Justice, and Liberation Day Parties, in Rwanda

Human rights scholars and advocates have been getting ramped up for Rwanda’s Liberation Day parties this year at which booze and hotdogs will flow like mana from the heavens. That and Hassan Jallo’s – the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda –  briefing on the status of the court to the UN Security Council. Activists have issues a series of letters charging the ICTR’s with complaisance with the current Rwandan regime who are protecting their fellow RPF members from being indicted for war crimes committed when they stopped the genocide in 1994. A group of experts over at Concerned African Scholars write:

While we commend the ICTR for vigorously prosecuting numeraous perpetrators of the 1994 genocide, we are deeply concerned that the failure to indict a single RPF soldier for killing civilians causes the Tribunal to be dismissed to “victor’s justice,” sets a dangerous precedent for future international prosecutions, and undermines efforts at achieving peace, security, and reconciliation in Rwanda and the Great Lakes region as a whole.

But what about when the ICTR tried those 4 RPF guys for their roles in the Kigali massacre last year after some deal making with the Government of Rwanda – that was pretty awesome wasn’t it?

This domestic case was a completely inappropriate substitute for ICTR prosecutions. For the past 15 years, the RPF-led government has shown that it is neither willing nor able to deliver justice for such politically sensitive crimes. First, the RPF never prosecuted any of its soliders for war crimes in 1994 until this 2008 case. Second, the two acquittals and two light sentences handed down in this case do not reflect the gravity of the crimes committed. Third, in the past year, several ICTR trial chambers, the ICTR appeals chamber, and England’s High Court of Justice have ruled that Rwanda cannot even provide fair trails in high-profile genocide cases. The English High Court, in particular, expressed serious concerns about the Rwandan judiciary’s independence and impartiality.

So take that. And Chief Prosecutor Jallo, Kenneth Roth at Human Rights Watch thinks:

We strongly believe that your mandate as Chief Prosecutor will not be fulfilled until you prosecute alleged RPF crimes. Failure to do so will undoubtedly taint perceptions of the Tribunal’s impartiality and undermine its legitimacy in the eyes of future generations. Seeking justice for the victims of these RPF crimes neither denies the genocide nor equates these crimes with genocide. It simply asserts that all victims, regardless of the identity of the alleged perpetrator, have the right to seek redress for the wrongs done to them.

Not a great week for Hassan Jallo. However, very little of this has to do with Jallo or the ICTR. Rwanda’s reluctance to hand over RPF war criminals is embedded in their politics of genocide and attempt to control the internal and international historiography of 1994. Reorienting the political processes of justice in the region can’t be done in Arusha. It must a part of a larger political shift that addresses the politics and practices of the current Rwandan regime and treats the ICTR in this context rather than its own player.

Until then, Happy Liberation Day!


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