Victor's justice?

A tribunal on the 1994 genocide in Rwanda is accused of ignoring the role of Tutsis.

Published January 13, 2005 2:35PM (EST)

The international tribunal for Rwanda was criticized Wednesday for its failure to charge Tutsis suspected of killing Hutus in the 1994 genocide. Filip Reyntjens, a Belgian historian and expert witness on the genocide, said he would stop cooperating with the tribunal because no Tutsis from the Rwandan Patriotic Front rebel army had been indicted.

Reyntjens said that prosecuting only Hutus amounted to victor's justice because the Tutsi force that ended the genocide by overthrowing the extremist Hutu regime also committed atrocities. The U.N.-mandated tribunal, which sits in Arusha, Tanzania, was supposed to foster reconciliation but was doing the opposite because its one-sided approach alienated ordinary Hutus, he said. "The ICTR [tribunal] risks being part of the problem rather than of the solution. I cannot any longer be involved in this process," he wrote in a letter to prosecutors made available to news agencies.

There was no response from the tribunal.

The killing of an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus by Hutu militants is well known; less so are the crimes of Tutsi rebels who subsequently took power and still rule the country.

A former prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, promised to charge members of the RPF, but before doing so she was removed from her post by a unanimous vote in the U.N. Security Council in August 2003. Her successor, Hassan Bubacar Jallow, showed no such zeal. Del Ponte, a former Swiss attorney general, blamed her removal on Britain and the United States, both allies of the Tutsi-led government of Paul Kagame in Kigali, Rwanda's capital.

Reyntjens has revived del Ponte's complaint that the victors are not being held accountable. "These crimes fall squarely within the mandate of the ICTR; they are well documented -- testimonial and material proof is available, and the identity of RPF suspects is known." He did not specify the crimes, but they may include three RPF massacres investigated by del Ponte and the slaughter of women and children documented by Human Rights Watch. "The crimes committed by RPF soldiers were so systematic and widespread and took place over so long a period of time that commanding officers must have been aware of them," the New York-based advocacy group said in its report on the genocide.

There has been speculation that President Kagame, who led the rebel sweep through Rwanda, and was behind the subsequent incursions into the Democratic Republic of Congo, might have been indicted himself were it not for his links with Washington and London. He denies any wrongdoing.

More than 80 Hutu leaders have been indicted for their role in the genocide. But such is the sensitivity of alleged Tutsi crimes that commemorations for the genocide's 10th anniversary last April did not mention them. Hutus did not speak out for fear of provoking the authoritarian government. (Their sense of grievance is likely to be compounded by a Hollywood film, "Hotel Rwanda," which depicts horrors perpetrated by Hutu militias.)

Next month Rwanda is due to open a nationwide system of local courts -- known as gacaca, a traditional form of village-based justice -- to put on trial genocide suspects, with the aim of clearing the backlog of cases in the conventional judicial system. Government officials suggest 500,000 suspects could be tried like this.

By Rory Carroll

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