The international legacy of the Genocide against the Tutsi

Yesterday the international community joined Rwanda in commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Genocide against the Tutsi. Twenty-five years ago, the same community abandoned Rwanda after having given a false sense of security.

The UN peacekeeping mission (UNAMIR) was poorly planned.  Its mandate was inadequate. Its capabilities were below par. So it could not stop the killings and ensure the safety of the population. 

In spite of this betrayal of “Never Again,” Rwanda has given the world enduring legacies. These include, but are not limited to, enhanced international jurisprudence in times of conflict.

There are also new ways of thinking about peacekeeping operations, notably through the concept of the responsibility to protect and the Kigali Principles on the protection of civilians.

International Jurisprudence

Cases of Rwandans tried by the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and by individual countries have led to a number of landmark decisions.

The Akayesu Case at the ICTR:  When the ICTR in Arusha, Tanzania, sentenced Jean-Paul Akayesu in October 1998, it established an unprecedented, historical jurisprudence in international law in times of conflict. 

Rape and sexual assault were already covered by the 1949 Geneva Conventions, the 1948 Convention against Genocide, the 1984 Convention against Torture, and customary international law.

For the first time in an international court, rape and sexual violence were defined as crimes against humanity and as tools of torture and genocide. This decision established jurisprudence regarding women’s rights in times of conflict.

The Media Case:  This is the name of the case at the ICTR with three co-accused: Ferdinand Nahimana, Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, and Hassan Nene. They were charged with conspiracy and incitement to commit genocide and crimes against humanity using media outlets to call for the extermination of the Tutsi.

The Media Case established the media as a tool of genocide and persecution. It also determined that leaders can be held accountable for incitement through the media.

The case of Pauline Nyiramasuhuko and her son Arsène Shalom Ntahobali: Nyiramasuhuko was the first woman convicted of genocide by the ICTR. She was also the first woman ever to be convicted in international law for genocide and rape as a crime against humanity.

The case further established that women in leadership positions participated in the implementation of the genocidal ideology as their male counterparts.

Also at the international level, individual countries have tried Rwandans for involvement in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. For example, the “Rwanda Four” trial in Belgium in 2001 was the first case tried under Belgium’s 1993 Law of Universal Jurisdiction, amended in 2003. The accused were Sister Gertrude, Sister Maria Kizito, Vincent Ntezimana, and Alphonse Higaniro

It was also the first jury trial to deal with international humanitarian law violations in another country. The law allows trial in Belgian courts of anybody accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It requires the victim and or the accused to have a direct connection with Belgium.

In 2011, Lazare Kobagaya was tried in a Wichita, Kansas, United States federal court. He was accused of fraud, for unlawfully obtaining U.S. Citizenship, and for lying about his whereabouts in 1994.  He was also indicted for his involvement in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.

This was the first criminal case in a U.S. Federal Court involving genocide. The U.S. has tried other individuals since.

In 2009, Desiré Munyaneza was found guilty in a Quebec (Canada) Superior Court. He was indicted on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. He was the first person charged under the Canada’s “Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Act” of 2000.

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

The R2P concept emanated from the realisation, following the 1990s mass violence in several world spots including Rwanda that too often governments fail to protect their own citizens.  Quite often they target them instead.

The UN 2005 World Summit included two paragraphs 138 and 139 in its Outcome Document establishing the Responsibility to Protect. They respectively view sovereignty as a privilege and establish the international community’s moral obligation to protect civilians.

Peacekeeping

Since 2004, Rwanda has sent peacekeeping forces and/policemen and women to various hot spots. These include Soudan (Darfur region and Khartoum), South Soudan, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Chad, and Haiti, and the Central African Republic.

Rwanda is among the top five contributors to UN peace operations with 6,146 military and police personnel. They are regularly cited for their discipline and professionalism and their dedication to civilian protection in their areas of deployment.

The Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians

These 18 non-binding principles emerged from a high-profile international conference on the protection of civilians held in Kigali, Rwanda, on May 28-29, 2015. The principles place the civilians in conflict zones at the center of peacekeeping.

The peacekeeping environment is often complex, volatile, and dangerous. Without a secured population, there is no safe environment for other efforts such as dialogue and consensus building. 

The principles seek to remove restrictions that prevent the protection of civilians. The most often cited obstacles are unclear mandates and vague rules of engagement.

The Kigali Principles call for strong pre-deployment training for forces and civilian personnel, as well as adequate capabilities. They insist on high levels of training and preparedness for force commanders, and accountability for everyone involved, among other recommendations.

Rwanda’s significant contribution to UN Peace operations and its commitment to R2P and the Kigali Principles show that it takes its international responsibilities very seriously. It is legacy in action as a tribute to the victims of the genocide against the Tutsi.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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