Pambazuka News

A review of 'After Genocide: Transitional Justice, Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Reconciliation in Rwanda and Beyond'

Gerald Caplan

2009-07-23, Issue 443

Gerald Caplan reviews 'After Genocide: Transitional Justice, Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Reconciliation in Rwanda and Beyond', edited by Phil Clark and Zachary D. Kaufman. Commending a multi-author work able to bring together a stimulating variety of often competing viewpoints, Caplan strongly recommends the title and its contribution to Rwanda's post-genocide reconstruction.

Since I'm going to strongly recommend this book, I'd better disclose off the top that I know both of the co-editors as well as four of the contributors. Phil Clark and I had dinner together in Kigali on my last night in Rwanda in April, finding an okay Ethiopian restaurant just off the road between Hotel Chez Lando and Amohoro Stadium. Linda Melvern is a very dear friend, I have great regard for Bill Schabas and I meet with Tom Ndahiro to discuss genocide denial each time I'm in Rwanda. Rene Lemarchand is a great pioneer of Rwandan and Burundian studies, though I think his deep antipathy towards the Kagame government sometimes takes him off the deep end.

This familiarity can be potentially awkward, to be sure, especially if I happened not to have admired their work here. But if you're labouring in any relatively small field the chances of you not knowing many of the players are pretty small. Criticising a colleague or friend can't be easy and tests one's own integrity. I fear there's no solution to these potential conflicts of interest except to refuse to review the work of anyone you know, or instead to be aware of them and to commit full disclosure. I have obviously chosen the second course.

This is an extremely ambitious book, as the sub-title indicates, dealing with an enormously complex and controversial series of more or less interrelated subjects. Students of any aspect of Rwanda, of genocide and of any post-conflict effort are bound to be enriched by at least some and perhaps many of the 20 chapters. I should also report that of 24 different writers, there are three essays by Rwandan survivors as well as chapters by a Congolese and a Tanzanian. Five Africans and 19 Westerners might not seem an appropriate ratio for a book like this. But since so much writing on both Rwanda and genocide is exclusively by Westerners, having a quarter of the writers from Africa is a welcome step forward.

As a bonus, Clark and Kaufman give us introductory background chapters to set the context for post-genocide issues. Linda Melvern, one of the truly indispensable authorities on the genocide, reminds us of the careful planning that went into the genocidaires' conspiracy. J.B. Kayigamba provides an invaluable and harrowing first-hand account of how someone actually survived the 100 days. And Paul Williams describes how dysfunctional the UN peacekeeping system was in 1994 and how indifferent to the genocide most of the Security Council were; Rwanda's Tutsi paid the ultimate price for both UN institutional incapacity and Security Council callousness.

I do have one criticism of the book. It grew out of a series of conferences the editors organised at Oxford in 2004–05, and the papers (plus some others) have been included here mostly without being updated for publication. Essay after essay depends on interviews or materials that are now already five years old and often older. In a society where events move as quickly as they do in Rwanda, basing present judgments on such evidence could be dicey. Happily, in this case it doesn't effect the overall quality of the volume. But the latest sources are always the most valuable.

Very surprising for a serious academic tome, the volume begins with an essay by President Kagame, or whoever writes in his name. Typical of Kagame (whatever one thinks of him), this preface is not the usual platitudinous hot air we've come to expect from most VIPs on formal occasions. This is the real Kagame, putting his case as forcefully as possible, pulling no diplomatic punches when he attacks the UN for being cowardly or Rene Lemarchand for his fierce criticisms of Kagame's government.

As it happens, the editors are by and large sympathetic to Kagame and on the many controversial issues their book raises – gacaca and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), to name two obvious examples – they tend to lean towards the government's position. What makes their book even more impressive is that a good number of the contributors don't share this view and are strongly critical of Kagame and his initiatives. This happens to be a nice reflection of the world's view of Rwanda under the Kagame government, with its bevy of admiring and influential Western fans facing off against its parade of hostile and influential foes. It's intellectually quite exciting to see these contradictory arguments being hashed out within a single volume, and it allows readers enough information to decide for themselves.

But we can be certain that the present Rwandan establishment are not going to be happy with the well-presented arguments of Helen Hintjens and Suzanne Buckley-Zistel, which assert that certain key government policies are really further polarising Hutu and Tutsi while supposedly reconciling them. For this year's 15th anniversary of the genocide, for example, the official slogan for all signs and speeches and documents was '15th anniversary of the genocide of the Tutsi'. This may have been an understandable response at a moment when genocide denial is rife, but what message does it send to the Hutu majority about the Hutu moderates who were murdered for refusing to support anti-Tutsi activities, or the Hutu righteous, or those Hutu who themselves lost family in the tumult of 1994 and beyond?

Perhaps the most enduring contribution of these essays is to underline precisely how complex, misunderstood and difficult to achieve are all the words in the sub-title: transitional justice, post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation. Mahmood Mamdani made this insightful point soon after the genocide when he observed (not cited in this book) that the future was fraught thanks to the mutually incompatible goals of the two 'races': the victorious minority Tutsi wanted justice; the defeated majority Hutu wanted democracy. The Tutsi feared an election in which the majority would defeat them and the Hutu feared the victor's justice that would be aimed at them as the perpetrators of genocide. Yet for most liberals, indeed for most Westerners of all stripes, justice and democracy are inextricable. Free elections, an independent judiciary and the rule of law all are critical to a just and equitable society.

Even the pursuit of justice is far from simple. Justice for whom? For the Kagame government and for many outsiders such as me, trying the genocidaires is the priority. This task alone more than consumes all the available resources of the Rwandan justice system as well as the ICTR. Yet to the fury of Kagame, as his preface angrily points out, foreign human rights groups insist that RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) soldiers who are accused of committing atrocities must be tried with equal zeal. This is like demanding, in the few years after the Second World War, that the fire-bombers of Dresden, Hamburg and Tokyo and those responsible for Hiroshima and Nagasaki should have been in the dock at the Nuremburg and Tokyo war crimes trials. As Clark and Kaufman insist, 'While it is true that both 'sides' committed crimes in 1994, it is being increasingly forgotten that only one 'side' committed genocide.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International even condemned the gacaca process for failing to live up to the most meticulous international legal practices, a wildly impractical possibility that is properly repudiated in the overview chapter by the two editors. Far more vexing is the question of who slaughtered whom in the DR Congo from 1996 to 1998 – it appears that hundreds of thousands died – and how either truth or justice will be brought to address this question. Although Rene Lemarchand's passionate anti-RPF bias leads him to some foolish assertions – not least the unproved charge that Kagame's RPF army shot down President Juvénal Habyarimana's plane – his section on the RPF in the DR Congo is powerful and disturbing.

And while we're at it, we might wonder when the ICC (International Criminal Court) will issue arrest warrants for those many officials in Western governments, the UN and the Catholic church to be tried for crimes of commission or omission during the genocide. I vote to begin with France.

All post-conflict societies face a mountain of urgent needs, not all of them compatible, as Mamdani understands. Look only at the many different forms of reconciliation that exist, as the much studied Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa soon learned. I still recall those African mothers attending the commission's meetings who were relieved to learn, at long last, the awful truth of how and where their children had died. But they are never going to be reconciled with their confessed killers. Neither would I. There are countless examples of amazing Rwandans who have learned to forgive the murderers of their families, but I'm with the majority of victims who can never do so.

So post-conflict goals are in fact not always universally shared, which we often forget, and many are in conflict or tension with each other. Besides justice, democracy, truth and reconciliation, there are the equally daunting goals of peace, ending impunity, healing, forgiveness, national unity, harmony, short-term relief, longer-term reconstruction and development. And all of these are to be acted on by a new government that does not enjoy universal support and that depends on human and financial resources that are minuscule and infrastructure that barely exists.

It's a testimony to the strength of this volume that it's not possible to do justice in this review to many of the individual essays. Beyond the ones already referred to, let me particularly recommend the following:

- Tom Ndahiro's exposé of outrageous genocide denial by Hutu Power thugs still free and active in the diaspora, who actually assert that the real genocide was perpetrated by the RPF against the Hutu. When will they get the justice they deserve?
- Phil Clark's chapter clearly explaining the complexities of transitional justice and his other solo essay on gacaca, where he sharply criticises Human Rights Watch and Amnesty for their dogmatic lack of realism.
- William Schabas's largely positive overview of the ICTR and gacaca systems, supplemented by H.B. Jallow's succinct chapter making a persuasive case for the ICTR, as one would expect its prosecutor to do.
- In the 'lessons learned' category, Jennifer Welsh's helpful overview of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine – or should we call it mere rhetoric? Does it make humanitarian interventions more likely? Her sad conclusion: Even with R2P, the world is 'not yet in a position to promise "no more Rwandas".'

A final note. Even though some of these papers are distinctly critical of the present Rwanda government, who will often not be amused, Phil Clark and Zachary Kaufman are in truth good friends of a country trying to put its singular nightmare behind it. Both know that the genocide against the Tutsi was real and both are more sympathetic than hostile to the various efforts of the present government, even if they are far from blind cheerleaders. Kaufman has for years been among those promoting a public library in Kigali, Rwanda's first, and as passers-by can attest, real progress has been made. The building is actually under construction. 'Wanting to make their own concrete contribution to the development of post-genocide Rwanda', the editors are donating whatever profits they make from this book to the Kigali public library. A good deed to complement a good book.

* Gerald Caplan is the author of 'Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide', and 'The Betrayal of Africa'.
* 'After Genocide: Transitional Justice, Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Reconciliation in Rwanda and Beyond', edited by Phil Clark and Zachary D. Kaufman (London, 2008, pp. 396) is published by Hurst Publishers.
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