The New Times (Kigali)

25 September 2012

Rwanda: Kagame Calls for Equality in International Justice

President Paul Kagame has called on the world to ensure that universal justice and equality are realised to ensure the rule of law is more effective domestically and internationally.

As a global community, we should be alert to the dangers of politicising issues of justice.

He made the remarks on Monday while addressing the United Nations High Level meeting on the Rule of Law during the ongoing 67th session of the UN General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York.

"One can begin with the important principle of universal justice, an ideal which I believe we all would like to see realised. The rule of law internationally is premised on the principle that equality before the law is universal. This, however, is not always the case," he observed.

"What many countries can attest to, in actual fact, is that in application, "justice" is often not pursued fairly or without favour - what may be overlooked in one situation is aggressively sanctioned in another."

The Head of State noted that some national jurisdictions have assumed superiority over others without any legal or other justifications, resulting in the law being applied selectively.

Kagame said that countries need to work together to guarantee universal justice that is 'meaningful to all concerned'. Without naming any countries or individuals, the President accused some quarters of "politicising issues of justice".

"As a global community, we should be alert to the dangers of politicising issues of justice, both at the national and international level, because ultimately, this undermines the rule of law," he stated.

"We see principles such as universal jurisdiction being used many times selectively and in one direction as a political tool in the arena of international affairs for the purposes of control and domination".

The President emphasised that what was more useful was for people to work together towards a form of universal justice that is meaningful to all and ensure that the rule of law upholds equality between nations, guarantees fairness, and recognises and respects sovereignty indiscriminately.

Kagame said that Rwanda has firsthand experience about the importance of the rule of law and more specifically, the implication of its absence or disregard, and unequal application.

He added: "That absence destroyed our country in the post-independence decades leading up to the Genocide in 1994, followed by unjust treatment in the name of universal jurisdiction where it has been clear that motives veer more towards the political than legal."

The Head of State pointed out that the two issues of justice and politics are complex and closely intertwined, thereby requiring a contextual and balanced approach.

"A purely punitive course of action is not always the best, even when grievances are legitimate and obvious. In fact, the singular pursuit of either justice or political imperatives may aggravate the situation."

He noted that Rwanda's experience following the genocide is a stark example, underlining that from a purely legal perspective, there were hundreds of thousands of perpetrators, and a strong case for a punitive approach.

"But to best serve our priorities of both justice and social harmony, we sought to balance the strict application of punitive provisions of the law with restorative alternatives."

"This home-grown solution through our Gacaca court process, has served us better than any other system could."

Gacaca courts (semi-traditional courts) were re-introduced in the country as the best alternative to bring to justice perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi who were crowded in prisons. The courts that wound up their activities in June 2012 tried nearly two million suspects within ten years.

"We have been able to strengthen the rule of law in our country, particularly through universal access to quality justice, so that citizens are not hindered by financial constraints or long distances to judicial centres," Kagame said.

The President said the principle of balancing punitive and restorative forms of justice are also applicable in the international arena.

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