A number of articles have been written on the prospects of justice for the victims (especially Hutu refugees) of the Congo wars. Just to mention a few, Professor Filip Reyntjens argues that given the complexities of realpolitic, it is unlikely that the main architects of the killings will be brought to justice. Impunity will continue to reign and “We will all be guilty of the fact that millions of vulnerable civilians in Central Africa continue to be threatened by strategies of violence unleashed by leaders who enjoy total immunity.”
Writing for Congo Siasa blog, Jason Stearns tells us that human rights groups are asking Congo’s President Joseph Kabila to set up a tribunal operating under Congo’s jurisdiction. However, it is unclear whether Kabila will accept this recommendation.
An opinion piece by Lleka Atoki, DRC’s ambassador to the UN, makes it clear that the next step will not be an easy one. To his credit, Ambassador Atoki is among a handful number of African leaders who have commended the report, saying, “The report is detailed and credible, and we welcome its publication.” But, as he carefully explains, the DRC government needs to balance the need for justice with the need for peace. In his own words, “Justice and peace should work together.”
The most serious of the crimes in the report targeted Hutu refugees and Hutus of Congolese nationality; also known as Banyarwanda. As the report details, the killings were of a systematic nature and executed in a way that cruelly resembles the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Crude instruments such as hoes and hammers were the preferred weapon of choice—sadistically done so to maximize the victim’s pain.
Reading the report one has to wonder why this information has been kept secret for the time that it has. If the world had truly agonized over the Rwanda Genocide, how could they remain indifferent as a new wave of killings occured?
In March 1998, US President Bill Clinton made a brief stop at the Kigali International Airport to issue what is now known as the “Cintonian apology”. Yet, only a few hundred miles away, the killings were still on course. And the perpetrators were the new Rwandan government that hosted him.
I do believe that some form of justice is necessary if only to prevent a repeat of these horrors. As some have suggested, it is likely that the RPF army would have restrained themselves had they been prosecuted for the killings they committed between 1990-4 period. But the ICTR accorded them complete impunity.
At the same time, we should not be too cynical as to trivialize the importance of these UN report. It is the first time that Rwandan forces are being cautioned. Rwanda under Paul Kagame is increasingly becoming autocratic. This document could be used as a leverage to push for democratic commitment and respect for human rights. More specifically, we need to push for media freedom and the unconditional release of journalists, political dissidents and human rights activists. After all, when all is said and done, the present matters much more than the past.