Events and media coverage of the 10th anniversary of the Hutu massacres of 800,000 Tutsis in the spring of 1994 have strangely omitted the role of the institution largely responsible for the genocide – the Roman Catholic Church. Its role may be compared to its role in supporting the Nazis in the 1930s.
When German colonialists arrived in numbers in Rwanda-Burundi in the 1870s, they found, for Africa, a remarkably well-ordered society. The Tutsis, not an ethnic group as such but based on the Nyiginya tribe, were dominant. They were mostly cattle owners, holding power in the all important ‘central court’ and its satellite institutions, while the Hutu were mostly peasant farmers. But Hutu farmers could move into the Tutsi elite on merit, with Hutu chiefs playing a significant role in society.
From the 1880s onwards, Belgian Roman Catholic missionaries from the Vatican’s ‘White Fathers Order’ increased their influence in the area, and in the 1919 Versailles settlement after World War I, Rwanda became a League of Nations ‘Trust Territory’ under Belgain control.
Darwinian evolutionary theory
The ‘White Fathers’ consolidated their influence. Darwinian evolutionary and racial theories were then in full flow. The ‘Fathers’ developed a bizarre racist theory to explain the relatively well-ordered African society they were dealing with, the so-called ‘Hamitic hypothesis’. This proclaimed that ‘civilised’ African societies emanated from an invasion of ‘Ham-ites’ who originally settled in Ethiopia.
Rwandan history was effectively rewritten by RC academics and Belgian colonial administrators. The Tutsi were Hamites, descended from Ham, whilst the Hutus were of inferior stock and destined to be treated like Bantu serfs, whilst a small group of hunter-gatherers and potters, the Twa, were regarded as ‘aboriginal pygmoids’ – supposedly remnants of an earlier stage of human evolution.
The result was that only Tutsi were now given places of responsibility in Rwanda; their existing powers and privileges increased greatly. Understandably, Hutu resentment grew.
Young papal missionaries
After World War II, the influence of the White Fathers Order diminished as a new wave of young Papal missionaries came over from Belgian seminaries. They brought with them ‘social justice’ theories that were now being developed by the Vatican to promote RC influence in third world counties. These mostly Flemish priests identified with the by-now oppressed Hutu majority, took up their cause, and gradually forced the Tutsis to relinquish their grip on the country. One result was a Hutu uprising in 1959 which led to 10,000 Tutsis being killed and over 100,00 being driven abroad.
Three years later, Gregoire Kayibanda, Secretary to Monsignor Vincent Nsengiyuma, Rwanda’s Archbishop, became first President of an independent Rwanda, having earlier founded the racial supremacist ‘Parme Hutu’ party. Now the Tutsi were seen by RC thinkers as ‘invaders’ from Ethiopia and the RC Church orchestrated calls for the Tutsi to be ‘sent back home’.
A notable event was the disgraceful letter sent in 1972 to the Archbishop by a group of eleven Hutu RC priests and religious leaders, referring to the Tutsi as ‘inyensi’ (cock-roaches) – a word used frequently by Hutu killers in 1994. Referring to the 1959 massacres, the letter read: “After the defeat of the counter-revolutionaries, the inyenzi, one would have thought that reasonable people, consecrated to God’s service, would bow down before the irreversible victory of the people. The Hutu seem to have fallen asleep on the laurels of victory while the Tutsis are working very hard in order to again become masters of events. How long can we allow our Tutsi brothers to make fools of us?” One of the letter’s authors, Andre Havugimana, later rose to high office in the Rwandan RC Church.
The year following that letter, the RC Church publicly endorsed the purge of Tutsis from schools, colleges and the civil service. Abuses and occasional massacres of Tutsis were the inevitable result of this persecution. In 1992, Hassan Ngeze, a journalist working for the extremist Hutu party, published a Hutu manifesto, titled ‘The Hutu Ten Commandments’. Commandment No. 8 was “Stop having mercy on the Tutsis”.
Rome, the USA and the genocide
The events leading up to the genocide in April 1994 were, according to many experts, planned and co-ordinated by RC church leaders and politicians in conjunction with Hutu racial supremacists and United States Ambassador David Rawson. Rawson’s previous post had been in Somalia, where he had spent millions of dollars providing US military weapons to the discredited Barre regime. That was followed by an ignominious US exit from Somalia as that country descended into chaos.
A key US role in the Rwandan massacres was to deny that genocide was taking place, since under international law that would have ‘obliged’ the UN and the international community to intervene. Instead, they claimed there were merely ‘individual acts of genocide’. They also actively frustrated UN attempts to send troops to Rwanda.
In a 1999 Guardian article, Chris McGreal wrote of the failure of the RC church to prevent the bloodshed: “It failed because it claims four out of five Rwandans as adherents, yet it made little effort to influence the killers. That failure continues today through denial and evasion over its responsibility for the genocide”.
Rome, the ecumenists and the massacre
A number of RC priests actively participated in the genocide of the Tutsi, including Augustin Misago, charged in 1999 with dispatching children to serve in the Hutu militia. In one incident, dozens of unarmed Tutsis were slaughtered in a RC church. Misago said: “They brought it on themselves by hiding guns”. Two years later, a human rights group, who investigated RC participation in the massacres, wrote to the Pope saying: “One is stuck by the persistent wish to exonerate the RC hierarchy and the institution at any price”. It is sad to record that some compromising, ecumenical, once Protestant religious institutions also ‘turned a blind eye to the massacres.
Last week, Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that he would urgently bring forward legislation to introduce identity cards. Just as the identification of the Jews on local authority registers in Holland in the 1930s enable Hitler’s men to rapidly identify and round up Jews there in 1940, it is salutary to note that the Catholic inspired racial ideology of the 1920s and 1930s required all Rwandans to carry papers identifying them as either Hutu, Tutsi or Twa. This made the job of the Hutu mass-murders, whose efforts at one time led to 40,000 Tutsi bodies floating down to Lake Victoria, all the easier.
World ponders Rwanda genocide 10 years later
On 7 April Rwanda remembered the 1994 genocide in which hundreds of thousands of people were massacred.
The genocide began on 7 April 1994, a day after a plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down as it prepared to land in Kigali. Over the next 100 days, an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were slaughtered.
Militia members, the armed forces and civilians carried out appalling atrocities, mainly against the Tutsi ethnic minority, but also against those from the Hutu majority who refused to join in the slaughter or belonged to opposition parties.
The killers were mostly civilians armed with machetes, garden hoes and spiked clubs, spurred on by hate propaganda. They did their work five times faster than the gas chambers used by the Nazis during the Second World War, according to some academics.
An estimated 400,000 of the victims of the mass killing were children, and 95,000 children were left orphaned.
"It is difficult to forget," Chantal Umurungi, 24, the sole survivor of the genocide in a family of 10, told the IRIN news service (www.irinnews.org). "I keep remembering how Hutu militants were cutting off people's heads, and this normally comes in the form of nightmares."
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, "We must all acknowledge our responsibility for not having done more to present or stop the genocide. We cannot afford to wait until the worst has happened … or end up with little more than futile hand-wringing or callous indifference."
65 per cent of Rwandans are Roman Catholic and 9 per cent are Protestant. (Ecumenical News International)