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).

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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 jah340@georgetown.edu or follow her on twitter @joleneh340

 

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Can We Create A Utopia?

Recently, I pulled a childhood book off my shelf – The Giver by Lois Lowry. The book is one of my favorites, and since I hadn’t read it since the seventh grade, I decide to re-read it. In the context of my studies now, the book took on a whole different meaning for me which had me asking: What does post-conflict reconstruction look like? Should democracy always be the goal? Or put more simply, is there such a thing as a utopic  society?

The aftermath of war, be it civil or international, is almost as bad as the fighting itself. Yes, the violence may have stopped – the result of a victorious party, a peace agreement, or an international intervention – but the battle has not yet been won. The conflict is frozen, balancing on the edge of a knife; a sudden movement in either direction could cause the process to unravel. It is at the moment, when a country is most vulnerable, that post-conflict reconstruction begins. The goal is to rebuild the country from the ground up, putting in place the necessary infrastructure and institutions, with all the checks and balances to hopefully ensure that such violent conflict does not reoccur. The traditional formula has been the institutionalization of democracy, but is this the most viable option? Can this create an enduring peace in and of itself?

There are two characteristics of democracy that are pertinent to this discussion: competition and choice. Democracy is competitive by its very nature. An election is a competition between competing parties for control of the government. Sounds simple, civil; people go to the ballots, cast their vote, one party wins, and there you have it, a new government. And in a developed democratic system this might be the case, but in a newly formed, or rather forming, democracy, the situation is quite different.

Imagine this: the multiple competing factions in a civil war have managed to come to a peace agreement, by way of an international intervention, have agreed to participate in national elections to determine the next legitimate government. In preparation for these elections, the former conflict factions each form their own political party. As, resources are scare and corruption is high, the only way to ensure one’s interests is to control the access and distribution of both resources and power. Thus, the elections have become a power struggle between the former competing factions. In support of this claim, Soth Plai Ngram, an expert on peacebuilding in Cambodia wrote in his M.A. Dissertation, “democracy is a competing terrain for political parties to win their power by controlling military forces, money and resources, rather than by winning the hearts of the people by improving their lives” (p.53). Consequently, rather than foster peace, democracy could actually create another means by which these parties continue to fight, pushing the fragile peace off the edge of the knife and sending it back into the chaos of violence.

Democracy is also characterized by choice; the capacity of each individual to have a voice in the process, to make their choice, and to cast their vote. But choices also create differences. They distinguish us from one another. The creation of differences between people, can be the source of future violence is a fragile state if these differences are not addressed or if there are not mechanisms in place for the reconciliation of such difference without resorting to violence. The construction of an identity based on differences is one of the foremost sources of conflict. Take, for example, the Rwanda genocide (rooted in construction of Hutu/Tutsi identities), the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (rooted in different religious identities), or the conflict between the two Sudans (rooted in a conflict between Arab/African identities). Democracy helps to facilitate the capacity of choice, but could it be possible for this capability to actually be detrimental to post-conflict reconstruction? How do we reconcile this? If not by democracy, then what?

There is a quote from The Giver that fits perfectly here, and attempts to define an alternative to democracy:

“We don’t let people make choice of their own…We really have to protect people from wrong choices…It’s safer” – Jonas to the Giver (Lowry p. 99)

The community in the giver is supposed to amply a utopic society; however, it is anything but a democracy and is rather more akin to a dictatorship. There is no suffering or pain, no bloodshed or tear, but there also is not choice or freedom. The society has a prescribed set of rules to which its citizen must adhere and the citizens are constantly monitored by camera to ensure compliance. The society has a predetermined number of births and deaths (referred to as ‘releases’) per year and each family unit has two children (one male and one female). A Committee of Elders matches husbands and wives, children to their parents, and jobs to the children at the age of 12 based on their individual characteristics and personal attributes. There are not differences. There is no colour, only shades of grey, emotions are suppressed with medicine, and there is an emphasis on uniformity and conformity. This system is functional and it seems to works, at least in the short term. The problem here is that it is like a teeter-totter; it can be a stepping-stone to something greater or a system needing just the right straw to entirely collapse.

So where does this leave us in terms of post-conflict reconstruction. What I have just described represents the two chasms between which peace balances: democracy, by nature of choice and competition, resulting in reoccurring conflict at one extreme, and dictatorship resulting in conflict when its authority is shaken or threatened at the other extreme. And in between we have a peace, fragile and fleeting, but nevertheless struggling to exist. The goal of post-conflict reconstruction should be neither democracy nor dictatorship, but rather the expansion of the space in which peace can be created; a widening of the tightrope to a more manageable size. It should begin with dialogue among the parties involved, but should not move too quickly towards any particular goal. A strong foundation needs to be built otherwise the system will collapse once more. If democracy is the answer, then the progress towards it needs to be slow. It needs to be built up brick by brick, not thrown together with fingers crossed hoping that it works. A democracy in a post-conflict situation needs to be continuous supported – one election does not create a democracy. It is a process. It may come with initial elements of dictatorship – highly centralized power, lacking in rights and freedoms – but these elements do not spring up overnight. Yes, the ultimate goal should be an open, democratic society, but this takes time.

So, can we create a utopia? Is a post-conflict situation the opportunity to sculpt a utopia society? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive towards it. If we are taking utopia to be synonymous with peace, reconciliation, the absence of violence, human rights, sustainable development, and the dignity of human beings, then it is a goal that we must continue to work towards. However, it is a project that never ends. There is no perfect system, no perfect democracy, no perfect society; it can constantly be improved. Although utopia will never be reached, striving towards it is what helps to create a lasting peace, one step at a time.

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. Currently she is in Arusha, Tanzania, working as a Legal Intern for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. You can email her at jah340@georgetown.edu or follow her on twitter @joleneh340

The Génocidaires: Rethinking Justice

Genocide is a crime and like any other crime it contains two parties: the perpetrators and the victims. When the story of a crime is told, it is the victim’s narrative that is remembered. Even now, 18 years after the genocide, the atrocities that were committed and the impact the have on the victims both in the past and in the present remains at the forefront of most discussions. Knowing these stories is tremendously important to the reconciliation process, to the memorialization process, and to ensuring that such atrocities are not repeated. However, these stories only reveal a portion of the picture. The stories of the perpetrators (or the génocidaires as they are called in Rwanda) also need to be told, particularly in the case of Rwanda, as they have been instrumental in the reconciliation and post-conflict reconstruction of the country.

The Rwanda génocidaires faced criminal justice on one of three levels. Those who were deemed most culpable and responsible for the genocide were brought before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania; those who were deemed to me mid-level perpetrators with relatively high levels of culpability faced the National Courts of Rwanda; and all other perpetrators were brought before the gacaca courts.

The gacaca courts are a community-based system of justice implemented to alleviate stress on the traditional justicesystem resulting from the high volume of prisoners. Between 2005 and 2011, more than 12,000 gacaca courts tried 1.2 million cases relating to the 1994 Imagegenocide. Despite its ability bring about swift trials, reduce the pressure on the severely overpopulated prison system, and document the genocide into case fact, the gacaca courts have been highly criticized. Human Rights Watch called them ‘Justice Compromised’ in their 2011 Report due the flaws in the trial process that lead to miscarriages of justice. However, given Rwanda’s post-conflict development, it becomes apparent that a tradeoff made in this regard. Although justice was not achieved to an international standard, the sentences brought down by the gacaca courts have greatly assisted in the post-conflict reconstruction of Rwanda.

Travail d’Intérêt Générale (TIG) is a community service organization for prisoners. Those génocidaires who confessed to their crimes were sentenced to reduced prison sentences and/or community service with TIG. In the wake of the genocide Rwanda was in ruins. Buildings, houses, and entire communities had been destroyed in the violence, leaving Rwanda in a perceived state of disrepair. Those perpetrators who have come to work for TIG are participating in development projects to reconstruct Rwanda – the very buildings, homes, and communities they helped destroyed during the genocide. One Rwandan described this very eloquently in reference to one community outside Kigali:

“The people who have made them homeless are the people who have brought them back to life.”

The perpetrators the genocide are quite literally rebuilding the communities they destroyed. They are building houses, schools, and community centers for the victims and in doing so, helping Rwanda transition to a stable post-conflict society. Moreover, this participation in community development has reduced the animosity between perpetrators and victims. Taking responsibility for the crimes that they have committed and actively helping to rebuild what was destroyed during the genocide has played a significant role in the reconciliation process in Rwanda. The victims are grateful for the rebuilding of their community and are satisfied with justice being achieved through community development.

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This brings to light an important question: what is more important, justice or reconciliation? Had these individuals been sentenced to 10, 20, or 30 years imprisonment and not had the option for community service many communities in Rwanda would still be destroyed. Moreover, the continued segregation of perpetrators and victims by imprisonment does not foster reconciliation between these two groups. That is not to say that those who were higher up in the chain of command, those who orchestrated the genocide, should get off with mere community service as their punishment. But it should be noted that these were not the majority. The vast majority of genocidaires were individuals acting not out of malicious premeditation, but rather out of fear and uncertainty resulting from the context of civil war, state power, and pre-conceived notions of ethnicity as Strauss demonstrated in his book The Order of Genocide. For these individual who have sincerely repented their actions, is the unity of Rwanda not more important? In these cases, should reconciliation and post-conflict development not be the ultimate goal? It can be argued that Rwanda is where it is today because of programs such as TIG, so how can we argue with such success? Can justice and reconciliation be achieved simultaneously, or are the mutually exclusive?

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.  Currently she is travelling to Rwanda with Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar with the Zones of Conflict, Zones of Peace Program.  You can email her at jah340@georgetown.edu or follow her on twitter @joleneh340