afrol News, 12 August - The US group Human Rights Watch (HRW) is stepping up its attacks on the Rwandan government as the United States holds the presidency of the UN Security Council. HRW now demands that the UN "must stand behind its intention of delivering justice to victims of both sides in the conflict that devastated Rwanda in 1994."
In a letter to current Security Council President John Negroponte (the US ambassador to the UN), the US group stressed the importance of "bringing to justice not only those behind the genocide but also members of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in 1994." The RPA, which forms the basis of today's Rwandan government, liberated the country from the extremist government that was in the process of committing the worst genocide in Africa's history, slaughtering close to one million Rwandans.
The US group however finds the time is due to prosecute the troops stopping the genocide. "The Rwandan Patriotic Army murdered thousands in 1994, committing war crimes and crimes against humanity," says Kenneth Roth, executive director of HRW. "The president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, himself has admitted that some of his soldiers committed abuses. But now the Rwandan government opposes bringing the accused before international justice."
President Kagame, which is leading a slow reconciliation and democratisation process in Rwanda, has profiled himself as a global fighter against ethnic cleansing and genocide. Earlier this year, he visited concentration camps in Germany, reminding of the series of genocides committed in the 20th century.
Germany - scene of the brutal slaughter of 6 million Jews and other minorities in the 1940s - has up till now accepted the war crimes committed against Germans during its liberation from the Nazi regime. Nazi war criminals have been prosecuted in the Nuremberg Trial and by international courts since 1945. The genocide on 900,000 Rwandans has however been treated very differently by the international community.
In 1994, the Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to prosecute genocide and other crimes against humanity committed in Rwanda. Until now, the tribunal has tried those accused of genocide. But the chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, recently announced that she would seek indictments against some members of the RPA for violating international humanitarian law. Her effort to pursue the worst abuses by both sides to the conflict parallels her work in the former Yugoslavia.
According to HRW, "since then, the Rwandan government has hindered the travel of witnesses, causing the suspension of three genocide trials. It has also failed to provide documents requested by the prosecutor." The prosecutor reported these obstructions to the Security Council in late July.
The Rwandan government says the tribunal should try only genocide cases and leave any possible prosecution of RPA members to Rwandan courts, as these not are cases of crimes against humanity.
The US group however holds that victims of RPA crimes in 1994 "have little chance for justice within the country." Rwandan military courts yet have tried very few RPA soldiers for 1994 crimes and those convicted have received light sentences, the group complains. Rwandan authorities also have banned the newly created gacaca or "people's courts" from trying crimes by RPA soldiers as these courts are established to treat the large queue of genocide trials.
In response to the prosecutor's charges, the Rwandan government repeated its own frequently voiced criticisms of the tribunal's performance. The UN court has shown poor efficiency in trying genocide responsibles - which it has admitted on several occasions.
- Rwandan authorities deplore the failures of the tribunal, and there have been some, said Roth. "But in this case the Rwandan government has shown itself to be more worried about the tribunal's potential for success - in prosecuting the RPA," he adds. Rwanda and the UN tribunal are however still overwhelmed by the task of trying genocide responsibles, 8 years after the terrible crime occurred.
Based on HRW, press reports and afrol archives