Humane Values Are at Stake in Rwanda

A MORE tangled web of problems than those facing Rwanda and, by extension, the international community, can scarcely be imagined.

After the outbreak of violence in April, genocide by the previous Hutu government and associated military elements claimed half a million lives. The victims were largely Tutsis, although moderate Hutus also paid the price. Others died in the ensuing civil war, ending in victory by the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Army, which installed a new government in Kigali in July.

Fleeing the violence of genocide and civil war, an estimated two million of Rwanda's population of eight million crossed into Zaire, Tanzania, and Burundi. Another two million were uprooted within Rwanda's frontiers. Few families emerged unscathed. The tally of lives lost since April stands at upward of one million.

The situation is further complicated by a recent report for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said to allege a pattern of new killings, strenuously disputed by the new regime. This in turn comes on the heels of the publication of a list, with photographs, of those the new government thinks were involved in the genocide earlier in the year.

Three formidable challenges require immediate attention. The first: getting the machinery of government up and running. The new regime is starting from scratch. The ministries in Kigali are in ruins. But outside governments - the US and Canada are exceptions -

are holding back on substantial economic assistance until the regime proves itself.

After experiences in Somalia and the former Yugoslavia, this wariness on the part of the international community is understandable, but should not become a pretext for foot-dragging in Rwanda. Doubts that the new regime will govern effectively could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. An international gamble on the new leaders may seem risky, but withholding resources may prove riskier still.

Challenge No. 2: justice

Establishing justice, the second major challenge, is even more difficult. Having fought a Hutu army and replaced a largely Hutu government, the new regime must now protect the rights of the Hutu majority, many of whom are implicated in killings of Tutsis.

Some initial signs are positive. The regime is committed to a multiethnic Rwanda and has placed Hutus in positions of authority. It has granted ``free and unrestricted access to all parts of Rwanda'' to as many human rights monitors as the United Nations wishes to deploy.

Yet both the list of genocide suspects and the UNHCR report may unleash forces difficult to control. And even in less highly charged circumstances, instituting a system of law and order with protection for all would be a formidable undertaking.

``We simply don't have the human and financial resources to man a justice system,'' one official explains. Yet here, too, the lumbering international machinery is responding ever so slowly.

As of last week, the UN had yet to station any human rights monitors in areas of suspected abuses. Investigators have yet to begin the painstaking task of compiling evidence for an international tribunal to prosecute the masterminds of genocide. ``I'm not sure how long people will wait,'' warns one human rights expert, ``before taking things into their own hands.''

A third challenge is to move beyond relief to reconstruction and reconciliation.

The world has put big money into the emergency response. High-profile French and US military contingents, having performed life-and-death chores effectively, have departed. Lower-profile UN peacekeeping operations continue.

Aid tapering off

But international aid levels, civilian as well as military, may have crested.

The tumult and shouting by the media have died, and some relief groups are folding their tents. While the parade of aid donors continues, the flow of outside resources is beginning to slow.

Reconstruction itself involves tough choices. Encouraging people to return to homes now destroyed or taken over by squatters risks inflaming passions. Would leaving a million people in makeshift camps outside Rwanda be less risky? It is there that Hutu militiamen, organizing to retake power, are already harassing those who want to return.

These three challenges represent a daunting agenda for action. Establishing the rule of law, with protections for the Hutu majority and for those accused of genocide, is the most central challenge. Getting government machinery up and running is to no avail if justice remains elusive. People must feel secure if they are to return to scenes of such unthinkable inhumanity and try to rebuild.

Unless the new regime's commitment to justice and reconciliation is confirmed and international engagement and oversight heightened, the situation is likely to get ugly again soon. Having failed to prevent genocide but having mounted a successful relief effort for its victims, the world should do everything possible to help Rwanda build a secure future.

Humane values and international credibility are at stake, in Rwanda and beyond. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.

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