Why Rwanda expressed reservations to rights council proposal to join ICC

With 63 of 67 recommendations by the Human Rights Council Working Group of the United Nations achieved by the Government of Rwanda, the rights council of the world body has been eagerly awaiting the decision on the ratification of the Rome Statute governing the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Minister Busingye (L) and Prof. Shyaka address the media in Kigali yesterday. (Faustin Niyigena)
Minister Busingye (L) and Prof. Shyaka address the media in Kigali yesterday. (Faustin Niyigena)

With 63 of 67 recommendations by the Human Rights Council Working Group of the United Nations achieved by the Government of Rwanda, the rights council of the world body has been eagerly awaiting the decision on the ratification of the Rome Statute governing the International Criminal Court (ICC).

However, this appears to be far from coming after the government expressed reservations about becoming a signatory and member of The Hague-nased court.

Johnston Busingye, the minister for justice as well as attorney-general, says Rwanda is a believer, supporter and member of international justice systems that are transparent, objective, impartial and fair.

However, Busingye, who was on Tuesday briefing journalists on the recently-concluded second universal periodic review on human rights, said Rwanda is not entirely convinced that the ICC fully represents the said values, hence opting out of the court.

In the review that took place in Geneva, Switzerland, Rwanda reported that so far, it had implemented 63 of 67 recommendations made by the Human Rights Working Group of the United Nations in 2011.

Following the review, the government has adopted 50 more recommendations from the Human Rights Council Working Group of the United Nations, but the Rome Statute, which has in recent years come under heavy criticism for alleged ‘selective justice’, is not one of them due to several concerns.

Busingye said among the concerns was the trend of racial profiling portrayed by the court.

“We still have concerns that we would not want to go to Parliament without resolving, particularly that the International Criminal Court, until now, seems to be a court that looks at your colour before it tries you. If you are colour black, you are a good candidate for that court,” he said.

Frosty relations

Minister Busingye said they expressed reasons for their reservations to be part of the court before the working group, adding that it would not be possible to convince parliament to ratify the statue due to the concerns.

“If we went to Parliament to have this statute ratified, we would probably have issues on that particular question, even if we adopt it as an issue for consideration, it is not us, it is someone else to make the decision,” he said.

African countries have had frosty relationship with the ICC ever since the then chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, accusing him of war crimes in Darfur.

The African Union has also threatened to consider withdrawing from the Rome Statute en masse over credibility issues of the court.

In the latest case, South Africa threatened in June to withdraw from the court after criticism over the government’s refusal to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir who had visited the country for an African Union meeting.

The review process

The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the world as well as addressing instances of human rights violations.

The review process involved Rwanda presenting progress updates on the implementation of recommendations pertaining to human rights as well as highlighting impacts the developments has had on citizens and the country in general.

The remaining four recommendations were in the implementation process, Busingye said.

By adopting the 50 recommendations, the Ministry of Justice sifted through more than 80 recommendations made by the working group to choose the ones relevant and applicable to Rwandan milieu.

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Busingye said they chose to leave out those not applicable to Rwanda since not all recommendations made were obligatory – countries can choose what suits them best.

Another recommendation that was not adopted was a call to investigate reports that Burundian refugees were being recruited into armed groups.

The recommendation did not make it among those to be ‘brought home’ as it remains an allegation.

“While there [in Switzerland], we asked them to substantiate the allegations, there was none. To the best of our knowledge, even before we left for the review, that allegation has been sailing around and the minister for Refugees and Disaster Preparedness and other government and non-government agencies have visited these camps and found that these allegations are unsubstantiated,” Busingye said.

Among those that the government took up for consideration was a recommendation to look into possibilities of programmes to safe abortions as per the legal system.

The minister said, in 2012, there was a huge improvement considering that until then, it was completely prohibited without a window that could allow an abortion to happen.

He noted that following the 2012 amendment, there had emerged concerns and issues that still cause women and girls to go for illegal and unsafe abortions.

The review would look at what could be done to improve on the situation and to ensure that the law is not a hindrance.

“There are still issues that make women resort to illegal or unsafe means. What we agreed is that we would examine our laws once again and see if there are any bottlenecks to women acquiring safe abortions and see if the law is a hindrance,” Busingye said.

“In 2012, when the law was being amended, the whole purpose was so that the law it not a hindrance, if the law continues to become a hindrance, there is need for improvement.”

Other recommendations that received the support of Rwanda and were taken up include continued efforts of prevention of genocide, strengthening capacities of the office of the Ombudsman, and developing programmes based on the employability, entrepreneurship to enable young people get better access to the labour market.

Notably, most of the recommendations are calls to continue or uphold continuing efforts in the promotion of human rights and freedoms.

Prof. Anastase Shyaka, the chief executive of Rwanda Governance Board, said it was an indication of the recognition of the ongoing efforts.

Rwanda was also commended by member states of the working group for its efforts in specific aspects of promotion of human rights.

South Sudan commended Rwanda for taking in refugees from various countries despite its small size, while China noted that there were numerous lessons to be drawn from Rwanda’s experience in regard to dealing with human rights.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

 

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