Panel 3: International media coverage
of the Genocide
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BBC correspondent who reported from Rwanda during much of
Jocelyn Coulon: Thank
you very much, Anne. Thank you very much for having respected
your 10-minute briefing time. You know I’ve been in
journalism for 20 years, very often in war zones, and in international
affairs. I agree with what you’ve just said. So I would
now call upon Mark Doyle to give us his talk. You’ll
do it from there?
Mark Doyle: I’m
feel more comfortable sitting talking to this microphone at
the tables. In late April, 1994, when I was in Kigali,
I was doing a question and answer session with a BBC presenter
in London, and the presenter asked me to clarify what all
this shooting and killing was about. I found myself
saying, “look you have to understand that there are
two wars going on here. There’s a shooting war
and a genocide war. The two are connected, but also
distinct. In the shooting war, there are two conventional
armies at each other, and in the genocide war, one of those
armies, the government side with help from civilians, is involved
in mass killings.” Now I know that’s very
simplistic, but I think it’s a useful way of understanding
My first insight into what was going on
in Rwanda came in February, 1994, when I had an off the record
briefly from an African ambassador in Kigali. I can’t
tell you which one it was, of course, because it was off the
record. The ambassador astonished me with his frankness.
He explained in detail how the various extremist Hutus parties
were blocking the installation of the power sharing government.
And he also astonished me by keeping me there in his private
office for four hours. I didn’t even have an appointment
with him. I was a bit embarrassed, and I kept looking
at my watch, but he kept on saying, “sit down Mark.
You have to understand. I want the BBC to understand
what’s happening. Do you understand now how dangerous
this situation is?” When I left his office, the
ambassador said, “don’t forget Rwanda Mark.
A big story could happen here.”
I was in Nairobi when I get a call from
the BBC late in the evening of April 6. A plane had
come down, and I remember with crystal clarity what I said.
“Oh my God,” I told the editor on the other end
of the phone line, remembering clearly the ambassador’s
warning. “Oh my God this is going to be a huge
story!” The next day, the machinery got into motion.
Colleagues from Reuters news agency chartered a plane from
Nairobi to Mbarara in southern Uganda, and I bought a seat.
Kigali Airport was shut, of course, and this was the best
way, I thought, of getting some angle on the story.
It took most of the day to get to Mbarara, and most of the
next day to get to Kabale on the Uganda/Rwanda border, and
awhile to negotiate entry into the RPF-held zone to meet with
Paul Kigame at the old tea estate in Melindi. I stayed
for a couple of days near Melindi, and saw the starting of
the shooting war. The RPF lines just north of Byumba,
and the government lines on the outskirts of that town.
And when it became clear from what I saw around Byumba, that
the shooting war had restarted, I decided I had to try and
get to Kigali. There was no way I could get through
those front lines. So I drove back north. I took
a risk I drove through the night, which is against my normal
rule in Africa. I never drive at night, and I drove
to Entebbe Airport. By an extraordinary fluke, a few
journalists and myself met an aid worker at the airport, who
had a plane, which was going to fly to Kigali. It was
half empty except for some food supplies, and he agreed to
give us a lift.
The scene at Kigali Airport was quite extraordinary
when we arrived there. The shooting war was clearly
in full flight. We could hear constant small arms and
mortar fire. At night we could see tracers, and hear
explosions. On the apron of the airfield, there were
numerous French, Italian and Belgian military planes disgorging
European paratroopers, who had come to save European lives.
I spent a few nights sleeping in the airport,
eating French military rations, which are by the way infinitely
superior to any other military rations, and by day I went
with the French as they drove into town to rescue the French
citizens, not because I thought that rescuing Europeans was
the main story, but because it was the only way that I could
get into town with any sort of security. I hadn’t
made contact with the UN people at that point. The shooting
was going on everywhere. I distinctly remember one time
when normally the sound of small arms is the occasional crack
and whip, so you crack whip, crack whip like that, but there
so were so many small arms going off there, that there was
a deafening wall of sound that went on for hours and hours
just from the small arms fire, which was then sometimes supplemented
by mortars, and other things, rockets.
The other war, the genocide war, was also
getting underway. When I was with the French military,
going to rescue some white people, I saw a Rwandan man, sitting
in the back of a truck attacking another with a screwdriver.
Colleagues at the other end of the convoy of military lorries
saw people being attacked with machetes. The French
soldiers just drove straight past heading for the house of
the European they wanted to rescue.
After the front lines began to stabilize
a bit, I left the airport and ventured into town. My
first stop was the Mille Collines hotel. The place was
full of Tutsis in hiding, with militias trying to get inside
to kill them. I managed to get a share of a room at
the hotel, and I decided foolishly, in retrospect, to try
to go to the Red Cross Hospital. If I knew then what
I now know, I wouldn’t have done it, because it was
a ridiculously dangerous thing to do without a military escort,
but I suppose I’m pleased that I did venture out, because
I discovered the genocide war on that day, for myself.
There were about six roadblocks between the Mille Collines
and the Red Cross. There were a relatively small number
of bodies, I know that sounds horribly callous, but in the
Rwandan context, it’s a fair comment, a relatively small
number of bodies at each of these roadblocks. With some
bluffing, I managed with my friend and colleagues from CNN,
Katherine Bond (?), to get to the hospital, and on the way
back from the hospital to the hotel about two hours later,
the piles of bodies at the roadblocks had grown. For
the first time, I had personal, eyewitness evidence that pro-government
militias were killing people in large numbers. There’s
no doubt about it. I remember Katherine turning to me
and saying that we should describe that road between the Mille
Collines and the Red Cross as “Machete Avenue.”
“If they can have Sniper Alley in Sarajevo,” she
said, “we can have Machete Avenue in Kigali.”
And from then on, I started to use the word “genocide.”
The transcripts of my radio dispatchers say that I used the
word first on April 19, quoting the British aid agency Oxfam.
In the early days, I was guilty of misinterpreting the situation.
I spoke of chaos and indiscriminate killings, but gradually
I learned with my own eyes that it was not chaotic, and it
was far from indiscriminate. I learned to distinguish
between the shooting war and the genocide war.
It was after trips like my ride down Machete
Avenue that I sometimes found conversations with the news
desks in London very difficult. They’d often say,
“great stuff Mark, but don’t forget to report
the other side,” or, “let’s keep objective
about this.” I don’t blame them, and this was
the usual stuff of private chats between editors and correspondents.
At no point, however, was I censored or told what to say.
I don’t think that those editors were seeking some kind
of political, moral equivalents. It’s just that
they, like so many others could not take on board the enormity
of what was happening. I sometimes barely believed it
myself, even though I’d seen it. I told the news
desks in London with my blood boiling internally at the implication
that I was biased, that the mass killing was being overwhelmingly
done by one side, that it generally did stop when the RPF
arrived, and after awhile it was clear that irrespective of
what one thought of the RPF, and I didn’t and don’t
hold any grief for them, an RPF military victory was probably
necessary if the killing was to stop. These were highly
unusual things for a BBC reporter to say.
General Dallaire was quite friendly with
the press, but at the same time, he used the press, and as
he openly said this, we didn’t mind, because if he was
going to visit Kigame or Bagosora or one of the other people
with a journalist in tow, it helped him, because he could
get them to yes we agree to this or that cease fire agreement,
but it helped us, because it meant we could interview those
However, on one occasion, I deeply regretted
traveling with Dallaire. We went across the front line
to meet the government side in the Mille Collines Hotel, and
after he had had his talk with the government, the press were
invited in to film the handshake, or something like that.
At this point, a senior gendarmerie officer started berating
the press, especially the BBC, for spending too much time
with the RPF. Let’s be clear. There were
very good reasons why we spent time with the RPF, because
the RPF were winning the shooting war, and the positions on
the other side kept on moving backwards. So it wasn’t
a great place to be. That’s one, and two of course,
the genocide was taking place on that side, and it was very,
very dangerous. Anyway, when this officer spoke, some
misplaced pride told me that I should put my hand up, and
say, “I would be very happy to go with you to your side
of the front lines,” and I regretted it almost as soon
as I’d opened my mouth. But anyway, I set off
on a tour of government positions, and around the part of
Kigali called Nyamirambo. It was very, very dangerous,
and I knew that there were RPF positions in the hill above,
and at one point a mortar round landed quite near to us.
However, on the other hand, I did learn two important things
that day; one the killing was continuing. I saw a well
full of bodies, and two, that the government military and
the militia were working directly hand in hand, because I
saw them doing it. I saw them giving orders to each
other. It was direct collaboration, and I managed to
see it with my own eyes, but it was a dangerous thing to do,
but at least I got that information.
My last trip outside Kigali before leaving
Rwanda in July, 1994, was a journey I drove myself to the
town of Gisenyi. That’s on the border of the then
Zaire. The RPF had claimed to have taken the town, and
since it would be the last major town to fall to them, meaning
they would have won the shooting war, I decided to go and
check. There was a petrol tanker on fire at a crossroads
in Gisenyi, and I met a tall RPF officer called Bruce Munyango.
Someone had told him I was coming, and he greeted me.
He had one finger missing on his right hand. “I’m
going to take you right up to the border,” he said,
“to show you that we’re in control.”
He did. The RPF had won the shooting war, but it didn’t
feel like a triumph, because the other side had almost won
the genocide war.