12 February 2018

Rwanda: Finally, the UN Recognises the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi


The United Nations General Assembly recently officially designated April 7, as the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.

Previously, United Nations referred to it as the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda.

As a consequence, UN Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, adopted resolution 955, on 8 November 1994, establishing International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to prosecute and punish perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed in Rwanda and neighbouring countries by Rwandans throughout 1994.

The tribunal formally closed on December 31, 2015.

What does this paradigm shift mean in the eyes of international law? The recognition of the Genocide against the Tutsi matches perfectly with the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which describes genocide as any acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole, or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.

Not all groups are protected by the Genocide Convention. The Conventions lists four groups, and the list is a closed one.

Admittedly, ever since the conclusion of the Convention, there have been criticisms of its narrow focus and proposals have been made to expand it, but these have been unsuccessful.

Recognising genocide without explicit reference to whom it was committed against falls short of the true meaning of the genocide definition. It has been important to specify it as 'Genocide against the Tutsi', something that leaves no room for possible expansive interpretation. Genocide has internationally recognised constitutive elements.

These include killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Like past genocides, the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi met the threshold of constitutive elements, as set forth in the Genocide Convention. Examples: the massacre of about 2 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. By the early 1920s, when the massacres and deportations finally ended, some 1.5 million of Turkey's Armenians were dead, with many more forcibly removed from the country.

Today, most historians call this episode a genocide-a premeditated and systematic campaign to exterminate an entire people. Some authors or historians are reluctant to use the word genocide simply because by the time these massacres occurred the word genocide wasn't in existence.

The word genocide came way back in 1944, thanks to a Polish-Jewish lawyer called Raphael Lemkin. He sought to create a new term to describe Nazi policies of the systematic murder of Jewish people. Lemkin used the ancient Greek word genos (race, tribe) and the Latin cide (killing) to come up with the new word, "genocide."

Raphael Lemkin spent 4 years pushing for genocide to be added to international law. Ultimately, in 1948, the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide was adopted, and it entered into force in 1951.

The Convention defined genocide in legal terms based on Lemkin's work, and is the basis for genocide prevention efforts today.

Second, the Holocaust which was the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.

The Nazis, who came to power in Germany in January 1933, believed that Germans were "racially superior" and that the Jews, deemed "inferior," were an alien threat to the so-called German racial community.

Third, Srebrenica massacre, currently known as genocide, was formally recognised in case law of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), a UN tribunal based in The Hague. The Tribunal officially closed on December 31, 2017.

The tribunal convicted numerous perpetrators of genocide in relation to the Srebrenica killings of about 8,000 Muslim men and boys in 1995 by Bosnian Serb troops.

Specifically, in reference to the ICTY's appeal judgement in the case of Radislav Krstić, the first ICTY judgement to recognise the crimes committed at Srebrenica as genocide.

It was noted in the judgment that "those who devise and implement genocide seek to deprive humanity of the manifold richness its nationalities, races, ethnicities and religions provide.

"This is a crime against all of humankind, its harm being felt not only by the group targeted for destruction, but by all of humanity". Equally, Srebrenica genocide has been recognised by the International Court of Justice [a UN World Court].

Unfortunately, to date, Srebrenica massacre hasn't been formally recognised as genocide by the United Nations Security Council. The last proposal to vote in recognising it by the UN Security Council was in July, 2015, but Russia vetoed that draft resolution.

Indeed, like past genocides, the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi indisputably met common constitutive elements of the Genocide Convention. Most notably, the special intent to kill in whole, or in part, a protected group.

Therefore, the United Nations resolution to change using the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda to the "Genocide against the Tutsi" has been long overdue.

The writer is a law expert.


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