With all the gloomy things I've talked about lately, I should mention the remarkable woman who came and talked to our seminar today- Alison DesForges is the author of Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda, which is the most authoritative study yet written on the Rwandan Genocide. It is so authoritative, in fact, that she is often called as an expert witness in the genocide trials. She testified last about 12 days ago.
Our discussion focused on the differences between writing a history of genocide and a history of anything else. We were very lucky to hear her talk, so I give my notes from her discussion:
History of genocide is a history and a description of a crime.
It has been declared a crime by international law.
Hutu general in 1994: "Our children will know what Tutsis are only by reading the textbooks."
The consequences of identifying the actors responsible is much more serious than in any other sort of history. Naming names is much more serious.
The obligation to accuracy is always our responsibility, but here it can mean the difference in people's lives. We cannot falsely accuse someone of genocide.
Which persons testimony will be regarded as credible?
What sort of questions are there as to their motivations? The ultimate question of motivations is emerging in Rwanda where the guilty are claiming that they thought they were protecting their country against a treacherous fifth column.
What if they were acting with other than genocidal intent?
Hutu Defense: This country was under attack.
Guerillas were attacking the legitimate military
There was a real, or imagined, fifth column
In writing a history of genocide, it is much harder to gain accurate information. There is a deliberate attempt to falsify the story here. There are innocent lapses of memory, and then there are also intentional fabrications.
A historian cannot be subjective in the same way as a fingerprint analyst can- we have to be subjective to make our decisions. Sometimes, courts have trouble with this.