Article written

  • on 12.10.2014
  • at 03:00 PM
  • by Kevin Hind

‘Rwanda: The Untold Story’: questions for the BBC 0

A deeply flawed BBC documentary on Rwanda’s genocide raises serious questions over the corporation’s ethics and standards.

There is no reasonable basis for anyone to dispute that, during 1994, there was a campaign of mass killing intended to destroy, in whole or at least in very large part, Rwanda’s Tutsi population… That campaign was, to a terrible degree, successful; although exact numbers may never be known, the great majority of Tutsis were murdered, and many others were raped or otherwise harmed.” [International Criminal Court for Rwanda, 16 June 2006]

It is not often a documentary comes along that totally reattributes the historical reality of a genocide in a mere one hour. Indeed the BBC programme Rwanda: the Untold Story, broadcast at prime-time on 1 October 2014, managed this in a record ten-minute section of its airtime. Twenty years of scholarly research by academics such as Gérard PrunierLinda MelvernMahmood MamdaniHoward AdelmanJean-François DupaquierJean-Pierre Chrétien and Allan Thompson (to name just a few) was pushed aside.

Thousands of witness interviews for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), archived documents and judgements were made equally redundant. So were many official reports by the United Nations Security Council in 1994 and 1999; the African Union; and human-rights groups – especially the landmark work by Alison des Forges at Human Rights Watch and Rakiya Omarat African Rights.

Instead, the BBC entrusted the exposure of the “true” story of the genocide to two American academics, Allan Stam and Christian Davenport, who had travelled to Rwanda in 1998 and found everyone they spoke to telling the same story about the genocide. This, they decided, was not because people were recounting what had actually happened but because they had been brainwashed or frightened into a massive cover-up.

Standing in front of a scientific-looking multi-coloured “results” map of Rwanda, they flashed up impressively scientific-looking statistics of troop movements across Rwanda in 1994 to prove their point. In essence, they alleged that instead of 800,000 Tutsi deaths there were only around 200,000. Even more incredibly, they proposed at least 800,000 Hutus had been killed at the hands of the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), as they pushed the genocidal Rwandan army and Hutu militias from the country. The accepted death-toll figures by researchers such as Gérard PrunierAlison des Forges and Marijke Verpooten’s forensic examination in 2005 are simply dismissed. As indeed are all legal judgments from the ICTR where hundreds of investigators, scholars and acute legal minds have worked for two decades.

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By Andrew Wallis openDemocracy

Photo credit: Flickr

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