Our experience compels us to protect civilians, says prosecutor

Rwanda has every reason to safeguard the community against any violations of international humanitarian law because of what the country has gone through to ensure what happened in 1994 does not ever happen again.

This was said at the weekend by Jules Marius Ntete, the Inspector General of the National Public Prosecution Authority, during a moot court competition on international humanitarian law.

The competition brought together students from faculties of law of four universities in Rwanda to enable them to practically understand international humanitarian law and strengthen its applicability in the country.

The competition was won by law students from University of Rwanda, who will now represent the country at the continental level in a competition that will be held in Arusha, Tanzania.

International humanitarian law (IHL) is the law that seeks to limit the effects of armed conflict and protect civilians.

“Indeed for the many victims of today’s conflicts, compliance with IHL is a matter of life and death,” Ntete said.

He explained that all principles established under the four Geneva Conventions and additional protocols were violated by crimes committed against humanity during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.

“This serves to remind us that the consequences of the failure to stand firm in defence of IHL principles go beyond simple legal terms and may have a catastrophic impact on the everyday lives of many innocent civilians,” he said.

Ntete stressed that one of the most important and fundamental principles of IHL is one that prohibits any direct attack against the civilian population and their property.

“In today’s warfare, we see this principle more violated than ever before. It is our responsibility as states and signatories to the Geneva Convention to respect and ensure respect of these crucial principles,” he noted.

“We all know that Rwanda is among the top five troop contributing countries and we cannot overstate the role played by Rwanda in the adoption of the Kigali Principles on the protection of civilians,” he added.

Pascal Cuttat, the Head of Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said that there has been evolution of International Humanitarian Law for more than one and half centuries, adding that much is being done to continue to work to safeguard the international humanitarian law in order to respond to contemporary humanitarian challenges

“It is the responsibility of governments, but also of academics, students, armed forces and security personnel, and the general public, to work towards promotion of the fundamental principles of International Humanitarian Law,” he said.

The moot court competition will contribute to increase knowledge of International Humanitarian Law in Rwanda, and, in turn, Rwandans can contribute to increased knowledge of International Humanitarian Law in the region, he added.