Conference 4 june 2013, speech Alphonse Muleefu


 Can the Future of Rwanda be determined in The Hague? 

By: Alphonse Muleefu 

Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity of talking about Rwanda with you tonight. Rwanda is one of those post-conflict situations that are so complex that very few people will be able to define in concrete terms the meaning of justice, truth, and reconciliation. It is not clear whether justice is about following the normal classical criminal procedure or whether it is about providing fairness in its generic meaning; where every individual participant feels that the system is treating them equally. 

Whether you believe that the genocide that took place in Rwanda happened because of traditional hatred, failures of socio-economic situation, cultural obedience, popular anger, bad governance or power struggle, the role of the colonial policy that introduced identity cards in 1930s and ethnic polarization that followed – through media – cannot be ignored, and I think any sustainable response had to have these two elements into consideration. 

The first response to deal with the aftermath of the genocide was through ordinary courts, but it was clear in 1999 that to complete about 125,000 genocide suspects in preventive detention – without mentioning those that were still at large – would take ordinary Rwandan courts more than 100 years and if trials were to go according to the ICTR pace, it would take more than ten thousand years. That is how Gacaca Courts were created. Currently, Ordinary courts have tried more than 10000 cases, military courts have conducted 47 trials of war crimes, ICTR is still struggling to finish 75 cases, and Gacaca courts have completed close to 2 million cases. 2 

Rwanda Governance Board claims that Gacaca has contributed to social cohesion by dealing with the generalization of the genocide responsibility on all Hutu people through establishing individual criminal responsibility. The fact that about 35% resulted into acquittals, and 21% into confessions, it means that about 56% of Gacaca courts cases ended with a sign of peaceful co-existence. Gacaca has also contributed to the development of Rwanda; when you consider the fact that a court case to be tried in the lower ordinary court of instance costs around 500 USD, when you get the total cases tried by gacaca courts multiplied by 500 USD, minus the real total cost of the whole Gacaca process. It means that during the 10 years of gacaca courts’ existence, every year, this mechanism was donating 100 millions USD to the national treasury. 

Rwanda also adopted several mechanisms for socio-economic development, it adopted laws against genocide ideology, hate speech and discrimination and there is an official promotion of Rwandanness against HUTU, TUTSI and TWA groups. 

Reconstruction of rule of law and judicial independence has come a long way. For example out of about 1500 judicial personnel that existed in Rwanda before the genocide, after the genocide Rwanda was left with a little less than 400 and most of them were not trained lawyers. Currently, all of the judges at least posses a law degree, one has a PhD and 32 have a master’s degree. I understand that some of the organizers wanted me to discuss the still ongoing case of Mrs. Ingabire, despite the fact that it would be preemptive, I want to avoid it for the lack of all facts. It is important to note however that since 2008, Rwandan courts have been trying crimes related to genocide ideology at an average rate of at least 500 cases each year and this reality renders the argument that the law on genocide ideology and denial was adopted to limit political space pointless. 

I don’t think that it is fair to create a judicial system that gives politicians and journalists some kind of preferential treatment. Of course, judicial independence is much more than having qualified personnel or the existence of court rooms and prison facilities, neither is it about the absence of political pressure – but as one American magistrate puts it, judicial independence ‘embodies the concept that a judge can decide a case according to the facts and law, not according to prejudice, or fear of pressure from either the legislature, executive, media, NGOs, or the latest opinion poll.’ 

No system can obviously claim to be perfect – it cannot be said about South Africa nor the Former Yugoslavia – and I would be the last to argue that the mechanisms adopted after the genocide are perfect, but allow me to argue that most of the criticisms against Rwanda are mere ideological than real or substantive issues. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I think that to criticise a situation like Rwanda is to choose a simple job. It becomes easier to propose a solution when we look into what happened in Rwanda in a macro consideration as mere cruel killings, rapes, torture and destruction of properties, but such a kind of analysis is far from the reality. Victimization happened to individuals, committed by specific individuals and it is these individuals that make up a totality of Rwanda. I don’t think that we can say or do anything meaningful to victims of international crimes if we cannot address specific needs of individuals within these societies. The most challenging thing for all post-conflict societies is to find a conventional solution that can address those challenges. Is it possible for instance to achieve justice, truth and reconciliation while you want to punish? After the genocide, Rwanda was composed of victors v. vanquished, perpetrators v. victims, heroes v. opportunists, bystanders v. new returnees, Franco-phones v. Anglo-phones and many more subdivisions, with extremists on all sides. It was this same composition that had to find by itself the way out. If we agree that there is no any solution suitable for all, how much power needed for those in decision making positions to enforce their choice without being authoritarian? 

If you listen to the two opposing narratives about today’s Rwanda, you might think that these two groups are talking about two different countries. I would like to show you how these two camps are selective in their sources of information. 

(1) If you start your narrative with Rwanda going to the DR Congo without mentioning the role of France’s Opération Turquoise and the then government of Zaire and the complicity of international community in creating refugee camps on the border with Rwanda and their subsequent infiltration and insurgencies in the North-western parts of Rwanda, you have certainly decided to provide an incomplete story. When you read those writings that insist on the wrongs of RPF/A, you will find that most of them, if not all, will ignore or somehow minimize the role of France – it might be a coincidence – but certainly, an interesting one. 

(2) If we agree that demand creates its supply - what is the easy thing to do for an investigator: is it to identify a leader of a militia group controlling a certain mining site in the jungles of the DR Congo or is it to identify a western individual buying and flying those minerals in broad daylight through various capitals? 

(3) What makes someone judge Rwanda’s judiciary based on HRW and AI reports without considering court decisions of European Court of Human Rights,  ICTR, Norway, Canada, etc, which have all in one way or another have concluded that it is independent? 

(4) How do you expect to be considered objective when you question the commemoration of the genocide against the Tutsi – on grounds that it ignores the Hutu sufferings – when you know that more than 70 years now, it is still controversial to consider remembering the Germany victims in Europe, and here I am not talking about the Nazis, I am referring to those civilians in Germany cities who were bombed by allied forces? 

The issue of reconciliation is very interesting for me because we can always find examples not far from here. I want to tell you a story of my two Germany friends. In 2008 we were watching Euro cup in an Irish Pub here in The Hague, it was Germany v. England, it happened that the Germany team beat the English team, I was not following the commentaries, but I saw my Germany friends unhappy about what they had heard, and I decided to ask them what was the matter. One of them told me how every time there is something between Germany and England, the British find reasons to refer to the world war. 

You cannot talk about reconciliation without saying something about Hutu, Tutsi and often forgotten Twa (examples given). If you don’t want to call me black in America for their history, why do you want to call me Hutu or Tutsi in Rwanda? I believe that, every society has its own taboos and sometimes an outsider might not understand them. I am not being naïve, just as blacks are not going to disappear from America, I also think that Hutu, Tutsi and Twa will not go away, but I believe that if the pace is kept on, their relevance will diminish. As we move to the full integration into the East African community, the issue of Hutu, Tutsi and Twa will become old-fashion. It is very wrong to think that issues of Rwanda are black and white as if there are no nuances and grew areas. We are people just like any other people, we are capable of determining our future, and we cannot be reduced to mere numbers of how many Hutu v. Tutsi, as if we do not have cross-cutting interests. 

In preparation for this presentation, I found myself reading every criticisms about Rwanda and honestly some of them are simply ridiculous - I want to quote one: ‘poor Rwandans do not typically own shoes, and other countries’ poor citizens have gotten around the ‘no shoes’ law by wearing plastic bags over their feet. Since plastic bags are now outlawed, this is no longer an option for Rwanda’s poor, and they are effectively banned from the city.’ After reading this report, I couldn’t know what to make of its authors; Rwanda is one of the countries in the sub-Saharan Africa where you cannot find grass houses like many other African countries and here someone instead of suggesting how those poor citizens could get shoes, the important thing is to ask for their right to wear plastic bags on their feet? 

Whether it is the positives or negatives that are the footnote of your story about Rwanda, I think that the future of Rwanda after Kagame will not come from a few good individuals in The Hague, or any other place for that matter. With all due respect, I think that having such an assumption is patronizing and full of arrogance. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to say that non-Rwandans are not supposed to discuss issues of Rwanda or that issues of Rwanda should be discussed in Rwanda only but just allow me to introduce a new perspective into this debate. Europe has been in Africa since for more than a Century and I kid you not, very few of us here are proud of that engagement but unfortunately we keep on blaming Africa alone. Here is my take, if I was a teacher of more than 50 students and after several years of teaching none of them can pass my exam, I would honorably resign. I want to believe that, the time for tutoring Africans should be over, the non-binding role for the Dutch government, just like any other development partner, should be of supporting the Rwandan people – in mutual respect – irrespective of who is their president. 

To conclude, I want you to retain this message; Rwanda is moving on, with or without Kagame and its future will be determined in Rwanda and not in The Hague. It is progressing in all sectors (just maybe, just maybe) with many steps being taken in some areas more than other sectors due to the uniqueness of its social-economic and geo-political position. 

Thank you so much.