For Rwandans, Justice Done Only for Others

An irrepressible feeling of euphoria rippled out of Arusha, Tanzania, last week after two men were found guilty of organizing the slaughter of thousands in Rwanda.

An international court of law had for the first time acted on the crime of genocide, setting a precedent for generations to come.

But more results need to be seen for legal justice to fulfill its role of leading to healing of national wounds in Rwanda. The momentous ruling had a fleeting impact on officials trying to bring more than 120,000 genocide suspects to justice for their alleged role in the 1994 mass killings. Their means to convict remain inadequate, and the likelihood of getting the job done as remote as ever.

"The tribunal in Arusha has a $50 million budget," says Gerald Gahima, secretary-general of Rwanda's Ministry of Justice. "If we received a twentieth of that, we would have gone a long way toward solving our problems."

Still, the tribunal's prosecutors are seen as generating new rules of evidence on the charge of genocide for use in future proceedings.

"It's like a first impression - you can like it or dislike it, but you can't ignore it," says Pierre Prosper, lead prosecutor in the case of Jean-Paul Akayesu, former mayor of a small Rwandan town, who became the first person convicted of genocide. Earlier Jean Kambanda, who served as Rwandan prime minister during the 1994 genocide of more than 500,000 ethnic Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus, had pleaded guilty.

In Rwanda, where lawyers and judges have been moving toward genocide justice on parallel tracks, many believe the logic of both current international tribunals - one for Yugoslavia as well as Rwanda - is fundamentally skewed.

"I think there's something perverse about aspiring to provide good justice for genocide," says Mr. Gahima. "People should aspire to prevent these crimes, not to punish them adequately after they have been committed."

In the aftermath of the Arusha rulings, Rwandan officials have endeavored to make a simple point: that, for all it is worth, the ruling has come at the expense of Rwanda. It subordinates Rwanda's need for closing a painful chapter in its history to the lofty but distant objective of giving the world a legal precedent for prosecuting future crimes against humanity.

"By and large, whether it's Rwanda or Bosnia, these courts have been set up to ease the conscience of the international community, which did nothing to stop these crimes," says Gahima. "These institutions are not necessarily about us, but about the outside world and how it needs to be perceived."

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