Never Again? Rather, Never Until Next Time…

Twenty years ago today the world stood by while 1 million Tutsis we slaughtered in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Then, the world pledged those famous words—never again, the same words spoken after the Jewish Holocaust. Here we are twenty years later and the words never again seem to carry little weight. Our international system continues to value state sovereignty over humanitarian intervention and while its does, we continue to have spurs of genocide like that in the Darfur region of Sudan or more recently in the Central African Republic (CAR).


In the past ten years, with increased pressure from the human rights community, there has been a push towards the adoption of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). This doctrine rests on three pillars: (1) a states responsibility to protect its citizens from genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity; (2) the international community’s responsibility to assist states in protecting their citizens; and (3) the responsibility of the international community to intervene with coercive measure when a state fails to protect its citizens. Some would say this is an emerging international norm, one that, with time, will become the new standard of international relation. However, this norm struggles for supremacy with state sovereignty, and state sovereignty almost always wins.

So when does the internationally community choose to intervene? Principally when state sovereignty is violated. The February 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea exemplifies this. When Russia sent military troops over the Ukrainian border to Crimea without the consent of Ukraine, it inexplicably violated Ukraine’s sovereignty. The international community immediately jumped to attention imposing sanctions, condemning Russia’s actions, and calling for an immediate withdrawal of Russian military troops from the Ukraine. This violation of state sovereignty sparked an immediate international reaction and underlines the weight given to a state’s sovereign integrity. With such a strong weight on sovereignty, it then follows that internal state affair remain just that, internal. Regardless of how many people are dying, states are incredible hesitant to violate this principle of state sovereignty.

So, does what happens within a countries border remain the internal affair of a state? Legally yes. But then you have the quick reaction by the international community to the 2007 political violence in Kenya, an internal Kenyan affair. The outbreak of violence following the 2007 Kenyan election was referred to as genocide by the then US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, who visited the rift valley region in Kenya in the weeks following the outbreak of violence. Approximately 1,000 people were killed and 600,000 were displaced. While theses numbers are not insignificant, they do not compare to the death count of the Rwandan genocide, and yet, this outbreak of violence immediately spurred international attention. The Panel of Three Eminent Persons, headed by Kofi Annan was put by the African Union to address the conflict, and a opposing parties were quickly forced into a mediation process. Three months after the outbreak of violence a peace agreement was signed that included a power sharing agreement before the two contested victors of the December 2007 election. Disaster averted by the international community.

The question here is why did the international community choose to intervene in Kenya after the 2007 electoral violence? Some scholars would call this a case for the Responsibility to Protect and point to it as state action supporting this emerging international norm. But, if that is the case, why have we not intervened in the CAR or in Syria, where fighting and violence persists. The conflict in the CAR barely grabs any media attention and the fighting in Syria has been so drawn out that it now falls on deaf ears.

What’s the connection here between the international community’s engagement in Kenya and the Ukraine? When does the international community act? Unfortunately, politics continues to be the driving factor of state action. Kenya and the Ukraine are both of strategic political interest to the world’s powers, namely the United States, and this strategic political interest prompts reaction. Kenya is the international hub in eastern Africa—many international operations based their headquarters there, Eastern Africa foreign aid is transferred through there, and in 2007, Kenya was a strategic US partner in the global war on terrorism. These are strong pull that prompted quick and swift international reaction at the outset of violence. The same can be said about the Ukraine: Russia’s involvement and access to eastern European oil are two very strong pull that forced an international reaction. Unfortunately, there are no pulls prompting a reaction to the CAR Crisis, just like there were no pulls prompting an reaction to genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan or Rwandan genocide in 1994.

In spite of what we would like to believe never again has never really had any political weight. It is was promise made out of anguish and regret for not prevent, mitigating, or stopping mass atrocities, but it is dangerously lacking in political will. The phrase is probably more accurately put as: never again so long as there is this political interest. Having travelled to Rwanda and having met with the victims and perpetrators of the genocide, it’s astonishing to think that the world could left it all happen again somewhere else, turning a blind eye like it did in 1994.

Have the lessons from Rwanda really be embodied by the international community? No. Can we really continue to proclaim never again. Again no. So where do we go from here? How to we ensure there isn’t a next time for genocide when the political cards seem stacked against the odds? These are all questions that remain unanswered by the currently framework of international relations.


Jolene Hansell is Conflict Resolution Practitioner and Communications Specialists. She has an MA in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and a Bachelor (Honours) of International Development from the University of Ottawa. Her specific area of expertise is transitional justice and rule of law. You can email her at or follow her on twitter @joleneh340



Taking a Stand Against Sexual Violence

Sexual violence is the unspoken story of war. Images of causalities, death, and destruction only tell part of the story. Many individuals, both men and women, are the silent victims of sexual violence in the context of violent conflict. There have been documented cases of sexual violence in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the conflict in the Balkans, as well as the ongoing cases of Syria and Libya (to name a few). Many of the victims do not speak out for fear of being ostracized by their communities; however, eight individuals in Kenya have decided to speak out, fight for their rights, and strive to attain justice.


In Kenya, the post-election violence following the December 2007 election resulted in the deaths of approximately 1,100 people and the displacement of 600,000 individuals. However, many were also victims of sexual violence, a violence that was conducted by police officers and looters in the wake of the chaos created by the contended election results. The acts of sexual violence included, but are not limited to, rape resulting in HIV and forced circumcision. The nature of this violence, its widespread and systematic nature, amounts these crime to the category of crimes against humanity; yet, justice has not been achieved for these victims. Having waited five years for a government response, eight Kenyans have decided sue the Kenya government.

The Nairobi High Court will hear the case in which eight survivors of the sexual violence (two men and six women) are suing the Kenyan government. The grounds upon which this case is being prosecuted is on two counts: the failure of the Kenyan government to prosecute perpetrators of sexual violence and failure to both protect victims from the violence and to provide ex post facto services to the victims. Civil society organizations including the Coalition on Violence Against Women, the Independent Medico-Legal Unity, the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists, and Physicians for Human Rights, have been instrumental in supporting these victims in their search for justice. The trial commenced in February 2013. To date, the Kenyan government has not issued a formal apology nor have reparations been offered to these victims.


Violent conflict creates a situation of mass chaos, insecurity, and uncertainty. There are those that take advantage of situations such as these, using it as an opportunity to perpetrate other criminal acts, including sexual violence. The problem is, however, that those being victimized by acts of sexual violence are civilians, innocent bystanders. The fact that these eight individuals are choosing to speak up is groundbreaking in three ways.

First, these individuals are spreading awareness of the prevalence of sexual violence in the midst of conflict, and in doing so, they are reducing the stigmatization of victimization by these acts. These individuals are entitled to the same rights as any other victim and in choosing to claim these rights, these victims are trailblazers in the fight to combat sexual violence.

Second, men as well as women are claiming victimhood. The fact that men have chosen to speak out is incredibly important because sexual violence against men carries a higher stigma than sexual violence against women. Moreover, in the criminal law of many countries sexual violence is written as a crime that can only be committed against a woman. Thus, the voice of these men is giving voice to the other side of this victimhood and is tremendously important in changing the way sexual violence is understood.

Third, the utilization of the Kenyan court, rather than resorting to violent conflict, demonstrates a movement towards faith in the Kenyan judicial system. Historically, the Kenyan judicial system has been criticized as highly corrupt, plagued with rampant impunity. However, since the last election, the Kenyan Constitution has been rewritten given complete independence to the judiciary. The restructuring of the court system was lead by Chief Justice Willy Mutunga who took great pains to insure the independence of the judiciary, retrain judges to eliminate impunity, and educate the general population as to the workings of justice system. The fact that these sexual violence victims are choosing to utilize the justice system demonstrates a movement towards increased trust in Kenya’s judiciary.

For more on sexual violence, see the following links on PeaceMedia:

Jolene Hansell is a Master’s Candidate of Conflict Resolution at Georgetown University. Her specific area of focus is transitional justice and rule of law. You can email her at or follow her on twitter @joleneh340

Creating a Collective Identity out of the Dust of Atrocity

Since the genocide, Rwanda has been stigmatized as being eternally divided by two ethnicImage groups: Tutsi and Hutu. However, reducing the country’s history to this internal ethnic dynamic is not only highly simplistic but also incredibly inaccurate. Rwanda has a deep history that transcends these divisions. The idea of a Rwandan identity – an identity that supersedes ethnic divisions, creating a unified Rwanda – has been a primary goal in Rwanda’s post-conflict reconciliation process; a goal that is evident upon visiting the Kigali Memorial Center.

The theme of the Rwandan reconciliation process, and consequently the Kigali Memorial Center, can be summarized in one quote written on the first panel when one enters the museum’s first exhibit:

“We are one people. We speak one language. We have one history.”

The goal of the exhibit is to tell a very specific narrative: Yes the genocide happened, yes it occurred along ethnic divisions, but Rwanda has historically had a unified identity and there is a need to recreate this identity to unify Rwandans once again. The exhibit commences with a strong statement against colonialization:

“We did not choose to be colonialized”.

In effect, this statement places blame on colonization for the creating of strong Hutu/Tutsi divisions within Rwanda, divisions that would result in a constant strong between these two groups culminating in the 1994 genocide. Prior to colonialization, as the exhibit denotes, Rwandans associated themselves with one of eighteen different clans. Moreover, although the categories of Hutu, Tutsis, and Twa did exist, they were fluid socio-economic divisions within these eighteen clans, changing based on individual circumstance. Thus, prior to colonialism, were was no strong societal division based on Hutu/Tutsis/Twa ethnic categories. Colonialism, however, constructed these divisions and solidified them in 1932 when the identity cards were issued to Rwandans. The determination of one’s ethnicity was based on the number of cattle owned: anyone with ten cows or more was deemed to be a Tutsi and anyone with less than ten cows was labeled a Hutu. Moreover, Belgium colonialist chose to elevate the Tutsis, perceiving them to be more ‘European’ and thus more capable of colonial administration. This created a system in which Tutsis were seen a ‘superior race’ and were given positions of power in the government. The resulting structural violence against the Hutus fostered animosity between these two colonial defined groups.

In giving this storyline, the exhibit creates the narrative of colonialism being the force that disrupted the unified Rwandan state, created ethnic divisions within the country, and planted the seeds for the genocide. After detailing the precursors to the genocide and the genocide itself, the exhibit come full-circle to reiterate this point by giving the following statement:

“There was no ethnic war. There was a civil war. But genocide happened and it was something different.”

In this statement, the exhibit reiterates the point that there was not an ethnic war in Rwanda. The conflict in Rwanda was a civil war; a struggle between exiled Tutsis and the Hutu extremists for control of the country. Genocide happened within the context of this civil war, not separate from it. It was not isolated, but rather the culmination of decades of propaganda and fighting.

The Kigali Memorial Center clearly frames colonialism as being the root cause of Rwanda’s ethnic tensions. Consequently, the goal of its reconciliation is the return to post-colonial state.  This narrative is also apparent in other Rwandan memorial sites and from the mouths of local Rwandans. One Rwandan who I have met, referred to the genocide as ‘The War’ rather than the ‘Tutsis genocide’. His use of the word ‘war’ rather than ‘genocide’ is demonstrative of the understanding that Tutsis and Hutus were both victims of the genocide. Although Tutsis were undoubtedly targeted, statistics also suggest that between 100,000 and 200,000 Hutus were killed doing the outbreak of violence in 1994. Although this sentiment appears small, it is instrumental in the reconstruction of the Rwandan identity.

Identity reconstruction is not something that happens over night. It takes time, generations in fact, for these identities to be adopted. The history of colonialization has demonstrated that ethnic identities can be constructed; therefore, the reconstruction of identity should also be possible. This, however, needs to start with education. This generation of Rwanda’s children, the generation post-genocide, has been educated to adopt the Rwandan identity rather than a Hutu, Tutsis, or Twa identity. If this education is maintained, and the Rwandans continue to be responsive to this concept, then the creation of a renewed, collective Rwandan identity is hopeful. Identity is one of the foundations of human behavior. It can bring people together, but as the Rwandan genocide has demonstrated, it can also tear people apart. This is why the creation of a collective Rwandan identity, an identity that encompasses all Rwandans irrespective of ethnicity, is tremendously important in the creation of a strong, stable, and peaceful Rwanda.

Jolene Hansell is a Master’s Candidate of Conflict Resolution at Georgetown University. Currently she is travelling to Rwanda with Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar with the Zones of Conflict, Zones of Peace Program. Her specific area of focus is transitional justice and rule of law. You can email her at or follow her on twitter @joleneh340

Can Kenya’s Judiciary Bear the Burden of National Elections?

The Honorable Willy Mutunga

The Honorable Willy Mutunga (Photo credit: Ford-Foundation)

With Presidential elections looming on March 4th, 2013, Kenya is in the spotlight of the international community. After the eruption of violence following the December 2007 elections, immense international pressure is being placed on Kenya to carry out free and fair elections this time around. The 2007 elections resulted in over 1,100 deaths and 600,000 Internally Displace Persons. Moreover, a peace agreement was only reached as a result of the mediation efforts led by Kofi Annan between Kabaki (sitting President and alleged victor of the election) and Odinga (opposition candidate alleging falsified elections results) through the disillusion of the constitution and the creation of a coalition government in which Kabaki became the President and Odinga became the Prime Minister.

In the four years since the last presidential elections, Kenya has worked to create the preconditions for democratic elections this time around. The constitution has been rewritten, alternative dispute resolution mechanisms have been indoctrinated into political processes, the judiciary was recreated, and the public was educated on the topics of democracy and the independence of the judiciary. But is this enough?

This past September, I had the pleasure of hearing Kenyan Chief Justice Willy Mutunga speak in Washington, D.C. He spoke of the restructuring of the Kenyan judiciary and the ways in which this new system will counter impunity and be able to act as the impartial voice on issues of contention. The changes that have been made thus far are noteworthy – judges have been vetted and retrained, the judiciary has been granted full independence from the other branches of government, and set of specific mechanisms has been developed for dealing with the ‘hot-topic issues’: land ownership and election dispute. However, even when speaking to the successes of the Kenyan judiciary, there was a note of uncertainty in Mutunga’s voice. He never came out and said it, but it was evident that he to was wondering if enough had been done and that if the Kenyan judiciary, in its infancy, would be able to handle the stress of a national election.


In recent weeks, this uncertainty has begun to take form, as Mutunga received threats  regarding the decision the Kenyan court to permit Kenyatta and his running mate (both indictees to the ICC) to have the capacity to run for President. He is not the only person to be receiving such threats. A letter has been circulation among judges and ambassadors saying that if Kenyatta is not permitted to participate in the election the judges and ambassadors should “buy their own coffins and graves”.  Threat like these make one question whether the Kenya court system will be able to withstand the pressure of the Presidentialelection, or whether it will, once again, fall to corruption.

Such a turn to corruption would be a tremendous disappointment given all the work Mutunga has put in to foster the development of a culture of democracy and separation so judiciary in Kenya. Mutunga and other judges have, in the past six months, taken to thestreets of Kenya to inform the public about the working of the court system and how it provides a mechanism for conflict resolution without the need to resort to violence. Mutunga continues to appeal to Kenyans, calling for peaceful elections, arguing that holding a peaceful vote is the only way forward for Kenya.

Given the pressure by the international community and the vast structural changes in the Kenya judiciary since the last election, I am cautiously hopeful that the elections will be peaceful – that is without the escalationof violence to the same level as the last election. That being said, frustrations and animosities are undoubtedly apparent, leaving ambiguity as to what the result will be in actuality. So at the present moment, the world continues to hold its breath as Kenya moves one days closer to elections.

Links about 2007 violence and fears of violence for this election can be found on PeaceMedia:…