Edinburgh distances itself from rector’s genocide views, apologises

Scotland’s University of Edinburgh has vehemently distanced itself from Rector Debora Kayembe, who sparked outrage after alleging in a tweet that the 1994 genocide in Rwanda was orchestrated by Rwandan President Paul Kagame. The Democratic Republic of Congo-born rector has been accused of “flagrant” genocide denial.

In a now-deleted tweet on 14 April, Kayembe said: “Mr Prime Minister Boris Johnson, we’ve reach the bottom of evil. Should I remind you that the genocide of Rwanda was orchestrated by [President] Kagame. Good luck with your plans.”

She was commenting on a partnership under way between Rwanda and the United Kingdom, in which Rwanda will host migrants and asylum-seekers from the UK.

The Rwandan genocide is considered one of history’s worst crimes against humanity. More than 800,000 lives were lost in the slaughter of the Tutsi, which took place over 100 days. Kagame led the Rwandan Patriotic Front, which defeated Hutu extremists. He was elected president in 2000.

Comment sparked outrage

Kayembe’s tweet caused outrage among Rwandans and many other people familiar with the history of Rwanda and its genocide. They accused her of knowingly spreading genocide denial ideas against the Tutsi and promoting ‘double genocide’.

She later apologised. What made the comment all the more surprising is Kayembe’s experience working for the International Criminal Court, which prosecutes war crimes and crimes against humanity, and her track record in standing up for human rights.

Johnston Busingye, the high commissioner for Rwanda in the UK, said on Twitter: “We cannot allow such flagrant genocide denial and intent to deceive as Kayembe’s to go unchallenged. We will engage with the institution she serves to ensure clarity prevails.”

Following the rector’s posts, the University of Edinburgh replied, saying Kayembe’s tweets were her personal views and could in no way reflect the view or position of the institution.

On 21 April, the high commissioner released a statement addressing Professor Peter Mathieson, principal and vice-chancellor of the university, expressing outrage against the rector. He said there were well-established facts and the genocide against the Tutsi was recognised by the United Nations, governments, international law and courts.

“We have also noted the two online responses from the university that the statements are Ms Kayembe’s personal opinion. However, on a public platform, personal opinion does not constitute a carte blanche, particularly when the opinions shared are blatantly denying genocide and spreading misinformation,” said Busingye.

“If similar views on the planning and execution of the Holocaust were expressed, personal opinion would not be a sufficient excuse, and the university would be prompted to intervene.”

Busingye said the University of Edinburgh rightfully had a prestigious reputation – one of influence and leadership since 1583 – and ought not to provide a platform for genocide denial and misinformation.

He added that rector Kayembe’s reach and influence inevitably derived from her position at the university which, intentionally or not, provided her with the platform she was abusing.

“On Ms Kayembe’s profile, the biography is clearly associated with the university and, in the eyes of Rwandans and all who have read her outrageous statements, there is no distinction between the views of the individual and the respected office she holds,” Busingye contended.

University distances itself, apologises

Following the wave of anger from Rwandans and the wider public, Mathieson apologised, stressing that the university opposed any view denying the 1994 genocide.

“I would like to begin my response by reiterating that the University of Edinburgh is aligned with the views of the United Nations, international courts and nations all over the world. We recognise that the genocide against the Tutsi is a fact of history and represents one of the most appalling crimes against humanity in the course of history,” he said in a 22 March statement.

“We reject outright the notion that President Paul Kagame was in any way responsible. In fact, it is a historical fact that Kagame led the liberation of Rwanda from the guilty regime,” he added.

Facts about the long history preceding the genocide against the Tutsi were clear, he added, and, indeed, University of Edinburgh academics had contributed scholarship that makes the history clearer.

“I recognise that April is the time of Kwibuka commemorations in Rwanda, which makes statements diminishing or denying the genocide against the Tutsi more painful. To this end, we are reaching out to our Rwandan students to ensure they are fully supported at this difficult time and have arranged a meeting them through our chaplaincy,” Mathieson noted.

Rwanda is a very valuable partner of the University of Edinburgh, and certainly one of the most important collaborators on the African continent. “We enjoy research collaborations with government research organisations, the University of Rwanda, many academics and local organisations,” he said.

“We have a long history of collaborating with Rwandan institutions and individuals, educating Rwandan students, and through our research helping to shed light on Rwanda’s past, present and future; of this we are very proud, and that is why we have a responsibility to clarify our position and set out steps to be taken,” continued Mathieson.

He said he recognised the hurt caused by the rector’s statements and the extreme hurt and pernicious destabilisation that the genocide denialism could cause to all Rwandans.

“That is why we moved swiftly to clarify the role of rector, highlight the fact that they were personal views, and to underline our own position on the tragic events of the genocide against the Tutsi, and commitment to continuing to work with the government and people of Rwanda.”

Mathieson said the university was ready to look at formal procedures available and that he would report to the governing body and the university court.

International day of reflection

On 26 January 2018, the United Nations officially adopted 7 April as International Day of Reflection on the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.

Referring to the Holocaust, Busingye, the Rwandan high commissioner, said victims of the genocide had had to endure the many stages of genocide before 1994, such as classification, dehumanisation and polarisation, among other things.

“The statements deny historical fact, create confusion and permit the genocide ideology and ethnic division to live on. We are concerned that radical statements such as the ones we are impugning are emanating from an elected official who has a senior role on the decision-making body of the university and is a point of contact to the student body,” Busingye said.

Following the reactions, Kayembe also apologised to all Rwandans and to President Paul Kagame, and wished peace to all Rwandans.

“To all Rwandans, President Kagame, and the Tutsi community around the world. I realised my comments were hurtful and disrespectful to you. Those were not the university’s but my own views. My sincere apologies. Amahoro [peace],” she tweeted.