Kenneth Roth’s Human Rights Watch (HRW) is back in the news through its latest report on Rwanda’s post genocide judicial dispensation, having been very silent for so long in this part of Africa,
The report has set the global rights body on a new round of collision course with Rwanda’s justice ministry.
By triggering an angry reaction from a large section of Rwandans affected by the ravages of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, one can say that, HRW is hoping that such reaction would keep it relevant in the so-called global human rights industry.
When one reads critically the contents of the report, it seems that HRW is just keen on making a few headlines in the media before retreating into irrelevance.
Through the report, HRW is itching for a fight with Rwanda’s justice ministry that is sure to be fodder for media.
By saying that Rwanda’s post genocide and restorative justice system known as Gacaca has left what it termed as “a mixed legacy”, “miscarriage of justice” along with other observations that are clearly misleading, HRW has further undermined its own credibility.
The pursuit of a few headlines by such an NGO seeking attention is premised on the fact that the subject of the matter-post genocide justice, is indeed a very emotional topic in Rwanda.
It will not be strange if HRW’s several recommendations to government as contained in the report is rejected whole scale.
HRW is indeed aware that Gacaca in itself revolves around efforts geared towards providing restorative as opposed to retributive justice to those aggrieved by events of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Retributive justice is classical western jurisprudential system that HRW and the entire western world are used to.
Restorative justice on the other hand as espoused by Gacaca in Rwanda or South Africa’s truth and reconciliation system is a new Afro-centric justice system that is meant to enable Africans to forge their own system of meting out justice in their own way given their own unique circumstances.
Kenneth Roth, is aware that grabbing headlines here and there, would actually keep the donor funds flowing into his pockets. He has thus chosen a topic as his latest project on Rwanda with capacity to provoke emotions to run to high heavens in order to convince his donors to keep the taps flowing with cash.
The issue at hand is whether Africans should develop their own unique system of justice given their own unique circumstances, on one hand or on the other hand, whether Africa should follow blindly the classic western approach to justice.
That being the case, one way of doing so by the likes of Kenneth Roth and the rest of his ilk, would be to touch the raw nerves of stakeholders of such a sensitive topic as post genocide justice in Rwanda in order to grab world attention.
Once the world is drawn into the fight then for sure donors would bring in the much needed cash.
There is no other way of interpreting HRW’s report. The report talks about failure by Gacaca to provide credible decisions and justice in a small number of cases among other recommendations.
Already, the justice minister says that such opinions are baseless and that such thoughts carry no merit given the circumstances and related challenges the government faced after the genocide in processing the large number of cases.
Government says in a communiqué posted on its official website, in response to the HRW report , that Gacaca reflects a justice sector that is inherently unique, adding that HRW itself acknowledges in the report that 1.2 million people have benefited from the Gacaca process, noting that “the challenge would have overwhelmed even the world’s most advanced justice system”.
The HRW report comes at a time when the government is currently reviewing the workings of Gacaca system. A point of note here, is the timing and intentions of releasing the HRW report.
It seems that HRW is bent on stealing the limelight from the government by coming out at this time to issue its version of review before government brings out its own.
The report on Gacaca from government , has a very likelihood of paving way for replication of this very solution into other African justice systems given the fact that similar challenges are faced by other African countries ravaged by conflict.
Instead, HRW bent on selling the retributive justice system, recommends that government should consider revisiting the issue of post genocide justice altogether, by setting up specialized units in the national court system to review what it termed as alleged “miscarriages of justice” by Gacaca.
However, Tharcisse Karugarama, the Minister for Justice, would have none of that kind of advice. “Since its introduction, Gacaca has brought together relatives of genocide suspects to sit side by side with genocide survivors and judge fairly those who committed these crimes”, adding that, “through Gacaca we have been able to judge and resolve more than 1 million dossiers, a great achievement that would have been impossible otherwise”.
HRW says that it observed over 2,000 days of Gacaca trials, reviewing more than 350 cases, and conducted interviews with hundreds of participants from all sides of the Gacaca process before compiling the report, a glaring shortcoming.
HRW further acknowledges in the same report that since 2005, more than 12,000 Gacaca courts have tried 1.2 million cases indicating the narrow approach it used to arrive at the bulk of its conclusions.
Further still, from a detailed reading through Annex 2 of the HRW report, that gives very clear responses and comments made by minister Karugarama, just prior to its release , it becomes clear why the issue at hand is a fight between espousing a western approach and drawing from African tradition to bring genocide perpetrators in Rwanda to account.
In the annex , Karugarama, says that since genocide involved an unusually large number of the Rwandan population, applying the type of recommendations alluded to in the report in such circumstances is simply untenable.
Put simply, Karugarama is telling HRW that applying whole scale classic western justice system to all genocide cases is not practical. If such a route was taken Karugarama, warns that Rwanda would have faced dire economic, structural, and institutional crisis of insurmountable proportions.
Karugarama adds that even if irregularities can occur, there is trust that local institutions are capable of carrying out their due mandates of protecting peoples’ rights. The minister adds that Gacaca was meant to solve more than one challenge such as the need to weave the social fabric that was torn by the Genocide,
something that the classic justice system is incapable of undertaking successfully as Rwanda moves on.
In conclusion, one can say that, just by fighting very hard to sell, without success, the western justice system to Rwanda’s genocide cases, HRW can be seen to be one of those institutions that are working very hard to scuttle efforts by Africans to forge their own destiny as such a prospect is threatening to the interests of the Western world.
Let us not forget that the majority of such western nations are funders of the HRW programmes in Africa.
The author is an editor with The New Times