Rwanda's Genocide -The Politics of Global Justice
In the twenty-first century, very few issues elicit immediate reaction in global politics like the G word – genocide. And since the Holocaust, no other singular event in the atrocity genre, has cast a pall over the international community’s collective failure to act, than the Rwanda genocide of 1994.
Preventing genocide is now such a global fixation, to which certainly, there can be no conscientious objector. Indeed, it is hardly coincidental that the current international mantra “responsibility to protect”, is a direct by-product of the acknowledgement of the dereliction of duty that gave rise to the Rwanda genocide.
Dealing with or discussing the Rwanda genocide and its aftermath, is not an easy task, nor is it a task for the faint hearted. It is an emotive issue that often evoke bellicosity and as such, an enterprise fraught with pitfalls. For those remotely connected to the genocide in Rwanda - nations and individuals alike - either as participants or actors who might have prevented it, Rwanda still constitutes a redline, except of course, when they mouth off platitudes while pledging that Rwanda must never be repeated or allowed to happen again. Most speak, I suspect, merely in an exculpatory manner, never in the least taking individual responsibility in the slightest form, about how they may have contributed to the genocide in Rwanda by acts of omission or commission.
Consequentially, dissecting what went wrong in Rwanda in 1994 has itself become an industry, albeit, always from the perspective of self-preservation or in trenchant criticism of the culpability of others. Nonetheless, Rwanda remains, as Ramesh Thkur observed, “a failure of civic courage at the highest and most solemn level of international responsibility”. What is now clear, is that in its attempt to mollify public outrage about the genocide in Rwanda, the international community resorted to the politics of global justice as distinct from juridical or criminal justice in the true sense of the word, by creating the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, a. k. a. the Arusha Tribunal, in 1994. But this arrangement has its pitfalls, given the Byzantine politics of balancing national interests and the communal goals of nation states when acting in concert. Add to this, the behind the scene machinations as well as the competition for resources and productivity, between the International Criminal for Rwanda and its European counterpart, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
Enter Kingsley Moghalu!
In writing the ten-chapter book titled, Rwanda's Genocide: The Politics of International Justice Kingsley Moghalu joins the fray of the post-genocide debate on substance and process. He is eminently qualified to do so from an insider’s track, having served as spokesperson and special counsel for the Arusha Tribunal.
In a deft navigational style, clearly reflective of his journalistic, legal and political background, Moghalu leads the reader on an excursion of the intrigues of international politics that helped or impeded the shaping of contemporary war crimes tribunals. By juxtaposing the Arusha Tribunal trials with those of the Nuremberg, Tokyo, and The Hague tribunals, Moghalu seeks to demonstrate a shared commonality and the intrinsic political nature of the tribunals, well beyond their judicial character and the end goal they were meant to serve, which is justice.
There have been numerous articles and books about the Rwanda genocide, but Moghalu’s will in the long run prove to be the first dispassionate, non-self-serving and serious book on the politics of global justice for Rwanda's genocide. This is a book about an undoubtedly very controversial subject, but also, a book that does not engage in contrivances and selective ambiguity. In dissecting the politics of global justice, Moghalu ensured that no line of reasoning or political thinking was too impolitic to pursue. A noteworthy point that emerges from this book, is that until the coming into force of the International Criminal Court (ICC), there was no system in place for the administrative justice for genocide and other war crimes. Naturally, the international community resorted to ad hoc measures of special tribunals, fully aware that their success depended on commitment to show the political will, which by itself, was frequently and indubitably a factor of the balance between national interests and morality.
Hence, it is easy to understand the international brinkmanship of political justice revealed in this book. Indeed, the caption of some chapters, like “Uncharted Water: Judging Genocide”, “A Baptism of Fire: The Baraygwiza Affair” and “Carla Del Ponte ‘Axed’”, are telling points. The author’s view on the “Baraygwiza saga” is equally insightful:
An even-handed decision by the appellate chamber, a substantive trial that found the defendant guilty, but took account of the unquestionable violations of his rights. Which brings us back to the controversy that surrounded this case: was the outcome law, justice, or politics? (p.119)
As some that have read the book already noted, this is an “exceptionally well written and engrossing account”. The author, thankfully, did not indulge in the political correctness of judiciously avoiding coming to a meaningful conclusion, that it is the power interests – more than the desire for the rule of law – that frequently determine the efficacy of special tribunals.
It is therefore, not surprising, that in the book Moghalu reveals also how the point was made when prosecutorial policies of Carla Del Ponte, the Prosecutor of the Arusha Tribunal, clashed with the oversight responsibilities of the UN Security Council, despite Del Ponte’s “convictions about her statutorily guaranteed ‘independence’ as a prosecutor” (p.125). In the end, Ms. Del Ponte being “axed” was the provenance, if any was needed, that the UN Security Council ultimately “called the shots”.
Frequently, the perception of any issue if left unchallenged, becomes hard fact and indeed far more important than the reality itself. This surely seems to be the case with the Arusha Tribunal. As Moghalu notes, “inflated expectations are attached to the Arusha tribunal by reason of it being the sole form of international intervention in Rwanda, thus distorting some assessment” (p.202). What was not said was that far from its statutory role, some of its architects contemplated and still view the Arusha Tribunal from the redemptive prism – a convenient cover for egregious failings of the international community. Moghalu, is however, more compassionate in noting that one factor among several limiting the tribunal’s impact, is “its extremely limited, selective, and focussed temporal remit”(p.203).
And here is an aside. In the course of his writing this book, Moghalu – a dear friend and colleague of many years – and I, at various instances exchanged views on the progress of his work On several occasions, I voiced concern that he might be unwittingly entrapped into offering a jaundiced assessment of the tribunal. Such concern arose out of my awareness of his own first hand knowledge of the fate that befell some of his colleagues who were caught between two loyalties – those who wanted to keep Arusha Tribunal true to its political justice mandate, and those who interpreted the Tribunal’s obligations in a very strict sense, and therefore, purely from the juridical perspective. I knew too, that Moghalu himself had also gone through similar challenges.
It is noteworthy, that Moghalu has not allowed his personal experiences to color his objectivity. In doing so, he has acquitted himself creditably as an author. Perhaps, my only grouse with this book is that Moghalu omitted a key point of reference, either by structural choice or in deference to circumspection. An issue never pointedly made, was that those who pushed unceasingly for political justice in Rwanda, were equally those who till now, have glossed over the fact that Gen. Mladic and Dr. Rodovan Karadic, two Yugoslav war crimes indictees, have not been brought before the Hague Tribunal. Their alleged crimes were not by any means less egregious than those committed by the perpetrators of the Rwanda genocide, whom the Arusha Tribunal efficiently chased down and brought to book.
The value of Moghalu’s book over time, will be immense. I don’t believe that its importance can ever be overstated, considering that special war crimes tribunals might have become anachronistic with the establishment of the ICC. Rwanda's Genocide: The Politics of International Justice is by all means, a very authoritative and balanced account that offers an enduring moment of clarity about the Arusha Tribunal. But then, if this book is ever in the end adjudged to have no enduring value, it will nevertheless remain the book, which confirmed that there were other casualties beyond the 800,000 Rwandese victims; and that the 1994 genocide, will forever remain a sad footnote and inkblot on the otherwise stellar and distinguished political, military, and legal careers of many key people who were directly or remotely connected with the Rwanda genocide in 1994 or in the efforts to bring justice and redress to the victims thereafter.
Finally, if there was one incontrovertible “truth” in this book, it is that notwithstanding the value, achievements and strength of special war crimes tribunals, “there is little appetite for the normative approach that could return to haunt its supporters” (p.164). This is hardly an epiphany, but a stark reality. All things considered, this book has enriched the study of politics of global justice. It is a good read and a quite candid and revealing venture.
*Mr. Oseloka Obaze, an aspiring writer, is a member of the Kwenu.com Book Review Forum, which is dedicated to the promotion of books with Igbo and Afrocentric themes. He is also a supporting Member of the African Writers Endowment (AWE). From 1999 to 2005 he served on the editorial board of INYEAKA, the journal of Songhai Charities, Inc., a New Jersey community-based charity founded and run by Nigerians based in New York Tri-state area in the United States, first as its founding Publisher and later as the Editor-At-Large. He is also on the editorial board of The Amaka Gazette, the journal of the Christ the King College, Onitsha Alumni Association in America. His collection of poems, “Regarscent Past: A Collection of Poems” was among the top three finalists in the poetry category in the African Writers Endowment Publishing Grant Program for 2004. He reviews books and arts strictly as a hobby.