Justice in the North

Justice, finally? Courtesy of Scott Chacon/flickr

A week ago, a landmark case in Finland against a 59-year-old Rwandan preacher concluded with a life sentence for mass murder (the Finnish legal term joukkotuhonta actually roughly translates as ‘mass/group destruction’). The man, Francois Bazaramba, had sought asylum in Finland in 2003 and was arrested in 2007 in Porvoo, Finland, accused by the Rwandan authorities of involvement in the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

Although not unprecedented, Finland’s exercise of the so-called universality principle in public international law, has revived the controversy surrounding the principle which, in theory and if codified in national law, allows national courts to prosecute individuals suspected of involvement in genocide or other grievous and systematic attacks against civilian populations, regardless of the location of the crime or the nationality of the suspect.

More importantly, however, it has marked another step in the torturous road toward justice and reconciliation in Rwanda.

Darfur: The Genocide Question

Burnt Huts in Darfur, Sudan, photo: Radio Nederland Wereldomroep/flickr

Back in November 2008, I wrote a commentary piece on the Darfur conflict for ISN Security Watch (Sudan: China is Key) with the phrase, “the incoming Obama administration can show its resolve to combat genocide.” I can no longer say with conviction that this loaded term is an appropriate description of what transpired in the region.

I have eschewed the label in my analytical reports ever since. All the same, the debate is an important one and warrants further scrutiny. It also highlights the intersection of politics and law in international criminal justice.

What transpired in Darfur, for the most part between 2003-2006, was certainly a grave humanitarian tragedy and an abhorrent counter-insurgency campaign, but did it amount to genocide?

Rwanda’s Mutsinzi Report: A Diplomatic Coup

hundreds of skulls and bones on a shelf
Genocide memorial in Nyamata church, Rwanda/ Photo: hoteldephil, flickr

Could it be that sometimes historical truth and political gain really do go hand-in-hand? It appears so for Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

A Rwandan investigative committee has just issued a massive new report on the 1994 assassination of President Juvenal Habyarimana – a murder that sparked the genocide of nearly one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the hellish hundred days that followed.

Drawing on extensive research and nearly 600 interviews, the report concludes that Hutu extremists in Habyariman’s own government took him out to curtail the power-sharing peace agreement he was about to implement with Kagame’s Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).

Habyarimana’s plane was shot down in his own backyard on the fateful night of 6 April 1994 by a pair of surface-to-air missiles. The role of the plane crash in launching the small central African country into a swift and shocking spiral of violence has been well documented. The question of ‘who done it?’, however, has remained in dispute.