Newswise — Ten years after the Rwandan genocide, the worst mass killings of recent times, the historical record and basic facts need major correction, according to new research from the University of Maryland.
The study, which international prosecutors are using, concludes that most of those killed may not have been minority Tutsis, as commonly believed, but majority Hutus. "We consider this more of a totalitarian purge, a politicide, rather than ethnic cleansing or genocide," says University of Maryland political scientist Christian Davenport, who has compiled and analyzed evidence from independent investigations into the killings. April 6 marks the 10th anniversary of the outbreak of the slaughter.
"People simply have the basic facts wrong, and worse, many don't even appear interested in assembling the necessary information," Davenport says. "Many different organizations have examined the topic, but we're the first to pull together and compare the results from all these efforts."
In 1994, an estimated 800,000 Rwandans died in one hundred days. The mass killing is generally understood to be the result of militia members and others from the dominant Hutu ethnic group slaughtering members of the Tutsi minority. But, Davenport says, this is inaccurate.
"Our research strongly suggests that a majority of the victims were Hutus " there weren't enough Tutsis in Rwanda at the time to account for all the reported deaths," Davenport says. "Either the scale of the killing was much less than is widely believed, or more likely, a huge number of Hutus were caught up in the violence as inadvertent victims. The evidence suggests the killers didn't try to figure out who everybody was. They erred on the side of comprehensiveness."
Davenport's research shows that the killings began with a small, dedicated cadre of Hutu militiamen, but quickly cascaded in an ever-widening circle, with Hutu and Tutsi playing the roles of both attackers and victims. "When you add it all up, it looks a lot more like politically motivated mass killing than genocide," he says. "A wide diversity of individuals, both Hutu and Tutsi, systematically used the mass killing to settle political, economic and personal scores."
Davenport used findings from the approximately 10 independent investigations that have been conducted to create a comprehensive database (http://www.genodynamics.com). Among the specific patterns drawn from this material:
--Militia troops conducted most of the killings early on. A wide variety of individuals participated in the middle period, but by the end, soldiers, police and government officials played a predominant role.
--Deaths were more likely to take place closer to the capital than in the countryside; torture was more widespread in remote areas.
"It's extremely important that we get the details right, not only for criminal prosecutors trying to make a case and find new witnesses, but also to advance the work of truth and reconciliation," Davenport says. "Ultimately, we need to know what happened for the victims' sake. Unless we set the record straight, it will be as if the killings never happened, and that would be a grave travesty."
Based on their research, Davenport and his associate, Allan Stam at Dartmouth College, have been working with the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda based in Arusha, Tanzania; the Center for Conflict Management at the National University of Rwanda in Butare; and the Minister of Justice in Kigali, Rwanda. This work is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
DAVENPORT CONTACT/BIO INFORMATIONChristian Davenport " professor, government and politics; director, Radical Information Project, University of MarylandExpertise: Rwandan genocide; political violence; human rights violations; state repression; radical politics and fringe groups; media and politicsCredentials: consultant for the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda, in Arusha, Tanzania; wrote dozens of articles and received numerous grants from the National Science Foundation and Carnegie Foundation; books include, "Mobilization and Repression: What Do We Know and Where Do We Go from Here?" and "Paths to State Repression: Human Rights Violations and Contentious Politics"
Web site: http://www.genodynamics.com