Instead of thinking about and celebrating the huge sacrifices that the men and women of the Rwanda Patriotic Army made as they marched across the Kagitumba bridge back in 1990, launching and eventually winning a four year war of national liberation, I was on tenterhooks, wondering if the final version of the UN’s mapping report on the DRCongo would have the ‘G’ word in it.
Many of the people I talked to believed that it would be replaced with something like ‘targeted killings’ or something of the sort, but they were wrong. I hate to say it but, I told them so.
The manner in which the word ‘genocide’ has been used in everyday life has utterly diminished the power of the word. We have environmentalists talking about ‘ecological genocide’ and we have others raging against Western culture calling it ‘cultural genocide’.
The truth of the matter is that we’ve made it just another word and not a description of the worst possible crime known to man. Without trying to seem like I’m better than the people that wrote this report, but I feel that only a people that have undergone, and therefore understood, genocide can use the ‘G’ without reducing its power.
Rwandans understand what genocide is, so do Jews and Armenians. But for some spoilt youth, working in an NGO, without any basic legal training or methodology to label an action in the theatre of war, ‘genocide’ gets my goat. That is my rant.
However, the whole brouhaha got me thinking. I remember the debates my classmates and I had, wondering if what was happening in Darfur was ‘Genocide’. Some of the best legal minds in our university couldn’t unanimously agree that it was, or wasn’t. Now, what is happening, or what happened at least, was a lot clearer cut than anything that happened in the jungles of the Congo.
In Darfur, we had ‘obvious’ victims and ‘obvious’ perpetrators. Compare that with what the mapping report has to say. I’m not saying that it is accurate but I want to analyse the alleged actions of the RPA soldiers and find out whether the moniker ‘genocide’ can be used in this circumstance.
The legal definition is found in the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide . Article 2 of this convention defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.
Now, for a crime to be actionable in court and for a successful prosecution to be undergone, there must be two things present. A physical element (i.e. the action) and the moral element (i.e. the mens rea, which if translated from Latin literally means ‘guilty mind’).
So, while the report went on and on about the actions of Rwandan soldiers, the writers of this report did not show how these actions constituted genocide. Especially when one looks back and realises that more than two million Rwandans, mainly Hutu, were repatriated, resettled back home and given back the property they’d left behind.
Now, if the mens rea of ‘genocide’ is to attempt to extinguish a people, how then can the Rwandan government be guilty of it? The only thing that it is guilty of is treading on some peoples feet and doing what needed to be done, and to damn with diplomatic niceties.
On a totally different note, I am disappointed by my Algerian brothers and sisters. Listening to the BBC yesterday morning I learnt that two Christian day labourers were arrested for daring to eat lunch during Ramadan.
I like to think that I’m unbiased when it comes to religious practice; that is why I was utterly outraged about the “should we build a Muslim centre near Ground Zero, New York” debate. I found it patently unfair and uncivilised to punish peaceful Muslims for the actions of a few insane ones.
Now, I think it is insane that the great nation of Algeria should walk down the path of intolerance. As a wise man once said, some call him Issa and others call him Jesus, “do unto others what you want others to do unto you”. This is the Golden Rule.