Friday, 13 June 2008

Rwanda Prosecuting four Army Officers for Crimes Against Hutu

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 ( 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 (
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.


Unknown said...

I agree that it is important to hold those most responsible to account but RPF crimes would be considered war crimes and crimes against humanity rather than genocide which has the 'special stigma' attached and that they should be held to account for atrocities which have been reported by Amnesty and HRW. I think this development will be important in ending the 'victor's justice' which has hung over the ICTR especially since Carla Del Ponte's departure. RPF rule in Rwanda is turning into something of an ethnic hegemony and the collectivation of guilt of Hutu only serves to concrete this view. I am not saying there was a counter genocide, there was by no means one nor am I saying the genocide did not happen rather that in order to reconcile Rwanda there needs to be truth and accountablity on both sides something which is lacking in Rwanda.

Harry M Rhea said...

Prof Schabas, you mention "nor should they have been" for the lack of prosecutions against US and UK officials for war crimes in after WWII. You mention that this is because the worst offenders should be prosecuted. But why not top US or UK officials for their respective crimes? "Victor's justice" is used tto much to harm the Nuremberg legacy.

Harry M Rhea said...

Prof Schabas, you write "nor should they have been" when referring the lack of prosecutions of war crimes committed by the Allies of WWII. Also, you say this with support that on the persons most responsible for the worst crimes should be prosecuted. Should not the US or UK have been prosecuted at the higher ranks if whichever crimes were committed, the persons most responsible would have been indicted?