MUNYAGA: The world must stop another Genocide

Rwandan genocide

By Mboneko Munyaga, East Africa News Agency

The world may have failed to stop the Rwanda genocide from happening but it certainly rose to the calling of the hour when the UN Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to try all suspects implicated in the heinous crimes against humanity.

ICTR, observers agree, helped to shape the body and context of international justice after its judges interpreted the meaning of genocide to include rape.  It was the world’s first UN tribunal created to try international crimes and it established precedence for no immunity on crimes against humanity and genocide.

Former Rwandan Prime Minister, Jean Kambanda was handled a life sentence, the highest punishment the court could mete out.

Early last month, the court closed business after completing its work in Arusha, Tanzania where it was headquartered.  Altogether, a total of 93 people were indicted by the court. Sixty one of them were convicted of genocide while 14 were acquitted on appeal. Eight suspects are still on the run and will now have either to be handled by Rwanda or the transitional programme called the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunal, also based in Arusha.

One of the most wanted suspects, Ladislas Ntaganzwa was arrested recently in Goma, eastern DR Congo.  Rwanda is said to be working on extradition procedures to have him repatriated to Kigali for trial over his part in the genocide in which an estimated 800,000 people mostly Tutsis and some Hutus were killed.

The biggest question though is: What has the world and Africa in particular learnt from the Rwanda experience? My own take is that very little. Part of the problem with the Rwandan experience is that ICTR did not tackle the cause of the problem, that is, what made the demographic bomb to explode in the first place?

Indeed, that was not the mandate of the court and it couldn’t in all fairness address that question without being sympathetic to the suspects and thus fail tragically in the delivery of justice. But the question remains pivotal to solving present and even future problems especially in Africa where countries are still struggling to become homogeneous nation-states as opposed to mere chunks of land administered together as states that were never nations in the first place.

For example, Ethiopia, the seat of the African Union (AU), was never colonised but the country is Africa’s most boiling pot of regional and sectarian tensions. Abyssinia (Ethiopia) was an empire in Biblical times but in our very times, Eritrea went its separate way after years of a bloody civil war. The Ogaden region wages a long standing struggle for self determination while the Olomo, who number about 35 per cent of all Ethiopians, have recently renewed their agitation for self determination as well.

In reality, Ethiopia is held together only because of the iron fisted style of government by the northern Tigreans, who, through changing political fortunes managed to subdue the then politically dominant Amhara, symbolised and immortalised by the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie.

But nobody talks about the potentially volatile situation in Ethiopia, which with its capital, Addis Ababa as the seat of the AU, represents the collective pride (or misery) of all Africans. In all fairness, almost in the whole of Africa people live in and under a state of mutual mistrust. It is hard to talk about achieving common goals under such a situation.

Speaking during the ceremony to mark the end of ICTR work in Arusha, the former President of the court, Justice Sir Dennis CM Byron said the court risked being held in ignominy because of the apparent failure to find homes for those acquitted and do not feel safe to go back to Rwanda. Kigali on the other hand has always insisted that they were free to return home but people should be allowed to live their instincts.

One of the criticisms of the handling of the Rwandan genocide through the judicial process was that it was justice for the victor, sentiments that greatly undermine the concept of international rule of law and the fight against impunity. I think Africa should no longer tolerate crises, whether it is the political impulse in Zanzibar over botched elections, the simmering trouble in Burundi or any other situation anywhere in the continent that ‘unhinges’ peace and stability.

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