Needed: A Permanent War-Crimes Tribunal Rwanda Is Reteaching the Lessons of Nazi Atrocity: That the Rule of Law, Not Revenge, Will Govern

By Dodd, Christopher J. | The Christian Science Monitor, December 16, 1996 | Go to article overview

Needed: A Permanent War-Crimes Tribunal Rwanda Is Reteaching the Lessons of Nazi Atrocity: That the Rule of Law, Not Revenge, Will Govern


Dodd, Christopher J., The Christian Science Monitor


It's sometimes said that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Today in Central Africa that expression is becoming a tragic reality.

More than two years ago, the tiny African nation of Rwanda was torn asunder by ethnic hatred. Hundreds of thousands of Tutsis were slaughtered, millions of civilians were forced to flee, chaotic refugee camps were established, and the entire region was dangerously destabilized.

Today, while the genocidal impulses of 1994 have dissipated, ethnic hatred and regional instability still simmers. And while we can be thankful that many of the refugees are returning to Rwanda, the question of reconciliation and rebuilding must now become paramount. The persistent instability in Central Africa is due in no small part to the abiding ethnic tensions in Rwanda's neighbors: Burundi and, of course, Zaire. However, equally important is the question of judicial response to the genocide of 1994. For the many Hutus who are guilty of crimes against humanity and for the Tutsis, who bore the brunt of the genocidal frenzy, justice remains unfulfilled. While the international community established a tribunal to prosecute war criminals, the court remains undermanned, underfunded, and seemingly incapable of providing the necessary closure for Rwanda's national nightmare. Only this past September did the tribunal bring its first defendant to trial - nearly 2 years after the killing. Ad hoc international justice Part of the problem is that significant numbers of the Hutu population were involved in the killings - from the defense minister down to local officials and ordinary citizens. But a larger, general problem is the continuing, ad hoc nature of international justice, particularly when dealing with crimes against humanity. The tribunals in Rwanda and Bosnia provide even greater evidence that, 50 years after the Nuremberg trials to prosecute Nazi war criminals, the world community must finally establish a permanent international tribunal to bring war criminals to justice. Creating a permanent tribunal will establish a lasting framework for prosecuting war criminals - replacing the largely ad hoc and underfunded efforts that we've seen in Bosnia and Rwanda. Additionally, it would send a clear signal to tyrants and murderers that they will ultimately be held accountable. Some may scoff at the notion that international tribunals can deter future genocides. But let us not forget that the Hutu conspirators in Rwanda took inspiration from the failure of the international community to act after similar ethnic massacres in Burundi - in much the same way that Hitler took encouragement from the world's tepid response to the Armenian genocide in 1915. In 1993, 50,000 ethnic Hutu and Tutsi were savagely murdered in Burundi while the international community did nothing. The result was an emboldened Hutu majority in Rwanda, with little fear of punishment from the international community. In Rwanda, those intent on punishing the guilty are finding that it is an almost herculean task - similar to the experience of my father, Sen. …

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