Early in July, the Geneva Academy and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda hosted a round table that basically consisted of an appraisal of the work of the Tribunal. Many of the individuals who have contributed to its success were present, including the two previous prosecutors (Carla del Ponte, Hassan Jallow), defense counsel, judges and academics. Court reporters make a record of the proceedings, which are now available: http://www.ictr.org/ENGLISH/International_Symposium/index.html.
I spoke in the final session, which was reserved for academics (we were required to keep quiet until then, which was quite a hardship). In my remarks, I addressed what I found to be an undercurrent of criticism at the conference that the Tribunal had not completed its work because it had not prosecuted the Rwandese Patriotic Front cases. In fact, the whole meeting began to look like a bit of an ambush for Prosecutor Jallow, with politicised anti-Kagame academics and human rights activists leading the campaign for the RPF prosecutions. As I explained in my remarks, which are posted on the Tribunal website, I am very far from being convinced that the lack of prosecutions of the RPF cases indicates a failure of the mission of the Tribunal.
One hears a lot of cliches about the fact that you can only have reconciliation if both sides are prosecuted. There were regular references at the conference to the alleged shortcomings of Nuremberg in this respect. I don't think that the 'failure' to prosecute the allies evenhandedly was a 'shortcoming' of Nuremberg, nor do I think there is any real evidence that it created an insurmountable obstacle to 'reconciliation'.
There is, of ocurse, the argument that prosecution of one side politicises the Tribunal, and that this sours its judicial mission. I don't get that argument either. Especially because many of those who are arguing for prosecuting 'the other side' have a rather obvious political agenda themselves. They want to weaken and even overthrow Rwandan President Kagame, and one of the ways to undermine him is the threat the his close collaborators and perhapes he himself will face the music before the international tribunal. Thus, a political campaign gets dressed up in the clothes of 'neutral justice'.
You can see the same thing at Nuremberg, by the way. The biggest proponents of the 'victor's justice' critique of Nuremberg are the holocaust deniers, with David Irving at the helm. His big books involve attacks on the Nuremberg trial, and an attempt to demonstrate that the bombing of Dresden in February 1945 was a terrible war crime analogous to anything the Nazis perpetrated. That's just not true. But such lies sell well in some quarters, just as the claim that RPF crimes, which allegedly resulted in 25,000 deaths in what were mainly revenge or reprisal killings, are in some way equivalent to the genocide of Tutsi that resulted in 800,000 deaths.
Of course there is a sense in which all such crimes are equivalent. The victims of these atrocities - and I am not gainsaying that Dresden and the RPF reprisals were not atrocities - suffer every bit as much. For that matter, it is hardly the concern of a victim whether they suffer as a result of genocide or a garden-variety murder. But obviously other concerns are afoot when we are dealing with international criminal justice. It is widely accepted that the international tribunals also have a mission to develop and confirm the 'historical truth'. Isn't that really what the debate is about? Some think the historical truth of World War II is of a number of morally equivalent powers fighting for control of territory. By that reading of history, the Americans and British were just as evil (or as good) as the Nazis. Similarly, some think the historical truth of Rwanda in 1994 is a civil war between Hutu and Tutsi in which there were comparable numbers of victims and atrocities on both sides. I don't agree, obviously. In establishing the 'historical truth', the international tribunals necessarily emphasise the atrocities of one side rather than the other. I think this is generally a positive contribution that they make, and not a negative feature, as has been argued. This is all part of the 'victors' justice' debate, about which I have written on this blog on many occasions. I am increasingly convinced that it is an empty slogan, based upon unproven hypotheses and a lot of conjecture.