Chapter 6: It shall be called a plane crash

Important facts can be hidden behind the media and
nobody ever sees them.

Ignacio Ramonet, Le Monde Diplomatique

How could the Rwandan tragedy have been avoided? The question is often asked, but nobody really seems to want to know? The “right and proper tale” would have it that Rwandan Hutu political and military leaders devised a devilish plan to exterminate the Tutsi minority. If that were true, then the only way to prevent the “genocide” would have been to arrest and imprison all those leaders before April 6, 1994. Such pre-emptive action would obviously have been impossible. It would follow therefore that everything was cast in stone, that the “génocidaires” would carry out their horrible plan and that these tragedies are innate to the societies in which they take place. A thesis like that is particularly hard to accept since it implies that humanity is bereft of means to prevent such tragedies.

It would quite obviously have been possible to prevent Rwanda from being pushed into the advanced state of anarchy it found itself in 1993 and 1994. If we were to assume the contrary, however, it still would have been possible avoid the massacres simply by preventing the assassination of the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi.

In the evening of April 6, 1994, everybody knew that if it were confirmed that the plane had been shot down, widespread violence would break out, particularly in Rwanda. Prudence Bushnell of the American Embassy in Kigali wrote exactly that to Secretary of State Warren Christopher in Washington immediately after learning of President Habyarimana’s death. “If, as it appears, both Presidents have been killed, there is a strong likelihood that widespread violence could break out in either or both countries, particularly if it is confirmed that the plane was shot down.” 71

If the plane had not been shot down, there would have been no massacres! It is as simple as that. Even Alison Des Forges stated as much under oath when cross-examined as an expert witness in Arusha. 72 Looking back now, one gets the sad and troubling impression that those who could have prevented the assassination of the two presidents did absolutely nothing. What’s more, everything has been done to make sure the truth does not come out. The slow but inexorable transformation of that assassination into a simple plane crash is surely one of the worst scandals of our time. When a madman shot at President Chirac on July 14, 2002, the French Minister of the Interior, Nicolas Sarkozy, rightly declared that “when someone shoots at the president it is by no means a trivial news item”. The same could be said about attempted assassination of President Reagan in 1981. Moreover, the world took years to recover from the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. Inquiries have been conducted, books have been written and films have been produced. But when two African presidents were shot down in their plane in an international flight, the international community refused to conduct an investigation and, worse yet, it describes the event as a “plane crash”.

In May 1999, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan acting on behalf of the Security Council requested an independent report into the actions of the United Nations during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The report issued in December 1999 describes the assassination as follows: “April 6: At approximately 20:30, Habyarimana and President Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi, who were returning from a regional summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, were killed in a plane crash just outside the Kigali airport. Within an hour of the plane crash, roadblocks were set up…”. 73

Indictment documents produced by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda also calls the assassination a plane crash, as does most of the popular literature on the Rwandan tragedy. The only time this euphemism is not used to describe the terrible criminal act it was, is when the shooting down of the plane is attributed to extremists in President Habyarimana’s own entourage. This explanation has been consistently and convincingly refuted. Those who so faithfully espoused it at first no longer dare to make such accusations. This of course did not prevent Don Murray of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation from repeating the accusation with no additional proof in a feature documentary on May 7, 2002. He once again “informed” the audience that “Hutu leaders shot down the presidents and blamed it on the Tutsis.”

To this day, no official international inquiry has been conducted into the assassination. After it happened, French military officers in Kigali met Romeo Dallaire, who as commander of the UN mission in Rwanda was responsible for airport security, and offered to investigate the assassination. France was particularly concerned by the event since the plane belonged to France and French nationals had been killed. Moreover, French investigators were available nearby. General Dallaire refused the French offer saying that he had already discussed the issue with the Americans who were prepared to dispatch an investigating team from its bases in Germany. 74

On April 8, 1994, the Security Council demanded an impartial international inquiry into the assassination. On April 12, the Belgian Cabinet also demanded the International Civil Aviation Organization conduct an investigation into the assassination. On June 25, the Security Council mandated the Secretary General to conduct an inquiry into the assassination. In November 1994, the Security Council created the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda with the mandate to investigate acts of genocide or other serious violations of international human rights law committed on Rwandan territory during the year 1994. In September 1995, Zaire demanded that an inquiry be held into the assassination. In October 1995, Kenyan President Arap Moi demanded an inquiry.

This litany of resolutions prompted Belgian Professor Filip Reyntjens, who has spent his life studying the African Great Lakes Region, to conclude in 1995 that “in fact, nobody seems to really want to know” who assassinated the two Presidents. Reyntjens maintained that all the evidence available tended to incriminate the RPF. 75 Reyntjens however complained that he could not investigate the crime any further. Others have taken up the investigation independently. Charles Onana, an investigative journalist from Cameroon who lives in Paris, published an important book on the question in which he identifies Rwandan President Paul Kagame as suspect number one. 76 His findings were so forceful and convincing that Paul Kagame and Rwanda sued him for defamation and tried to prevent the book from being published. Legal proceedings were eventually dropped when Onana simply refused to be intimidated. This story shows how sensitive the issue of the assassination is and how everything could change completely if an official inquiry were to conclude that the RPF had in fact shot down the president’s plane. Paul Kagame undoubtedly dropped proceedings against Charles Onana because he feared that the truth about the assassination would come out during the trial.

The people who could have helped find the truth have remained silent. Louise Arbour was Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and Yugoslavia before becoming judge in the Supreme Court of Canada. She meticulously avoids the question now. She refuses interviews, unless they are for puff pieces vaunting her own achievements as prosecutor. In November 2002, when Ms Arbour was speaking at a public meeting in Paris about the International Criminal Court, she simply refused to answer Charles Onana’s question about the assassination. “I don’t have the right to speak about that issue since the French Judge Bruguière is still conducting his inquiry.” 77 When questioned after speech, she added that in her capacity as Canadian Supreme Court Justice, she cannot discuss such things. Her refusal was of course totally unjustified. Judge Bruguière was mandated to investigate the assassination by France. His work is not related to either the International Criminal Tribunal nor to the Canadian Justice System.

The assassination of the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi is still a hot potato for Ms Arbour. She was the one who in 1997 killed the International Tribunal’s only official inquiry conducted by Michael Hourigan, a lawyer from Australia. Michael Hourigan who was working for the Prosecutor’s Office headed by Louise Arbour, concluded that the assassination was most likely sponsored by the current president and strongman of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, the leader of the RPF. Indications were that the RPF was aided by a foreign country. 78 Chief Prosecutor Louise Arbour was initially very enthusiastic about the findings until she spoke with United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Two weeks after hearing about Hourigan’s report, Arbour snuffed it out and imposed a gag order on the report’s author. Furthermore, some highly placed members of the RPF who collaborated closely with Paul Kagame have confirmed Hourigan’s conclusions. In public declarations, these people explained how they prepared the assassination with the help of the RPF leader Kagame. 79

In a private interview with Kenyan journalist Ruth Nababkwe after her speech in Paris, Louise Arbour declared that “it is not clear whether the event in question constitutes a crime within the Tribunal’s jurisdiction. It is not obvious that the shooting down of the plane carrying the two presidents constitutes in itself a war crime, a crime against humanity or an act of genocide.” She then added that the Tribunal must “prosecute any person implied in a crime that is serious enough to draw the attention of the international community.”

In these unbelievably contemptuous remarks, Louise Arbour gets closer to the truth, namely that assassination of two African presidents has been made into such a trivial and commonplace event that it is not considered a serious enough crime to warrant the attention of Ms. Arbour’s “international community”. Who is responsible for trivializing such a heinous crime? The Belgian peacekeeper who headed the UNAMIR troops at Kigali, Colonel Luc Marchal, answered that question with another question: “Who is powerful enough to have prevented a real international inquiry from casting light upon the events that occurred when President Habyarimana was flying home from a regional summit in Dar Es-Salaam?” 80

Knowing the truth about the assassination of presidents Habyarimana and Ntaryamira does not appear to be very important for Belgium either. The Belgian Senate held a long series of hearings on the events in Rwanda, and especially on the death of Belgian paratroopers who were accused of shooting down the President’s plane. The Senate did not even bother to discuss the assassination. It would seem that a serious Belgian inquiry would want to investigate that event if only to rule the accusation that its own troops were guilty.

Michael Hourigan’s report for the Tribunal and the French National Assembly’s inquiry both implicate “a foreign country”. Though it would be very interesting to know whether that foreign country is the United States, fundamentally it matters little. If investigations under way were to conclude that the RPF did in fact plan and carry out the assassination, the United States would necessarily be implicated in the crime since it provided the RPF army with unwavering support from 1990 on, and particularly in the period leading up to April 6, 1994. Leaders in the United States are fully aware of this problem, just as they are fully aware that the whole tale that they have so carefully helped to elaborate could be shattered. The crime is now much worse than it was in 1994. First there was the horrible assassination of two African Presidents. Then there is the cover-up with the army Second of accomplices who have carefully allowed the criminals to get away without being prosecuted.

Eight years after demanding an inquiry and after creating the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Boutros Boutros-Ghali is also dumbfounded by silence around the assassination. “Nobody has been able to tell me why no inquiry has been made into that crime,” he complained. When I showed him the official UN report that qualified the shooting down of the plane as a “crash”, he shrugged his shoulders in resignation: “You know, none of these reports are very honest. That’s my opinion. They hide a lot of things. The man responsible for peacekeeping operations at the time of the assassination was Kofi Annan.”

In a subsequent interview about the assassination and following leaks to Le Monde from the Bruguière inquiry, Boutros-Ghali declared: “It is a very mysterious scandal indeed. Four reports have been made on Rwanda: the French Parliament Report, the Belgian Senate Report, Kofi Annan’s UN report, and the Organization of African Unity report. All four say absolutely nothing about the shooting down of the Rwandan President’s plane. That just goes to show the power of the intelligence services that can force people to be quiet.”

The only partial exception is the seven year investigation conducted by the French anti-terrorist judge Jean-Louis Bruguière. That investigation implicates current Rwandan President Paul Kagame and the Rwandan Patriotic Front for having planned, ordered and carried out the April 6 assassination. But the silence continues since the Bruguière report has not been officially filed, only having been leaked to Le Monde.

According to Boutros-Ghali there’s much left to be found out. “Judge Bruguière, who I invited to a conference in Monaco, told me that according to his investigation, the CIA was involved in that assassination. However, the Anglo-American intelligence apparatus is much stronger than France’s. Perhaps the French secret service decided that they have no interest in making the Bruguière report public at this time.”

If the CIA was involved in the assassination of Rwandan President Habyarimana in April 1994, as the French judge has claimed, then it is easier to understand why the Official Story about the Rwandan tragedy continues to call that terrorist attack an “accident” or a “crash”. Worse still, considering the terrible consequences that go beyond the wildest predictions of any sorcerer’s apprentice, serious questions remain unanswered about the efforts made and means used to erase the tracks leading to the criminals involved in the killing of the two African heads of state and also to misinform and mislead international public opinion about the real causes of the Rwandan tragedy that followed.




71 On August 20, 2001, William Ferrogiaro of the independent National Security Archives published a series of decontrolled/unclassified internal Clinton Administration documents. See Chapter 7 for more details.

72 Transcript of Alison Des Forges’ testimony in the trial of Colonel Théoneste Bagosora.

73 Report of the Independent Inquiry into the Actions of the United Nations during the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda, December 15, 1999; authors: Ingvar Carlsson (former Prime Minister of Seden), Professor Han Sung-Joo (Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic de Korea) and retired Lieutenant General le Rufus M. Kupolati (Nigeria).

74 Testimony of Roméo Dallaire in Jean-Paul Akayesu’s trial at the ICTR in Arusha.

75 Filip Reyntjens, Trois jours qui ont fait basculer l’histoire, Paris et Tervuren, L’Harmattan et Institut Africain-CEDAF, 1995, pages 46 et 47.

76 Charles Onana, Les secrets du génocide rwandais, Paris, Duboiris, 2002.

77 Speech by Louise Arbour, Paris, November 20, 2002.

78 National Post, Canada, March 1, 2000.

79 Testimony of Jean-Pierre Mugabe, April 25, 2000, The International Strategic Studies Association, Alexandria, Virginia,.

80 Luc Marchal, op. cit., p. 304.