There are certain things we take for granted because they are what make us human. Take fairness and justice, for example. These are universal values that are at the core of our morality and inform relations of every sort.
We expect to be treated fairly and justly as a matter of course. But it doesn’t always happen that way. In fact, throughout history, human relations, whether personal or between states, have often been characterised by unfairness and injustice.
But sometimes justice gets done, even if late and only partially. When that happens, our faith in the essential goodness of mankind is restored. We realise that although rules do not always apply equally, the world is not quite a jungle despite some having the inclination to apply the law of the jungle.
We got an example of this last week when the Supreme Court of Spain dismissed charges against forty Rwandans and ordered the case closed.
To a lay person like me, the judgement by the Spanish court is hugely significant. Legal experts will, of course, see a lot more in it, including that perhaps it has not completely removed the charges.
The more obvious point is that it is obviously a relief for the forty men and for Rwanda which also stood accused.
However, the damage done to the individuals and the country has not been completely repaired by the ruling. In the first place, the indictments were not intended to get justice for victims of the alleged crimes. They were political accusations intended to show senior Rwandan leaders as a bunch of criminals with no moral authority to lead the country. By extension, this was meant to question the legitimacy of the government that they are part of.
The indictments were part of a scheme to rewrite Rwanda’s history according to which the genocide against the Tutsi did not happen, or if it did, was accompanied by another one. So there was a double genocide. This fabricated narrative turned heroes into villains and criminals into victims. It is still being peddled today by so-called scholars, journalists and some activists.
Another point is that universal jurisdiction should not be a stick in the hands of rogues and bullies. There must be rules based on the principles of fairness, equality, reciprocity and respect. No concept of justice without borders can disregard the rights and sovereignty of states.
This is an important argument that Rwanda has been making about universal jurisdiction. It may be getting heard finally.
Finally, the ruling has been hailed as a victory for right. Right is objective and not determined by the wishes or definition of some. It cannot be given or denied by anyone on the basis of their interests or power.
Last week’s decision in Madrid is not an isolated case. It follows the conviction in Germany of the leaders of the FDLR. Its president, Ignace Murwanashyaka, and his deputy, Straton Musoni, were found guilty of war crimes in D R Congo and for leadership roles in a terrorist organisation.
Although the sentences they received were considered lenient by many in Rwanda, there is a sense of satisfaction that some justice was done.
Other European countries like Sweden and Norway have tried Rwandan fugitives residing in their countries for crimes related to genocide in Rwanda. They have returned others to Rwanda to stand trial here.
It is often said the wheels of justice grind slowly. That may be so, but does not explain why France continues to refuse to try known genocidaires living and working there despite the enormous evidence that has been presented.
The latest such refusal was the acquittal of Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, a catholic priest, reportedly for lack of evidence. Munyeshyaka was a priest at St Famille Church during the genocide and evidence has linked him to many killings in the church and to the rape of women who had taken refuge there.
If the French won’t touch Munyeshyaka for whatever reason, surely the Vatican should. They cannot turn a blind eye to the many ‘unpriestly’ things he and other fugitive priests have done. With the evidence available, the Vatican should, at the very least, defrock them. That this has not been done cannot be due to the slow turning of the wheels of justice. It is probably because they are not turning at all.
The church in Rwanda surely has some interest in this matter. It simply cannot keep quiet about clergy it knows to be guilty and carry on as if nothing ever happened. Even if there are any lingering doubts of guilt, the personal and moral conduct of the accused priests has been such as to render them unsuitable as pastors of God’s flock.
The church should act in self-interest, if for no other reason, and denounce its criminal clergy. That is the very least that can be done. But, of course, a higher standard is expected of the church.
So, if the church in Rwanda cannot act on its own, it should push Rome to do so. It should seek to influence the Pope, and if he won’t be moved, pester him, make him have sleepless nights. Maybe, just maybe, he will tire of the persistence and relent and do the just thing.
He could even go further and say: mea culpa. That isn’t such a big thing for a church that teaches that contrition is a necessary condition for salvation.
We await more justice to be done.