Friday, October 1, 2010

The Ghosts of Rwanda/Congo Resurrect to Torment Perpetrators

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 It has been about 13 years since Human Rights Watch released its findings into the macabre killings committed in the Congo. At the time, it was quite unrealistic to even fathom that the perpetrators of these heinous crimes would be brought to account. Kabila along with his Rwanda and Ugandan allies—all of them heavily implicated in the massacres—had just won the war. As is naturally the case throughout history, victors of wars rarely face the force of the law.

At least that is what we thought.  And frankly speaking, not much has changed today. The same people involved in the barbaric killings remain at the helm of power. They are unrepentant, defiant and unwilling to acknowledge the crimes. Silently, they hope that the speed of time will drown the cries for justice.  The perpetrators of these crimes often blame the victim whom they have demonized beyond repair.

But this is a weak defense mechanism that might not withstand the test of time. 

No matter how elusive we are, time eventually catches up with criminals. This is a reality of life and a hard one to ignore.

Thus towards the end of August this year, the French newspaper “Le Monde” leaked a UN report on the killings committed by the Rwandan forces against Hutu civilians.  As expected, the leadership of Rwanda went haywire which resulted into all manners of threats and blackmail. In the bitter verbal attacks lasting for several weeks, at least one important point was raised. Rwanda’s foreign minister, Louise Mushikiwabo wondered how the Rwandan Patriotic Front army that ended Genocide could have gone on to commit another one.

This has puzzled many of us.  Indeed, it is difficult to make sense of all the senseless killings. The logic that makes a section of the community to turn against another one, exterminating their neighbors, friends and relatives, is not an easy one to grasp. But that does not dispel the fact that the killings happened because many witnesses abound.

At the time, barely into my adolescent years, I was one among a sea of humanity, condemned by the rest of the world. These were extremely hopeless days and life was utterly meaningless. Our chances of survival very slim—I never thought I would make it to my twenties. Massive numbers of people died by the hours, their bodies frantically abandoned by the roadside. Such were the days that a decent funeral was a luxury, completely afforded to no one.

And sadly, there was very little help coming from the rest of the world. We quickly learned, through the hard way, that the world cared less whether we survived or not. We had been completely written off.

 In a miraculous way, some of us survived. But the memory would not be lost. And still today the quest for justice burns inside our hearts.  We detest that yesterday’s killers are today’s leaders. We are grudgingly aware that the same folks have done well for themselves and have even acquired a celebrity status around the world. Rwanda’s Paul Kagame has received many accolades including a heavily coveted “Global Citizen Award” from Bill Clinton. In 2009, US tele -evangelist Rick Warren angered many of us by awarding him his version of the Peace Prize. In retrospect, Gorge Orwell’s “1984” has never been so relevant.

But the story needs to be told. If we do not tell it, there is little guarantee that the nightmares will ever end. Moreover, it would be a disservice for those who died, if we, having survived accept to be consumed by silence.

Nevertheless, as the attempt to release the UN Mapping report has revealed, there are many in high places uncomfortable with this story. The governments of Rwanda and Uganda, the chief architects in these killings, are aware of the damage the narrative may cause. They are fiercely fighting it and will keep threatening whoever talks.

But the story should not be ambivalently seen (by the West) as complicated.  For there is nothing complex about humanity’s desire to survive. We all have dreams, and just want a chance to realize them. Despite the many horrors we faced, ours was a struggle to live, which is all too well familiar to all.

 Let us say it loud and clear. 

A mistake was committed—a very grave one. And it is time for the leaders involved to stop the blame game and own up to their mistakes.

After the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, the entire world, shocked by the devilish killings that had targeted Tutsi civilians, naively remained silent as another genocide (call it a revenge genocide if you want) took place.
In 1996, the Rwandan Tutsi army invaded Rwanda and began a search and destroy mission against Hutu civilians.

 Now that the massacres have been documented and acknowledged by the United Nations, it is an opportunity for deeper reflection and active resolutions.

Rwanda still needs an impartial truth and reconciliation commission that will consider these crimes, and define the way forward. In the context of global politics, the world must pay more attention to stop genocide around the world. Counter Genocide must be recognized as another step in the process of Genocide.

As for the question of justice, the road ahead remains bleak. In an editorial, “Le Monde” notes that, “if a special tribunal for Congo is not created, the murderers will not be prosecuted or sentenced.” International tribunals are so expensive and with the current recession, it might be hard to find the funds. A local solution would be ideal, but the leaders of Rwanda and Uganda who are among the perpetrators—are unlikely to prosecute themselves or their allies.

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