Another important development in accountability for atrocities has been taken with the arrest yesterday by Rwandan authorities of four army officers charged with the deaths of Hutu clergymen during the 1994 genocide. The officers were associated with the Rwandese Patriotic Army, which overthrew the genocidal regime and installed the current regime. For many years there have been calls for these so-called 'flipside' prosecutions, and charges that unless atrocities committed by both sides were prosecuted, Rwanda would not properly come to terms with its past.
When the Security Council directed the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to complete its work, it referred specifically to the importance of investigation of the allegations of RPF crimes, generally believed to have been revenge or reprisal killings related to the aftermath of genocide. The Prosecutor of the International Tribunal has regularly indicated that investigations were ongoing. Last week, in his report to the Security Council (http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/PRO/N08/365/38/PDF/N0836538.pdf?OpenElement) he mentioned the pledge by Rwanda to proceed with the four cases. He said: 'As the Council knows, Rwanda shares concurrent jurisdiction with the ICTR over such offences. I have therefore decided to hold in abeyance further action on my part, on the clear that any such prosecutions in and by Rwanda should be effective, expeditious, fair and open to the public. My Office will also monitor those proceedings. The prosecutions in Rwanda will of course be without prejudice to the primacy of the ICTR’s jurisdiction over those crimes. I hope that the will be conducted by Rwanda in a manner that will effectively contribute to reconciliation in that country.'
This is further evidence of the confidence of the Prosecutor in the Rwandan justice system. It will be a good test for Rwanda, a chance to show the world that it is up to this difficult task.
Human rights NGOs have called for prosecution of the RPF cases. Last November, Amnesty International gave the failure of the Rwandan national justice system to deal with these cases as the first reason justifying its opposition to extradition of suspects from the United Kingdom to Rwanda so that they could stand trial for genocide (http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AFR47/013/2007/en/dom-AFR470132007en.pdf).
Personally, while I am of the view that all perpetrators of atrocities should be brought to justice, I would be concerned if this contributed to a revisionist narrative of the events of 1994 by which both sides are deemed to be morally equivalent. In the second world war, war crimes and other atrocities were committed by the British, the Americans, the Soviets and their allies, but these were not prosecuted at Nuremberg, nor should they have been. International prosecution, in particular, has to focus on the worst offenders, 'those who bear the greatest responsibility', and that necessarily means a selection of cases guided by what are essentially political criteria. Like the crimes of the Nazis, those of the Hutu extremists in 1994 deserve a special stigma. This is why we reserve the term genocide, 'the crime of crimes', to describe them.