International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

The Issue of Maintained Impunity for Rwanda

While I was in Rwanda this past summer, a report was leaked about Rwanda’s alleged sponsorship of the M23 rebel group in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda’s tumultuous neighbor to the west. (For some background, read this.) Surprisingly, this conflict is still in the news. I say that this is surprising, because there has been a general trend of the international community ignoring over a decade’s worth of human rights abuses going on between those two countries and in the region as a whole. Additionally, another report has just come out stating Uganda’s involvement in the conflict.

There is a long list of reasons why Rwanda should not be sponsoring this rebel group. For starters, it’s illegal on many grounds according to international legal standards. First of all, there is an arms embargo in place for the DRC, so any supply of arms to this country is illegal. Second of all, the motivating issue for the M23 rebel group is supposedly a Congolese issue, which is one of the reasons Rwandan President Paul Kagame has given in his denial of M23. Also, Bosco Ntaganda, the leader of the Rwandan sponsored rebel movement, which many argue is a spin-off from the CNDP, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. These are all blatant violations of international law that have been committed by the Rwandan government.

How has the international community’s allowance of Rwandan impunity affected its post-conflict transformation? I believe that this impunity afforded to Kagame and his government has led to its ability to and justification for maintaining a conflict over the border in the DRC for many years, contributing to the deaths of a vast number of Congolese people. This regional instability cannot be good in a region where the argument for comprehensive transitional justice is a very strong one.

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5 responses to “The Issue of Maintained Impunity for Rwanda

  1. Alana Tiemessen October 17, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    There’s an interesting connection here to the Charles Taylor trial in the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Specifically, Taylor’s conviction sets an important precedent that political leader, heads of state or not, can be held accountable for sponsoring proxy militias that perpetrate human rights violations. It will be interesting to see if the ICC takes a closer look at Rwanda’s involvement in the DRC for this reason. I read something recently that the Chief Prosecutor made mention of Kagame as not immune from this type of investigation or prosecution, but it was not widely reported so i don’t know if it’s credible.

  2. amybe4 October 19, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    The tolerance and impunity of Kagame and his “democracy” is infuriating particularly in that his actions are still fueling the conflict in eastern Congo. However, I think this directly applies to aspects addressed in the Peskin article, about conciliation vs. aggression, or making allowances to achieve something bigger. Peskin discusses the “trial of cooperation,” which shows how vital relationships between the many different parties are. When the UN report on Rwanda was leaked Secr. Gen. Ban Ki Moon immediatel ran to Rwanda to apologize to the agitated Kagame, even though the alleged genocide was well-documented in the report. Superficially, his actions were sickening and his posturing was almost embarrassing. But when you look at the larger context, Moon was posturing in order to prevent Kagame from removing over 3,000 peace-keepers in Western Sudan. While those peace-keeping foorces may not have been vital in terms of numbers or effectiveness on the ground, but this happened just prior to the signing of the referendum in Sudan and pulling them may have threatened the political relationships being built around the referendum and potentially caused it to fail. Peskin refers to Moreno-Ocamp as trying to be either prosecutor or peace-maker. With prosecutions/impunity there seems to be na spect of contextually picking the “lesser evil.” The larger network of politics, relationships, give and take, posturing, and manipulations need to be considered, otherwise a seemingly innocuous, or seemingly just, action could have devastating consequencses.

  3. mrivera11 October 21, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    While the lack of legal action on behalf of the international legal system may seem baffling, the lack of action can stem from the notion that in order for the legal system to take action they must have a solid case built against Kegame that can be proven and stand in a court. As Prof. Tiemessen mentions, there are many similarities with the Charles Taylor case. As we talked about in class, Taylor’s conviction was solely for aiding and abetting. The connections between Taylor and Senior Officials of the RUF were extremely challenging to establish. Moreover, even if a trial were to take place the two central arguments that Peskin presents in his article with regard to the states involvement and the international influence, pressures and interests with regard to the outcome of the case may trump the outcome of a fair trial, particularly because the DRC conflict is still on-going. Thus when the conflict is still on-going even more international interests are at stake, which results in an unstable working ground in order to put forward an “interest free” case.

  4. amyg414 October 21, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    I think this is particularly interesting in light of Rwanda’s new position as a non-permanent member of the UN’s Security Council. Rwanda was the only country bidding for the open seat in the African regional block (vacated by South Africa), but it still had to get approval from at least 2/3 of the members of the UN General Assembly. Shockingly 148 members approved, even though a panel established by the UN itself claims that the Rwandan defense minister is in fact commanding and aiding a rebellion in the DRC. During the proceeding, the DRC delegation voiced objection to Rwanda’s approval to the Security Council, stating that the country is an “oasis of peace for all war criminals operating in the eastern area of the DRC and who are being sought by international justice.”

    I’d like to note that Rwanda was also a non-permanent member of the Security Council in 1994 while the genocide was going on within the country. Although, as a non-permanent member, it does not have veto power, I think its presence is damaging to the credibility of the Security Council. It gives the country an international platform to voice its views and criticize other countries while ignoring allegations that the country is aiding a rebellion in the neighboring DRC, reinforcing the trend of Rwandan impunity.

  5. slurie October 21, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    I want to touch on both dfulfs surprise at the continued “relevance” of Rwanda, and Prof. Tiemessen’s reminder about proxy militias in the history of human rights prosecutions (Spec. Charles Taylor). I think these points, in a way answer one another. Yes, “Africa” is often slighted from news coverage that it should have. Yet, there is also a significant over-emphasis on Africa in terms of human rights prosecutions. The case of proxy militias is an important one. I can’t help but think of the Taylor conviction, and the current Rwandan criticism, in relation to Putin’s arming of the crumbling Assad regime. While both proxies are undoubtedly committing human rights violations on a wide scale, one case (Central Africa) is in the spotlight while the other (Russia) is considered a disappointing yet palatable fact. Although many countries do not appreciate Russian support of the Assad regime, no one can imagine arresting Vladimir Putin and sending him to the Hague for prosecution. This fact, to me, has largely to due with the OTHER issue brought up in this thread: Security Council status. As Rwanda gains political power by re-joining a a non-permanent member, Russia maintains full power to veto any UN directive referring it to the ICC (or any other high level action). Until there is a change for international criminal law to truly universal jurisdiction, or Security Council reform, I think that the focus on Africa (and neglect of elsewhere) will continue.

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