Tag: Rwanda

Interventionism and Restraint in Democratic Foreign Policy

At War on the Rocks, Mieke Eoyong intervenes in the Sanders-Clinton foreign-policy debate. Although the case made for Sanders’ foreign policy by those she critiques—including Sean Kay—is much broader, she focuses on three arguments: that “Sanders has superior judgment because he opposed the Iraq War and Clinton didn’t; Sanders would exercise restraint in intervention, where Clinton is on record supporting U.S. intervention in a number of cases; [and] Sanders would restrain defense spending.”

I’m going to respond to the first two. I do so as a recovering liberal hawk. In the 1990s, my views on foreign policy were profoundly shaped by the pages of The New Republic. But over the last fifteen years, I’ve moved further and further away from liberal interventionism. Don’t get me wrong: I’m still more of a ‘strong defense’ type than most people on the left. But the problems that I see with Eoyong’s case reflect the reasons for my own evolution.

Indeed, Eoyong’s first argument is that the real test of judgment is learning from mistakes. As she writes:

A candidate’s ability to admit he or she has made a mistake and take corrective action is far more important in the world where imperfect information and changed circumstance may render initial judgments as poor decisions. No one gets it right all the time. How do candidates cope when they get it wrong? What lessons do they learn? What steps do they take to address the problems?

Fair enough. And this is one reason why I don’t worry about a possible Clinton presidency the way that many on the Democratic left do (indeed, if and when Clinton wins the nomination my pocketbook will open up to her campaign and I will do everything I can to support it). But I think it telling that Eoyong has nothing to say about the actual lessons learned by liberal interventionists from Iraq. Continue reading

Notorious BIG Fish: Mladic and Munyagishari

The capture of Ratko Mladic and his pending transfer to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has become another boon for international justice in a year where war criminals seem to be dropping like flies. But there’s an interesting debate to be had over whether this arrest signals a stronger commitment to end impunity on principle or its combined success with political and pragmatic imperatives. Of course, it’s both. Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch argues that the international community’s “principled pressure for justice” worked with Serbia – and the pressure came from conditioning Serbia’s EU accession on Mladic’s arrest. Similarly, Geert-Jan Knoops argues that Serbia’s action to finally arrest him was based on “political and economic motivations” – irrespective of the international community’s more normative appeals for holding Mladic accountable.

And hidden amongst the media and diplomatic excitement over Mladic was the important news about the arrest of Bernard Munyagishari by Congolese authorities in the DRC. Munyagishari is wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) for genocide and crimes against humanity committed in the 1994 genocide. He is alleged to have been the leader of the Interahamwe (an extremist youth militia) in the Gisenyi region of western Rwanda, responsible for training Interahamwe and ordering mass killings and rapes. There is little controversy over his arrest – it’s a victory for both the ICTR and the Rwandan government. Of course, there’s a pragmatic element at play here too. The presence of many former genocidaires in the Kivus in the DRC (Munyagishari was arrested in North Kivu) has been a significant source of insecurity and been used to justify Rwanda’s military engagement in the region. Impunity and conflict are intricately linked in this region.

That there are pragmatic reasons for and benefits to arresting war criminals, however, does not undermine the apparent trend of a principled commitment to end impunity. They’re often, but not always, mutually reinforcing.

Beyond the Big Fish….
In accordance with their mandates, the ICTR and ICTY have been successful in trying a broad swath of those considered “most responsible” for core crimes (such as Milosevic, Karadzic, etc. for ICTY and Bagosora, recently Bizimungu, etc. for ICTR). The ICTR has completed 46 judgments (including 8 acquittals) and 9 fugitives remain at large. The ICTY has completed 77 judgments (including 13 acquittals) and only one fugitive remains at large (Hadzic).

Apprehending the “big fish” is an important but not sole measure of success for international tribunals. It’s essential to look beyond indictments and arrests to the impact of trials on truth and reconciliation – the murkier and loftier goals of transitional justice that we can’t really measure. The trials of Mladic and Munyagishari will contribute to the already well established historical records of the systematic and systemic nature of atrocities. In both cases, their crimes are already well known and their guilt almost certain (especially for Mladic, as some of those operating under his command have already been tried and convicted). Just as important, their trials may help counter denial and individualize guilt – both necessary to combat Serb ultra-nationalist support for those like Mladic and what remains of political and military Hutu extremism in the DRC.

The impact of trials on reconciliation, however, deserves a healthy dose of skepticism. An EU representative made a statement that the arrest “will bring down barriers to reconciliation in Bosnia-Herzegovina.” This may be possible at a national or regional level – whereby reconciliation between those victimized by the Srebrenica genocide and the Serbian government would be thin without Mladic’s arrest.

In Rwanda, despite the ICTR’s mandate reference to reconciliation, the local population is largely dismissive and indifferent to the ICTR. The elite perpetrators that appear in its courtrooms are less well known to Rwandans and the process is physically and culturally remote to them (as compared to the trials in the local Gacaca courts). While many applaud Munyagishari’s arrest, it’s worth waiting to see whether his victims in Gisenyi consider this a meaningful form of justice.

(cross-posted at Global Transitional Justice)

Agathe Habyarimana, France, and the Rwandan “Genocidaires” fifteen years on


Early this year, an improvement in French-Rwandan relations led to the French government finally beginning to take note that many of the most serious war criminals in the 1994 Rwandan genocide were living in France without having been tried or punished for their crimes. The French government’s previous apathy towards these suspects was part of a long list o problems with accountability for the genocide in other states, internationally (in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda), and within Rwandan courts.

The last couple of days, a particular (accused) participant in the genocide has been in the news – Agathe Habyarimana, spouse of former (assassinated) Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana. Agathe, one of the women discussed in Caron Gentry and my Mothers, Monsters, Whores book, is accused of complicity with and perpetration of the genocide (as well as, in certain circles, participation in her husband’s assassination). The French government flew her out of Rwanda in the summer of 1994, and has arrested her for genocide this week, nearly 16 years later.

There are all sorts of interesting questions surrounding the French government’s sudden cooperativeness in prosecuting Rwandan war criminals generally, and in this high-profile case particularly, concerning the nature of the conflict, ethnic relations, post-colonial relations, the nature of truth and reconciliation, and Rwanda’s future prospects for peace and even prosperity. But for the purposes of this post, I’ll focus on the narrow topic of gendered representations of Agathe ….

Caron Gentry and I have observed that women engaged in proscribed violence are often portrayed either as ‘mothers’, women who are fulfilling their biological destinies; as ‘monsters’, women who are pathologically damaged and are therefore drawn to violence; or as ‘whores’, women whose violence is inspired by sexual dependence and depravity. Each narrative carries with it the weight of gendered assumptions about what is appropriate female behavior. In these terms, a woman who commits proscribed violence, in her home or in global politics, has committed a double transgression: the crime and her disregard of a gender stereotype which denies her mental capacity to commit such a crime.

The portrayals of Agathe Habyarimana that focus on whether she is worthy of a widow’s pity, her emotional fragility and maternal nature, and exoticism have gendered elements. Those gendered elements play out in the ways Agathe’s (and other women’s) “innocence” and “guilt” are discussed, in understandings about gender roles in the genocide-era and post-genocide Rwandan society, and in the increasing representation of women in Rwandan civil society and government.

In fact, coverage of Agathe’s arrest goes side by side with coverage of Rwanda’s election of the first woman-majority parliament in history. Looking back at the genocide and looking around at the complexities of gender and political life in Rwanda today, it is obvious that women can at once be victims and perpetrators; and women can make advances in some areas while experiencing setbacks in others shows “the status of women” is a much more complicated and multidirectional construct than it appears in either the idealist or Orientalist accounts. The “status of women” in Rwanda cannot be explained either by referencing women’s increased participation in politics nor by ignoring it; instead, it is important to note that the story is not only women reconstructing Rwanda but also Rwanda reconstructing women/femininity. The reconstructed subject of the traditional woman needs to be deconstructed in order to understand, continue, and complete the project of the reconstruction of the Rwandan state. Dealing with Agathe’s contribution to the genocide in gendered ways is one piece of that puzzle.

The Crash that Launched a Million Deaths

On 6 April 1994 someone shot down a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira at it attempted to land at Kigali Airport. Habyarimana’s death sparked waves of killings by Hutu extremists, the Interahamwe militia, and eventually significant numbers of opportunistic collaborators. They targeted not only ethnic Tutsi but also Hutu moderates, particularly supporters of the Arusha Peace Accords. Hundreds of thousands died in the fastest genocide in history; an excess of human remains choked Rwanada’s rivers. The genocide ended only when the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) defeated the government and took control of the country.

Scholars and observers have long speculated about who shot down the plane. Suspicions generally fell on Hutu extremists–and perhaps even the Akazu (“Little House”) of cronies and relatives surrounding Habyarimana and his wife. In other words, those who stood to lose the most from the accords killed the President and initiated a genocide to maintain their hold on power.

But not according to former UN investigator Michael Hourigan, who tells the BBC that the UN halted his investigation into Habyarimana’s death. The reason: he was close to pinning responsibility on Paul Kagame: head of the RPF and now the President of Rwanda. Michael Doyle reports:

The former UN investigator who has now spoken to the BBC, Michael Hourigan, worked on several aspects of the genocide in 1996 and 1997.

He successfully prosecuted a number of Hutu leaders responsible for the mass killings, but also found witnesses who alleged that the Tutsi Paul Kagame, the current president of Rwanda, was involved in the plot to shoot down the plane when he was a rebel leader.

Mr Hourigan told the BBC from his home in Australia that senior UN officials instructed him to stop his enquiries.

“None of it makes sense,” he said.

“That all of a sudden when we get the breakthrough and we start to actually get people coming forward saying: ‘We were involved in the crash, you know, I fired a rocket which took the president’s aircraft down’ – when we’re getting those people with that sort of quality information coming forwards and then we shut it down.”

“I mean it didn’t make sense to me then and it doesn’t make sense to me now.” ….

Senior UN officials say the enquiry into the plane crash was stopped because it was not within the mandate of the genocide tribunal. Mr Hourigan strongly disagrees.

A spokesman for the then chief prosecutor of the tribunal, Louise Arbour, who is now the UN human rights commissioner, said she would not comment on Mr Hourigan’s complaints because she had a duty of confidentiality.

Diplomats say Rwanda would almost certainly have stopped cooperating with the tribunal if its investigations targeted Mr Kagame.

The diplomats add that the foreign policies of western nations towards Rwanda are partly driven by guilt because the international community failed to stop the mass killings.

President Kagame has denied involvement in shooting down the plane, but adds that he does not regret the death of the former Rwandan leader, who he describes as a dictator.

This is a pretty big deal.

When the France’s anti-terrorism judge accused Kagame in November of 2006, it was easy to dismiss his claims. The French government backed the Hutu regime and doesn’t like Kagame’s Anglophone orientation. Chris McGreal of The Guardian explains the case for French bias before he concludes that Hutu extremists were likely responsible for Habyarimana’s death.

When the genocide started, Paris made no secret of where its loyalties lay. The French military flew in ammunition for government forces and, in the following weeks, a stream of Hutu officials travelled to Paris, including Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, who was later convicted of genocide by the international tribunal, for meetings with President François Mitterrand and the French prime minister. Even as the mass graves filled across Rwanda, Paris engineered the delivery of millions of dollars’ worth of weapons to the Hutu regime from Egypt and South Africa.

Africa has traditionally been considered such a special case in Paris that France’s policy is run out of the presidency. At the time, the “Africa cell” was headed by Mitterrand’s son, Jean-Christophe, a close friend of the Habyarimanas. He later said that there could not have been a genocide because “Africans are not that organised”. France’s president did not deny what had happened, but took a view no less racist: “In such countries, genocide is not too important.”

Hourigan’s accusations suggest, however, that there is more to this than Francophone-sphere political maneuvering.

Let us suppose that Hourigan’s sources are unreliable. I still find it troubling that the UN might have shut down his investigation rather than rattle cooperation from the Kagame government. This sort of behavior brings back memories of how higher-level UN officials behaved immediately before and after the genocide broke out.

At the same time, post-conflict justice must always be tempered by pragmatism. Peace may not be worth any price, but it seldom comes cheap. And no one should shed any tears for Habyarimana.

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