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December 16, 2003

Hiding the Truth

In Rwanda, survivors and witnesses to the attempted genocide of 1994, are being systematically harassed and killed.

Ibuka [an organization representing survivors] said one or two genocide survivors are killed every month but it says three potential witnesses were killed recently in the south west province Gikongoro.

Ibuka says in the most recent case a man was killed and dismembered in front of his family as a warning to other potential witnesses.

"The ultimate reasons behind the killings is to block and scare away genocide survivors from testifying in gacaca courts," Ibuka said.

In a country where 800,000 died in racial purges, finding a way to mete out justice is not just in Rwanda's best interest, but in the UN's interest as well. The UN was founded partially as a need to avert just this kind of racial violence and should be taking a direct interest in facilitating the regional "gacaca" courts to, hopefully, ensure fair trials and protection for survivors.

While it took only 100 days to kill those 800,000, it's ending up taking years to try the suspects in the killings. According to the article, around 100,000 are still awaiting trial. That it's taking so long to try the suspects is not necessarily a bad thing--it may indicate a serious attitude towards trials. That it's allowing time for survivors and witnesses to be bullied and killed is, however, unacceptable.

The UN role in setting up international tribunals for those who had the most responsibility in the purges is fine. Unfortunately, hampered by the Rwanda's reluctance to assist, the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) doesn't even foresee a completion of its own trials (of some 82 mostly government and military officials) for charges of genocide until 2008. The report from the International Crisis Group is grim.

The cold reality is that the ICTR needs to be a good deal more efficient in handling trials. Among other things, it should maintain its priority of judging the main suspects from the army and 1994 government, whose trials have been set to begin in the last three months of 2003. It will only be possible to wrap up the initial proceedings within four to five years if the court vigorously reforms how its judges conduct the trials and if it refuses to start any new genocide investigations. The new president judge, Erik Mose, who presented a final four-year trial calendar to the UN General Assembly for the first time, shows a welcome sense of responsibility. The judges and the court must prove their total commitment to this process. Reform of the registryís management of defence costs has also become vital.

There is one further issue. A year ago, the Rwandan government provoked a serious crisis in its difficult relationship with the court when it prevented the travel of witnesses whose presence was required for cases to proceed because it objected to the prosecutorís inquiries into war crimes presumed to have been committed by the RPA in 1994. The formal suspension of Carla del Ponteís investigations in September 2002 and the establishment of a U.S.-sponsored deal between the prosecutorís office and the Rwandan authorities seemed to have improved the situation. At a tripartite meeting in Washington in May 2003 an agreement was reached in principle whereby Kigali would take responsibility for the trials, and the ICTR would only intervene if Rwanda was unable to carry them out satisfactorily. However, the ejection of Carla del Ponte from the prosecutorís seat following the Security Council decision to separate the ICTR and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) means that there will probably never be a trial of the RPA in Arusha. This triumph of pragmatism, however, does not absolve the prosecutorís office of its responsibilities.

Rwanda is proving to be unreliable and, most certainly, "unable to carry [the trials] out satisfactorily." The UN needs, at this point, to take a much stronger line with the government and step in where necessary. It is best for Rwanda if the situation is handled by their government; what is not acceptable, though, is the thought that those guilty may escape justice by committing further acts of violence.

While the ICTR is overburdened, the UN cannot escape the responsibilities that it has as the international organization overseeing the events in Rwanda.

Read the BBC story.
Read the International Crisis Group report.
Thanks to Andy of World Wide Rant for the tip.

Posted by zombyboy at December 16, 2003 03:21 PM

Yea, it seems perverse. Survived the genocide, killed during the 'reconciliation.'

One slight semantic note: what happened in Rwanda was a genocide, not an attempted genocide.

(Genocide doesn't necessarily mean the elimination of every member of a people. If it did, then the Holocaust wouldn't have been one)

Posted by: Brian at December 19, 2003 02:45 PM

Point well taken. Thanks.

Posted by: zombyboy at December 21, 2003 11:41 AM
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