Barry Crawford of Africa Direct introduces a special investigation into the injustice being perpetrated by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
In the pages that follow, legal experts from the USA and Canada outline their case against the genocide tribunal
The first three trials are underway at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania. The defendants - Georges Anderson Nderubumwe Rutuganda, Jean Paul Akayesu and Clement Kayishema - are the first of many Rwandan Hutus to be charged with committing the most serious of all crimes: genocide.
The tribunal was set up by the United Nations Security Council, with the strong support of many Western non-governmental organisations. Its declared aim is to punish those responsible for committing genocide in Rwanda in 1994, and so aid a process of national reconciliation and peace. The tribunal judges have boasted of applying the highest standards of international law and justice.
Yet, for all its support and claims of lofty aims and standards, key questions about the tribunal remain unanswered.
Why, if it claims to be upholding international law, was the tribunal set up by the UN Security Council in what former US attorney general Ramsey Clark describes on p30 as a flagrant defiance of the UN Charter?
Why, if it is concerned to discover the truth behind the bloodshed in Rwanda, is the tribunal only investigating the events of 1994? As John Philpot of the American Association of Jurists points out on p28, this avoids any investigation of the Rwandan Patriotic Front's US/British-backed invasion of Rwanda in October 1990, and the years of war which followed until the Tutsi-run RPF replaced the old Hutu-dominated regime in July 1994. It also rules out investigations into attacks upon Hutu refugees by the new Rwandan government, in particular its massacre at Kibeho in April 1995. The tribunal is not even looking fully into what did happen in 1994; it has ruled out any investigation into who shot down the plane carrying the presidents of both Rwanda and Burundi in April 1994 - the fatal attack which is often claimed to have been the signal for the genocide to commence.
Why, if the tribunal's concern is justice, is it employing all of the practises which Arusha investigator Phil Taylor and John Philpot describe over the page: using international snatch squads to apprehend people in various countries, sometimes without indictments, and bundle them off to Arusha; denying the accused the right to defence lawyers of their own choosing, while imposing lawyers whom the accused have rejected; allowing hearsay and other uncorroborated evidence?
And why, if the UN Security Council wants to end crimes against humanity, has Rwanda been singled out for a genocide tribunal when no such court sat in judgement on any of the bloody wars waged by the UNSC's permanent members - the USA, Britain, France, Russia and China - or their allies over the past half century?
The tribunal is clearly not what it claims to be. Something else is going here. It is a showtrial, staged by the powers who run the UN.
Despite the trappings of a legal process in Arusha, the tribunal's central verdict was passed before the judges ever sat down. The tribunal is based on a presupposition that the Hutu majority in Rwanda are guilty of committing genocide against the Tutsi minority, a verdict first handed down by human rights organisations and later officially endorsed by the UN Security Council.
A cool and properly contextualised analysis of the tragedy which unfolded in Rwanda in 1994 would suggest that, far from being a uniquely horrific campaign of genocide, the massacres were in fact the final bloody struggle for power in a drawn-out, brutal but all-too-familiar African civil war - a war, moreover, which the intervention of the USA, Britain, France and Belgium did much to bring about. (For a full analysis, see Africa Direct's 'Submission to the United Nations Tribunal on Rwanda', February 1995).
Instead, the hysteria over an alleged genocide has obscured the real causes of the conflict, and particularly the central role of Great Power diplomacy, so removing any trace of culpability from Washington and other Western capitals. The tribunal is a showtrial to convince the world that the war in Rwanda was the work of some evil Rwandan leaders and their mindless accomplices - the majority of Hutu peasants.
As Phil Taylor has observed, the courtroom testimonies of witnesses and expert witnesses alike in Arusha have failed to substantiate the central charge that the accused conspired to plot and execute genocide. Not one of the prosecution's expert witnesses so far speaks Kinyarwanda, the language of all Rwandans. Not one of them was there when the alleged genocidal acts were committed. Yet they play a crucial role in creating the right atmosphere in court.
That atmosphere is key to the real function of the tribunal: as a vehicle for a moral crusade against evil in Africa. The genocidal Hutu 'extremist' is branded as evil personified. Once the existence of this evil force is established, the specifics of individual guilt become a secondary matter, as all Hutus are demonised and people are charged with genocide for membership of Hutu organisations rather than for anything they might have done.
In the world-view which influences the tribunal proceedings, Hutu intellectuals are evil masterminds; Hutu peasants are zombies who will kill on command. This demonisation is not expressed in the old racist language about African savages. It is conducted in the West's politically correct language of the nineties, with liberal lawyers and NGO workers accusing Hutus of extremism and neo-fascism and drawing casual parallels with the Nazi Holocaust.
The tragic consequences of the demonisation process are obvious to anybody willing to look. Rwanda continues to be a living hell. Over 120 000 are in grim, overcrowded jails awaiting trial. So far 61 have received the death penalty, some after a trial lasting a few hours without any sign of defence lawyers or defence witnesses. These outrages are committed by legal authorities which have been both trained and praised by the UN. Outside the prisons and detention centres, Rwandan society is more bitter and polarised than ever. And there is a disturbing absence of young Hutu men in the communes.
The fall-out from the demonisation process now being ratified by the tribunal has spread beyond Rwanda's borders. Rwandan Hutu refugees in the eastern region of what was then Zaire and is now the Democratic Republic of Congo were largely shunned by Western human rights organisations and aid agencies, who insisted that many were extremists guilty of genocide. The result was to set up the Hutu refugee camps for invasion by the Rwandan government-based rebels in Zaire, who slaughtered many and drove the rest of the refugees back towards Rwanda with impunity. Evidently, atrocities committed against Rwandans who have been tarred with the broad 'genocide' brush are not so shocking to the international community and its tribunal.
In Kenya, President Moi has finally succumbed to relentless pressure to allow the tribunal and Rwandan courts a free hand in obtaining the extradition of genocide suspects. Mass arrests have followed, as forces commanded by the Western powers once again trample across the borders of formally independent African states - only this time with the support of the liberal voices who would have been loud critics of old-fashioned colonialism in Africa.
In the end, it seems to me the Arusha showtrials say rather more about the state of Western societies than they reveal about Rwanda. The crusade to punish evil Africans serves to boost the morale of those who are increasingly troubled by the sense of moral drift at home. Western lawyers, aid workers, journalists and others have seized upon the righteous mission against 'genocidaires' in the Dark Continent to fill themselves with a new moral certainty. Africa is paying a heavy price for getting caught up in the West's latest crusade.
That such appalling denials of democratic rights and witch-hunts can be carried out in the name of human rights ought to serve as a warning to all who endorse Western policy on Rwanda and the tribunal. If they pass unopposed, what is to stop similar travesties happening elsewhere? John Philpot rightly asks: where will the human rights mafia strike next?
The published transcript of Africa Direct's conference 'The Great Genocide Debate', which took place in central London on 27 July 1997, is available priced £5 (add £1.50 p&p), orders via e-mail: email@example.com, or fax (0171) 691 7063
Reproduced from LM issue 103, September 1997