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Legacy of Rwanda's genocide: more assertive international justice

Out of 800,000 deaths emerged a new system of justice and more peacekeepers. But will either prove effective or enduring?

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But without a world government to enforce the decisions of that world court, and with many of the major powers, including the United States, refusing to recognize the authority of the ICC, the power of the ICC is compromised.

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Darfur tests international justice

The ICC's ability to adjudicate cases involving war crimes by top national leaders is now being put to the test, with the ongoing trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who is accused of war crimes both at home and in neighboring Sierra Leone. But critics like Lancaster say the court may have overreached its capacity by issuing an arrest warrant against President Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan for war crimes in the Darfur conflict – an arrest warrant that the ICC has no ability to enforce.

Rather than serving as a deterrent against "leaders who misbehave," the ICC may actually have the unintended effect of pushing leaders like President Bashir and rebel leaders like Lord's Resistance Army chief Joseph Kony, into a corner, where brutality against civilians is the only tool they have left to use.

Even worse, he says, there are times when countries such as the Congo decide to set aside differences with an ICC-indicted war criminal, such as Gen. Bosco Ntganda, and effectively look the other way in return for short-term political cooperation.

Lancaster, who also served in MONUC's disarmament program, says he had a surreal experience a month ago in the Congolese town of Goma, when he saw General Bosco – a man wanted for the deaths of hundreds of civilians in the Congolese region of Ituri – entering a restaurant. "He walks in, with escorts, has lunch with a beautiful view of Lake Kivu, and walks out, without a care in the world," he says. "And this is in Goma, where the greatest concentration of [UN] peacekeepers is found, and MONUC says they don't have the mandate to arrest him."

He pauses in exasperation. "There is a direct conflict between the universal utopian application of the human rights agenda on one hand, and realpolitik on the other."

Ready to accept responsibility

For Rwandans themselves, the greatest legacy of the genocide is the 15 years of relative peace that have come during the rule of President Kagame. By African standards, the country has emerged as an economic dynamo: Gross national product surged 11 percent in 2008. But the peace comes at a price of freedom of expression, with most newspapers either state-owned or voicing a pro-Kagame line, and with the ruling RPF party the only political game in town.

Justice at home has been meted out by thousands of traditional "gacaca" (pronounced ga-cha-cha) courts. These have given individual Rwandan victims an opportunity to confront those who participated in the attacks, and offered some time for social healing to start. But progress and the reach of international justice appears slow for many Rwandans: Top alleged perpetrators – including former ministers and the head of the Hutu rebel movement, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) – remain at large in Europe, in the jungles of eastern DRC, and in the United States.

Tomorrow: Rwandans take two paths to healing. Ignatius Ssuuna, a reporter for the Center for African Journalists, contributed to this report from Kigali, Rwanda.