3: International media coverage of the Genocide
investigative journalist, formerly at the Sunday Times and
author of “A People Betrayed”
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Jocelyn Coulon: Thank
you very much, Mark, for this first presentation. In a panel,
you’re doing so well. You should do it often. I mean
that was great. I would like to invite now Linda Melvern to
Linda Melvern: Thank you
so much for inviting me to speak at a school of journalism.
I’m an investigative journalist, and for 10 years, I
have concentrated on the exact circumstances of the genocide
in Rwanda. The events in Rwanda in ’94 were defined
for our generation, the consequences of the failure of intervene
in the face of mass murder, and there remains little doubt
that what took place, the failure to predict it, to prevent
it, and then to stop it is one of the greatest scandals of
the last century.
One of the great sadnesses is that it is
an enormous failure of the profession of journalism.
First in failing to adequately report what was happening,
and the first international inquiry into the genocide determined
that this contributed to what happened, and I do think the
time has come to seriously question our news values.
Initially, what western press coverage
there was on Rwanda, instead of identifying the killing as
the result of a planned and well-organized campaign, described
tribal blood letting that foreigners were powerless to prevent.
This was dangerous. It bolsters the arguments that only
a massive and dramatic intervention would succeed, and this
was out of the question. The crucial issue of providing
Dallaire’s beleaguered force with either supplies or
reinforcements to continue to try to save people was simply
not taken up as an issue. No one knew what the choices
were, or the risks, because the Security Council meetings
to decide UN policy were held in secret.
On April 28, the Oxfam Agency determined
that a genocide was taking place in Rwanda, and issued a press
release. That story merited 10 paragraphs on an inside
page of The Guardian. An editorial some days later declared,
“there is precious little that the international community
can do to stem the fighting in Rwanda at this stage.”
In April, the journalist, Aidan Hartley
was sent to Rwanda by the Reuters News Agency from Nairobi
to cover the evacuation of foreigners, and he remembers being
told by his editors that this is your classic “bongo”
story. There would be no interest in what was happening
in Rwanda unless they start raping white nuns. Hartley
was told that his job was to cover the whites, and get the
nuns evacuated, and that would be the end of it. Everyone
knew that small wars in small states in Africa were less likely
than ever to get coverage after what happened in Somalia.
The message then was quite clear to the genocidaires.
I was in New York in April, 1994.
I had written a 50-year history of the UN that was being filmed
by Channel 4 television, and in early May, I conducted an
interview that I have never forgotten, and it is with me still.
I interviewed one of the non-permanent representatives on
the Security Council for the Czech Republic. His name
was Karel Kovanda, and he said to me that he learned more
about what was happening in Rwanda from human rights groups,
from particularly Alison Des Forges, than from sitting in
the secret and informal meetings of the Security Council to
decide what to do. Eventually, a contact at the UN leaked
to me an account of what had been said in these secret Council
meetings, and this extraordinary document, which is now lodged
in an archive at the University of Wales, proves that in the
first three weeks of mass slaughter that fact was not discussed
in the Security Council. The whole focus was civil war,
and what to do about evacuating the peacekeepers.
You will now hear the U.S., Madeline Albright’s
memoires, and the U.K., our own ambassador, claim that they
did not know what was happening. This I have disproved
in my latest book.
While the UN in an extraordinary and unprecedented
move, opened it’s archives to me, the U.K, and the U.S.,
and France still, their policies are hidden in secrecy.
It is incredible to me that the French ambassador, from a
country intimately involved in an extremist government that
plotted, and then carried out a genocide, sat in silence.
I have a document in my archives that shows how French military
officers were embedded in the Rwandan army.
The last chapter in my book I call “The
Silence.” The obligation of states towards genocide
prevention is outlined in the 1948 convention on the Prevention
and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, a legally binding
treaty. As permanent members of the UN Security Council,
the U.K., the U.S., could have taken action in accordance
with the convention. They chose not to do so.
They undermined international law of Rwanda, and made a mockery
of the convention. I will say this to you as journalists.
I have worked for 10 years on this story, and there is a ton
of material that we still need. We still need to know
how the policies were made in France and the U.K. and in the
U.S., and we’re a long way from that even today.