The challenge of neutrality

In a world of blind followers, I pride myself in always trying to stay neutral. Even on the topics where I have clearly taken a side, I try not to shut off opposing voices.
Nathalie Munyampenda
Nathalie Munyampenda

In a world of blind followers, I pride myself in always trying to stay neutral. Even on the topics where I have clearly taken a side, I try not to shut off opposing voices.

For starters, it makes for a good debate and second, it helps you understand the other side. However, there are moments, where you are put before certain facts, systematic injustices that would make any normal human being cry foul. The recent ICTR acquittals of Justin Mugenzi and Prosper Mugiraneza brought about that moment for me.

If you follow media coverage of the acquittals, the storyline goes something like this: two sentences about their earlier conviction and the instruction of appeal court to acquit and release them immediately then four paragraphs about the Rwandan government’s and Survivor organisations’ fury over the acquittals. The point being that the outrage is “a bit much”.

One can draw two very extreme conclusions that frankly don’t seem that extreme anymore. The first is that the United Nations system cannot deliver justice to victims and survivors of the Tutsi genocide. Rwandans already sort of know this. We remember very vividly that in 1994, when the country imploded, the international body decided to ignore the evidence, pack up, and let the “civil war” sort itself out.

Somehow, after the genocide was over, when NGOs were ridiculously calling for free and fair elections while we were still burying bodies and trying not to die from heartache, the UN decided, both out of a sense of guilt and political necessity, to show up. They poured in humanitarian aid to both survivors and killers alike. I mean, they had to be neutral right?

They also set up the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to try the masterminds of the genocide. These are the men and women who sat and plotted the systematic extermination of the Tutsis as well as anyone who spoke up against it. That is what genocide is, right?

Anyway, the tribunal was set up. It cost an island and more and created an expectation that it would do something to wrong the international silence of the previous year. It did some good things; rape became a weapon of genocide. The role of media in genocide was highlighted and considered but ICTR has failed in its fundamental purpose: putting the genocide masterminds behind bars for a long time.

The second conclusion is that the acquittals are engineered by a deeper, darker problem: genocide negation. Ask a survivor and they’ll tell you it’s all a sham. The accused live lavish lifestyles, they run business in the DRC and in west and southern Africa; they plan for life after the ridiculous trials where beyond a shadow of doubt primes over the reality of the utter destruction of families.

From within their comfortable prison cells, they plot the overthrow of the current government and even worse, they convince the world of the fact that genocide didn’t happen. Civil war maybe, genocide no.

This is where I stop being neutral. How can anyone? The people who followed the orders the defendants gave are themselves serving long prison sentences. Others have completed their sentences and have gone back to live in their communities. Talk about a hard reintegration process. Meanwhile, the people who planned the whole thing are not only living comfortably, away from the mess they created, when they are caught and tried, they are acquitted!

Survivors are outraged but that is drowned out by the many foreign advocates of genocide denial. I sometimes wish I could turn back the hands of time and take those people to right before the genocide took place. I would give them a seat at the tables where the lists were being drafted, then have them go with the people who put chalk signs on Tutsi homes, or when the machetes were distributed or when the militia was trained. Or to even listen to the preparatory speeches in person; you know the ones that didn’t mean what they meant.

Then have them watch during the genocide when the interhamwe triaged people by ethnic group and hacked Tutsis limb by limb, a process that sometimes lasted hours or days. How about the women who were raped by dozens of AIDS riddled men or the others who had their babies cut out like you would slice open a goat? Or the smell of death and bodies rotting? Those bodies were our sisters, our uncles, our mothers, our sons, our grandchildren.

The genocide was real and no matter how much ink flows to deny the gravity, especially around April, it will not go away. The killers may walk free and even continue to torture their victims, but we shall not be silent. We remember, we do not forget!

And ICTR? I’ll leave you to your own conclusion.


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