Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Rwanda: a clarification issued

A few days back, I posted excerpts from an article which said that two US researchers were challenging the use of the term "genocide" with respect to what happened in Rwanda.

The article misrepresented their position and I failed to double-check the story against other sources and posted the excerpt, misrepresentation and all. For this, I apologize.

Davenport and his colleague, Allan Stam, have since posted a clarification of their position/statement on their website.

Davenport and Stam say they are not denying that a genocide happened ... just that "genocide" isn't a comprehensive enough term. Complicating the matter is something we've always known, that a large number of Hutus were killed along with Tutsis.

At the start of their statement is the equation ... Rwanda 1994: Genocide + Politicide

Davenport and Stam go on to say ...
If only Tutsi were killed, then classifying the mass killing as genocide exclusively would not be problematic.

... Clearly, there was a genocide (Tutsi were targeted and killed because of their ethnicity), but there was something else as well, which when considered simultaneously complicates use of the phrase to describe the whole event. To address this complexity, we preferred to employ the label politicide for it highlights the fact that the regime at the time massacred their citizens for "political" reasons (some of which were ethnic and some of which were not).
Fair enough ... Rwanda 1994: Genocide + Politicide. ... What was done to the Tutsis fits the definition of genocide. Politicide is the mass killing of political opponents and that certainly happened as well.


In their clarification statement, Davenport and Stam take a few digs at the "media" ... at the "media's desire for controversy". Some of their criticism is well deserved.

Compare the press release about their research with the Reuters news story. The Reuters story lifts entire sections from the press release ... especially the quotes attributed to Christian Davenport. The most troubling thing is that the Reuters story slightly rearranges the quotes for effect ... the result of which is that Davenport comes across as completely heartless.

The following appears in both the press release and the news story ...
"We consider this more of a totalitarian purge, a politicide, rather than ethnic cleansing or genocide," says University of Maryland political scientist Christian Davenport ...
Frankly, the statment reads quite badly. And moreover, it doesn't even seem to conform to what Devenport and Stam say their study establishes ... Rwanda 1994: Genocide + Politicide

So the potential for misreprersenation was sown in that press release. And the fact is, you may not have control over what the "media" reports ... but you certainly have control over what you put in your own press release.

If the press release had played this assertion -- Rwanda 1994: Genocide + Politicide -- near the top of the release, it would have left less room for misunderstanding.

Davenport and Stam have clearly been burned by this experience. From their statement ...
... this experience has forced us to conclude that unless detailed analysis/discussion can be provided and prior approval over finished content are granted ahead of time, we are done with interacting with the news media.
That would be a shame.