September 9, 2010

A Leak, An Opportunity

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A controversial United Nations report leaked to the French media outlet Le Monde is a chance to extend justice to all the victims of international crimes in the Congo and Rwanda — not exclusively to the approximately 800,000 Tutsis slaughtered during a brutal genocide in 1994. Initiated in 2005, the report by the UN High Commission for Human Rights describes the most serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed between March 1993 and June 2003 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It details numerous instances of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but the most damning part reports that systematic and widespread attacks against Hutus by Tutsi-dominated Rwandan forces and their Congolese allies in eastern DRC may, if proved in a court of law, amount to genocide.Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his government angrily reacted to the report by threatening to pull their more than 3,000 troops out of the five UN peacekeeping missions in which they participate, including Darfur, where they contributed the largest contingent. With political instability and insecurity likely to surround the referendum on whether autonomous South Sudan will vote to break away from the rest of Sudan, the UN can understandably ill-afford to see its eighth-largest troop-contributing member state withdraw from Sudan. Fearing such withdrawal of Rwandan troops from its missions, the UN — which first planned to officially release the report in September — decided to postpone the release until October 2010.Despite the risk of withdrawal and its consequences for the situation on the ground, the leaked report offers the UN a rare opportunity to redeem justice and accountability for the worst crimes against Congolese and Rwandan victims. The UN has been accused of failing to intervene during the Rwanda genocide in 1994 and of intervening too late after conflict had already claimed more than five million innocent lives in the Congo by the late 1990s. The findings of the UN report confront the UN with the unprecedented possibility of a reverse genocide and with an intricately complex war where killer/victim dichotomies and what it really means to be a victim have faded. But by showing resolve and telling the whole truth through the publication of the report, the UN will redeem justice for all victims and will make good on its past failures to protect civilians from war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in the Congo and Rwanda. Equality is fundamental to justice, and accounting only for the pain and suffering of Tutsis works a double injustice against the other victims.If the UN yields to pressures to remove the genocide charge from the report, to sanitize or simply shelve the report, the UN would be undermining the very noble ideals that it has been undersigning. The 1948 UN Genocide Convention criminalizes genocide, which is the most serious crime against humanity and specially aimed at destroying the spirit, the will to live, and the life itself of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group or its members. The Genocide Convention specifically protects people whose membership in the group to which they belong by birth or irremediably is normally not challengeable by those people.The prohibition of genocide is accepted and recognized by the entire international community of states as an uncompromisable norm from which no derogation is permitted. No derogation is therefore permissible for the Rwandan President. Since the horrors of ethnic violence in Kigali (Rwanda) and in Srebenica (Bosnia and Herzegovina) in 1994 and 1995, respectively, the international community has promised itself to “never again” live through or witness masses of defenseless people die in another genocide. If the Rwandan government withdraws its forces from UN missions, the moral responsibility for the ensuing humanitarian consequences will not be the UN’s but Rwanda’s. The onus is on all the individuals implicated by the UN report in the large-scale violations of human rights in Congo and Rwanda to defend their case and not on the UN to discharge those individuals in order to appease some of its member states.Therefore, the international community and the global civil society must resist pressures to modify the UN report on human rights violations in the Congo or to let it gather dust in desk drawers. Ensuring accountability for the bloodbaths is necessary for the Congolese to mourn their dead relatives in dignity, for Rwandan neighbors to come closer together, and for the Congolese and the Rwandans to truly reconcile. The UN must not allow its internal contradictions, the divergent interests of its members, and its bureaucracy to lead to indecisiveness in the face of an excellent occasion to lay the foundation for sustainable peace and stability in that troubled region of Africa.Dunia P. Zongwe is a doctoral candidate in the Cornell Law School. He may be contacted at dpz6@cornell.edu. Barely Legal appears alternate Fridays this semester.

Original Author: Dunia P. Zongwe