Touted as “champion of unsavoury people and unpopular causes”, the bushy-haired, bare-knuckle-fighting figure known as Prof C. Peter Erlinder couldn’t have cemented his Robin Hood image in any country faster than in Rwanda.
After all, the country is fresh in the mind of the world as the horribly-bruised survivor of the most despicable genocide in history. Every sympathy lies with Rwanda, yet knows not to which Rwandan it (the sympathy) should be apportioned.
That is how, only the other day, an obscure cook left the kitchens of Rwanda, pockets bursting with money extorted from hunted genocide victims in hiding in Hôtel des Mille Collines, and was bestowed with the highest US honour as a protector of those victims by President George Bush himself.
The good president could not cotton on that Paul Rusesabagina was, and still is, a sworn defender of the cause of genocide.
To-date, Rusesabagina is riding on that fame to comb the corridors of US universities and charity organisations collecting funds that he is channelling into the fight for the conclusion of the 1994 genocide.
Imagine the burly-bear Rambo character from the West, then, complete with unkempt hair and unshaven chin, riding the jungles of Africa to rescue little, cowed African souls from the grip of their fire-spitting “autocratic leader” bent on denying them “political space”.
The film ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hasn’t sold a dime in comparison. And its “real hero” has never known what collecting medals from the West means. ‘Hotel Rwanda II’, this time starring a White character, was set to be a box-office blockbuster!
Already, Prof Peter Erlinder saw he was one ante up in that direction. In 2003, at the ICTR in Arusha, he took over as lead attorney in the defence of persons accused of genocide who were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Even then, Erlinder was able to win their acquittal on conspiring to commit genocide before the downing of the Habyarimana plane. That way, he was able to successfully argue that there was no genocide in Rwanda, let alone a planned one.
In a brazen defeat of justice, the ethnic cleansing efforts by Rwandan authorities in 1959, 1966, 1973 and 1990 –1994 were argued out of Rwandan history by this ‘pro bono litigator’ (the latter meaning, I’m told, ‘humanitarian defender’).
From then, Erlinder’s mission has been to show there was no genocide in Rwanda. To him, there was no Interahamwe militia but what he terms “brutalised refugees [who] became an ungovernable force that later engaged in civilian–civilian massacres.”
“By March 1994,” continues he, “….the Rwandan Government Forces (RGF)….lacked the military capacity….to stop civilian massacres by other civilians.”
The “champion of unsavoury people” is telling us that that woman who lay in screaming death in Nyamata Church was stopped because otherwise she was going to “massacre” fellow civilians.
She was gang-raped by a dozen Interahamwe after which a jagged tree-branch was thrust into her through her genital opening because she was going to “massacre”. Her neck and that of the baby she carried were severed in front of the church altar or else she would have “massacred”.
The baby boy whose little body was bashed against the church walls in Bisesero was going to “massacre civilians”. The sickly old man who was thrown in a shallow grave that he had been forced to dig in Nyarubuye would have “massacred civilians”.
What about the fourteen-year-old girl in Kamarampaka Stadium, in Cyangugu? She was raped by a robust ‘Zone Turquoise’ French soldier and was only ‘saved’ by her uncontrollable puking and bleeding after two hours.
(If I’m being foul-mouthed, I beg your forgiveness. It’s all in the effort of making myself explicitly clear.)
When she was thrown out of the tent, a passing Muhutu woman took pity on her and hired a bicycle that took her to the old woman’s house where the kind old lady nursed her.
Today, the now deranged thirty-year-old lady is confined to the wheelchair. She still pukes at the sight or smell (yes, she can discern it!) of a white, hairy skin.
Can the “champion of unpopular causes” find a way to blame all the above on the Rwandan Patriotic Front/Army (RPF/A) that in all the cases was far from these scenes?
Considering the abuses heaped on the victims of the genocide against Batutsi by the likes of Bruguère, Andreu, Rusesabagina, Ingabire and now Erlinder, how many more can they take?
Oh, victims of the 1994genocide, how together Rwandans grieve!
For, excluding a few still pursuing the mission of genocide, all Rwandans are victims of the genocide. And, as Rwandans who have finally discovered their dignity, let no man/woman, Western or internal, dare show them the lip of daring to dance on their grave.
Even where there was no genocide, its denials or minimisations are punished. In Austria, holocaust denial (or genocide denial) fetches a twenty-year sentence in prison.
Equally, there are varying but severe punishments in Belgium, Germany, France, Spain, Slovakia, Poland, Italy, Luxembourg and others. In Rwanda, it’s a pity that the noose is no longer allowed!
Still, Rwanda should show that it is “schooled in the tragedy of the 1994 genocide” and dish out the appropriate punishment to this “champion genocide-denier”, Prof Peter Erlinder.
That, or the country risks being turned into a generator for fake Hollywood heroes.