We saw nothing, heard nothing, did nothing (Part II)

In yesterday’s segment of this article, I based on the Genocide in Rwanda that happened over two decades ago, to call for the rethinking of the state and international systems to ensure such tragedies do not happen on our watch.
Names of some of the victims of the 1994 Genocide  against the Tutsi displayed at the Gisozi Genocide Memorial Centre. (File)
Names of some of the victims of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi displayed at the Gisozi Genocide Memorial Centre. (File)

In yesterday’s segment of this article, I based on the Genocide in Rwanda that happened over two decades ago, to call for the rethinking of the state and international systems to ensure such tragedies do not happen on our watch.

Just a few weeks ago, President Buhari nominated me as his Special Envoy to Guinea Bissau; last month, in Mali, Nigeria and other ECOWAS leaders stood true to their commitment to a zero tolerance for unlawful takeover of government, a situation which, as the case of Cote d’ Ivoire has shown, easily degenerates into civil strife and internecine conflicts and wars, to mention but just a few.

What these illustrations and their accompanying successes suggest is that regional and continental multilateral intervention mechanisms have only been able to rise to the challenges of peace and security at the level of reaction, and not prevention.

In other words, I am by no means suggesting that we have arrived. It is far from it. There are myriad of technical, economic, as well as politico-diplomatic issues that either exist or could crop up in the process of attempting to rise to the billings of generally safeguarding peace and security in Africa or particularly discharging the Responsibility to Protect Africa’s peoples.

And it is in this vein that this book on the Rwandan Genocide, by Mr. Jegede for whom I have a lot of respect, will prove very useful. Segun Jegede engages impressively with the historical background, as well as the jurisprudential dynamics, and the subsequent trial of the dramatist personae of the Rwandan Genocide. The author writes persuasively, with the lucidity that comes only to one who combines a profound appreciation of theory and practice with privileged insider knowledge.

Without scintilla of doubt, the 20th Century is on record to be the most violent in human history, especially with the two World Wars. Genocide which was coined in 1944 by a Polish-Jewish legal scholar, Raphael Lemkin, to describe Hitler’s attempts to exterminate the Jews and Roma of Europe, is not simply about repression, slaughter, massacre, carnage or torrent of violence.

It is about extermination. It is a resultant from human capacity to destroy in the 21st Century. Genocide is extreme wickedness. If the capacity to destroy in the 21st Century is increasing and genocide is also enabled by increasing capacity to destroy, what is the future of genocide in Africa? Is the challenge really the capacity to destroy or the political will not to take advantage of the capacity? Is the solution not to avoid the politics and policy of hate for one another? Is violence really avoidable? If it is, which category of violence is preventable?

As noted in the Report of the Secretary General on the Establishment of an International Panel of Eminent Personalities to Investigate the Genocide in Rwanda and the Surrounding Events (CM/Dec.379 (LXVII), former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, noted on 20-21 November 1997 that ‘Africa’s ability to move forward will always remain in vain and fatally crippled unless and until the continent manages to develop the capacity to anticipate conflicts and the ability to prevent them before they occur.’

Can African leaders, as at today, beat their chest and say they have the ability and capacity to prevent conflicts before they occur? Can Africa prevent conflict-inducing genocide? Can the people of Nigeria and Africa learn from the historical and jurisprudential analysis of the Rwandan Genocide? These questions clearly show the relevance and importance of Mr. Segun Jegede’s book, The Rwandan Genocide: Historical Background and Jurisprudence.

More significantly, Article 1 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide says ‘genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law,’ which the Contracting Parties ;undertake to prevent and to punish.’

In this regard, genocide is any act ‘committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, such as killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.’

Consequently, the Genocide Convention not only sanctions under Article III, genocide but also ‘conspiracy to commit genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, attempt to commit genocide,’ as well as ‘complicity in genocide.’ What should also be noted is that Article IV of the Convention says ‘persons committing genocide or any of the other acts

enumerated in article III shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals.’

Genocidal acts are often tried by a Competent Tribunal in the territory where the act is committed, ‘or by such international penal tribunal as may have jurisdiction with respect to those Contracting Parties which shall have accepted its jurisdiction. In fact, the seriousness with which the international community takes genocide is now to the extent that’ genocide and the other acts enumerated in Article III shall not be considered as political crimes for the purposes of extradition.

Mr. Jegede has not only provided an analysis of the historical background to the Genocide in Rwanda and the rationale for the establishment of a tribunal to try genocide and other related crimes, but has also explicated the issues involved in the trial, especially criminal responsibility, the admissibility of evidence, the right to fair trial, double jeopardy issues, as well as cumulative charges and cumulating convictions.

In conclusion, therefore, I earnestly commend Segun’s effort and recommend for further discussion all the issues raised in the book because it has brought to the fore some of the ground breaking, but very little known, decisions of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the court that tried the masterminds of one Africa’s darkest crimes against humanity. Even more

importantly, the further discussion and exposition of the issues has the potential to provide insights and lead the way towards other locus classicus in the prosecution of crimes against humanity. It is by so doing that we can make the future of genocide bleak and preventable in Africa.

Before concluding, let me also note that Africa cannot be free from toga of irrationalities and genocidal crimes if lessons are not learnt from the Rwandan experience. The doctrine of African solutions to African problems cannot but remain at best a myth, especially if greater emphasis is not seriously placed on strengthened democracy-induced good governance and promotion of international cultural understanding as a framework for the conduct and management of international affairs in Africa.

Africa will need to quickly go beyond reacting to international crimes. The derivative factor for urgent attention now should be how to prevent genocide.

Obasanjo is former Nigerian President. He delivered this lecture entitled The Rwandan genocide: We saw nothing, we heard nothing and we did nothing as a Keynote Message at the Public Presentation of Rwanda Genocide: Historical Background and Jurisprudence authored by Segun Jegede; at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Lagos on Wednesday, October 13, 2015.

This article was first published in The Guardian (Nigeria)


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