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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

15th Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide

Thanks to Dan and others for the kind invitation to guest blog here at Prawfs. Not to start out on too somber a note - but it bears mention that we find ourselves at the 15th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. On April 6, 1994, a radical faction usurped power in Rwanda and implemented previously conceived plans for genocide. Within three months, at least 500,000 members of the minority Tutsi group were extirpated, while nother 30,000 moderate Hutu who opposed the genocide also perished. In July 1994 the RPA, the military wing of the RPF - a party composed of Tutsi emigres in Uganda - ousted the genocidal government. The RPF remains in power to date.

So, where does the country find itself 15 years later? This is a topic that a wonderful conference held last week at Cardozo elegantly (and at times tensely) addressed.  One major sore spot is that the government is reported to commit human rights abuses, promulgate authoritarianism, and maintain firm control of public discourse.

These tensions played out at the conference between, on the one hand, mostly Western scholars and, on the other hand, Rwandans supportive of their government who are living and working in the country. Clearly, Rwanda has done very well economically. And the domestic situation is one of stability, with human rights abuses being a fraction of what they once were.  But many individuals both inside and outside Rwanda express concern about the legitimacy of ongoing trials for genocide, in particular those conducted under neo-traditional gacaca proceedings, which they say serve ulterior purposes of socal control.  Other scholars raise fears about the criminalization within Rwanda of "genocide ideology," "divisionism" and "negationism," all of which may involve allegations that an individual is departing from governmental orthodoxies. Right before her life prematurely ended in a plane crash in Buffalo, Alison Des Forges, probably the most influential contemporary scholar of Rwanda who had worked tirelessly to promote accountability for genocide, was actually branded an ideologist of genocide by the Rwandan government.

So, are post-conflict transitions necessarily lessened unless they conform maximally with rule of law?

Posted by Mark Drumbl on April 7, 2009 at 01:12 PM | Permalink


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Posted by: rizik P. | Jun 6, 2009 12:05:16 AM

Hi JP - You are right that to speak singularly of national or internal transition in the case of Rwanda is awkward. There is a significant transborder angle. In fact, there always has been such an angle. Many Interahamwe fled to camps in the DRC (then, Zaire) following the genocide. The RPF responded, as you well know, by intervening militarily in eastern DRC in the name of Rwandan national security interests. Happily, it seems as if a turn for the better was taken earlier this year, with Rwandan-DRC cooperation re the detention of Laurent Nkunda, but as always these developments are fluid and fragile. But, certainly (and to link to anonymous' dire comment) there can be no preventative solution that remains confined to a specific state in the absence of regional coordination in the Great Lakes.

Posted by: Mark Drumbl | Apr 8, 2009 12:52:12 PM

To the extent Rwanda's problems have substantially just shifted across the border into the Congo, isn't the nationalistic focus on the "post-conflict" in Rwanda kind of arbitrary?

Posted by: JP | Apr 7, 2009 3:24:35 PM

When I read the phrase "[a]nd the domestic situation is one of stability," I can't help but think: sure for another five years. That's when Rwanda's horrifically regular twenty year genocide itch hits.

Posted by: anonymous | Apr 7, 2009 2:10:22 PM

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