Yesterday I was privileged to listen to a presentation by the ICTR President and Presiding Judge Vagn Joensen of Denmark at the New York Bar Association. I was impressed with his modesty and his wizard legal mind that has contributed to the cutting edge creativity on issues facing our changing world, such as prosecuting rape and sexual violence as crimes against humanity. He has been involved in a number of complicated post-conflict environments in which he was instrumental in shaping new jurisprudence that subsequently has become accepted as international law.
Yet thanks to an educated question by a member of the audience who happened to be a defense attorney for the ICTR, a great weakness was exposed in the work of the ICTR, that has the scope to reverse all the peace, reconciliation and justice work that has been done so far in Rwanda. It concerns the work of the Prosecution office in submitting inducements that have defined the work of the ICTR. The ICTR was charged with investigating and bringing to justice perpetrators of crimes and killings in Rwanda between 1 January 1994 and 31 December 1994. This includes the Genocide and the subsequent events when the RPF liberated Rwanda from the perpetrators of the Genocide, pushing them out and into Eastern DRC. According to human rights reports about the time, After liberating Kigali, the RPF went on the rampage killing many innocent civilians both Hutus and Tutsis they felt were complicit in the broader implementation of the Genocide. even more evidence exists that the RPF committed even more massacres in Eastern Congo when they followed the former genocidaire fighters as they fled the liberating forces. Part of the original brief of the ICTR was for the Prosecution to investigate the post-genocide period as well as, of course, the genocide itself. Since 1994 to date, the Prosecution has not done so, implying that only the Genocide was investigated not the carnage that came after.
Part of me says that the Genocide was so horrific that the liberating force must have been totally traumatized and perhaps that to some extent justifies the retaliatory killings that took place. However, the dimension of the carnage defies this logic. Hundreds of thousands of Rwandans and Congolese were killed in 1994 in the process of RPF purging that region and pursuing the Genocidaires as they escaped. Secondly, Rwanda has made a lot of progress since 1994 yet scratching the surface of present-day Rwanda uncovers an uncomfortable growing trend of human rights violations, suppression of democratic evolution and representation particularly of Rwandan Hutus, and of human rights activists and journalists presenting balanced views and reporting on the current situation within the country, by the Kagame government. There is irrefutable evidence of this that is widely written up on and quoted in Rwandan and international media. Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, reconciliation can never occur on the basis of selective justice. By not addressing the post-genocide RPF killings, the Prosecution of the ICTR might have created the very conditions of inequity and lack of justice that will trigger continued grievances and latent violence amongst present-day Rwandans.
There is already evidence of this in the Rwandan country side where Tutsi and Hutu children rarely go into a classroom together and if they do, the atmosphere is punctuated with tension and a discernible level of mutual abuse. A few years ago I used to visit Kigali every few months. There was no way to ignore the lack of integration between Hutus and Tutsis and actually it was hard to identify any Hutus in public functions or working in shops, restaurants or the new soulless shopping malls coming up in Kigali. Yet in the country side, stopping at a restaurant or market to buy vegetables met that you met mostly or even exclusively Hutu farmers and communities (I was working in Eastern DRC and used to drive to Kigali). They always appeared to be poor, engaged in primary income activities rather than in teaching, provincial government or police. Why the distinctions if the race issue was legislated away by Kagame (Kagame pushed a law to never require anyone to mention their ethnic group on any official document)?
Time will tell as the clock for ethnic tensions and violence in the Great Lakes is ticking away. The 1994 Genocide was preceded in the 1950′s by an earlier Genocide of equal proportions where a diaspora resulted in the movement of Tutsis and Hutus throughout the African continent. Every 40 years or so the Genocide cycle returns. This time, I hope it never does but reconciliation is something one can feel and touch, and I could not really find it over a couple of years of visiting Rwanda. Then yesterday a question asked by those more involved begged me to investigate.
I don’t know the answer but after thinking about it and reviewing the ICTR website and taking into account all that I know after begin in the region for years, I fear for the worst but pray for the best.
Go to the following site to see the mandate and structure as well as the work of the ICTR that is scheduled to close down by end-2014: