ment of the RPA in the alleged massacre of Rwandan (Hutu) refugees in Zaire in 1996–1997. He argues that the failure to prosecute all human rights abuses in a tenacious and transparent way remains an important stumbling block to establish- ing a climate conducive to reconciliation and accountability. Needless to say, the current regime in Rwanda bears a large part of the blame for refusing to address the need for justice. But Eltringham also takes the UN to task for its pusillanimity in investigating the presidential plane crash and the RPA’s actions in Zaire. The final chapter offers perhaps Eltringham’s boldest prescriptions for the ills that afflict Rwandan society. The author takes issue with the “conventional modes of historical representation” that have dominated Rwandan collective consciousness. Rwandan elites, he suggests, have rested their appeal to history on “absolutist narratives” that fail to recognize there can be no single correct version of the past, but only a “multiplicity of interpretations.” Eltringham argues that such representations actually reinforce the distorted perceptions that fuelled the genocide in the first place. Only by recognizing these multiple versions of the past, he maintains, will Rwandans be able to reach common agreement on their historical experience. There are, though, serious problems with this argument. While Eltringham’s efforts to bridge the apparently insurmountable gap that divides “Hutu” and “Tutsi” historical narratives are motivated by legitimate concerns, he is heading down a very slippery slope. Historians of the Holocaust and the Armenian geno- cide have struggled for decades to discredit the idea that there are multiple versions of these events. Of course, scholars may disagree over issues of interpret- ation, but there can only be one accurate factual narrative. Why should the 1994 genocide be viewed any differently? In fact, one might argue that if the pervasive culture of impunity is to be replaced by a culture of accountability, Rwandans will need instead to agree on a common version of the past. Obviously, this is no small challenge; but it is the approach that is pursued by the ICTR, and that ultimately holds the most promise. Scholars can—and should—argue about “why” historical events happen. But they should be able to come to an agreement over “what” happened. Accounting for Horror can also be faulted for paying insufficient attention to historical developments in Burundi and their influence on Rwanda. While the author does occasionally refer to the interconnectedness of these two countries’ historical experiences, his case would have been strengthened by closer consider- ation of the impact on Hutu collective consciousness in Rwanda of the 1972 genocide in Burundi and the assassination of Melchior Ndadaye, Burundi’s first Hutu leader, in 1993. This reviewer was also perplexed by the author’s failure to provide readers with a proper conclusion. Instead, Eltringham includes a brief afterword summarizing each chapter’s main findings. This is unfortunate, because his study supplies ample opportunity to discuss new directions in research.

93

BOOK REVIEWS

Such criticisms aside, this monograph offers an insightful and original perspec- tive, and points to numerous new areas that merit consideration by researchers. It should be mandatory reading for readers interested in Rwanda and genocide studies in general. While the study does not provide a great deal of new evidence, it compensates by weaving a series of complex, provocative arguments from a broad variety of sources. Accounting for Horror contributes substantially to our understanding of Rwanda’s struggle to come to terms with the 1994 genocide.

Notes

  • 1 Literally, “cockroaches.” The term was used both inside and outside Rwanda during the early 1960s to refer to Tutsi rebels who attempted to invade Rwanda following the 1959 Revolution. Hutu extremists used the same term during the early 1990s to designate the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).

  • 2 Rene´ Lemarchand, among others, has urged scholars to treat this analogy with caution, arguing that it may obscure the historical and regional specificity of the Rwandan genocide and lead to a misunderstanding of the motivation behind the killings. See his “Disconnecting the threads: Rwanda and the Holocaust reconsid- ered,” Journal of Genocide Research, Vol 4, No 4, 2002, pp 499–518. Similar concerns are expressed by William F. S. Miles in “Hamites and Hebrews: problems in ‘Judaizing’ the Rwandan genocide,” Journal of Genocide Research, Vol 2, No 1, 2000, pp 107–115.

  • 3 In 1998, Jean-Paul Akayesu was found guilty by the ICTR of nine counts of genocide and crimes against humanity for his role during the 1994 killings, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. This was the first time that an international tribunal was called upon to interpret the definition of genocide as defined in the UN Genocide Convention.

Christian A. DesRoches Concordia University

Return: Holocaust Survivors and Dutch Anti-Semitism

Dienke Hondius (translated by David Colmer) Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003 224 pp, US$70.95 (hbk)

In the interest of full disclosure, I recommended that this book be made part of Praeger’s “Christianity and the Holocaust” series, and I am pleased that the series editors concurred. In their forward, Carol Rittner and John K. Roth note that, for many, “Holland is the land of Anne Frank and the Secret Annex,

where neighbor helped neighbor

...

That image is misleading. The destruction

of Dutch Jews was especially effective: fewer than one in four Jews survived the war, the deportations, and the camps. Moreover, the general mood after the war was to draw a line across the ledger of history, and to get on with reconstruc- tion. For many years, the tragedy of the Dutch Jews did not easily fit with the prevailing Dutch retrospection on the war which, in essence, saw the war as five years of oppressive Nazi occupation and Dutch resistance. Dutch complicity in the Holocaust could not be fitted into those views until a major reassessment began to take shape some two or three decades after 1945. Eventually, there would be the multi-volume official history of the war years by Louis de Jong. His description of events was matched by Jacques Presser’s Ashes

94