Will there ever be reparations for Genocide survivors?

Will there ever be reparations for Genocide survivors?

  • By UWI Centre for Reparation Research
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Visitors at Kigali Genocide Memorial lay a wreath in honour of the Genocide victims

Visitors at Kigali Genocide Memorial lay a wreath in honour of the Genocide victims. Phot0 by Nadège Imbabazi.


By James Karuhanga, The New Times

More than two decades after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, uncertainty remains regarding the demand by survivors for reparation even long after the United Nations, among others, formally admitted to failing Rwanda during the Genocide.

In what is known as the Ingvar Carlsson Report, the UN formally accepted that they failed Rwanda during the Genocide against the Tutsi, by abandoning the victims while the body had powers to save thousands of lives, says Genocide researcher Tom Ndahiro.

“The acknowledgement isn’t enough. Some form of reparation to victims is important,” Ndahiro said.

In 1999, the UN accepted findings of a report accusing it of failing to prevent the massacre of more than one million people over a period of 100 days.

At the time, an independent three-person inquiry team – headed by former Swedish Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson – investigated and concluded that the UN ignored evidence that the Genocide was planned in addition to refusing to act once mass killings started.

After conducting interviews with key players and accessing UN files on events and actions of the latter between October 1993 and July 1994, the inquiry team (Carlsson, Han Sung-Joo, former foreign minister of South Korea and Lt Gen Rufus Kupolati of Nigeria) concluded that the UN should apologise to Rwandans.

The report criticsed Egyptian politician Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the then UN Secretary-General, for failure to act on a warning of the risk of genocide sent by the head of the peacekeepers in Kigali.

“Each part of that system, in particular the Secretary-General, the Secretariat, the Security Council and the Member States of the organisation, must assume and acknowledge their respective parts of the responsibility for the failure of the international community in Rwanda,” reads part of the report.

Boutros-Ghali’s successor Kofi Annan later expressed bitter regret and promised action to prevent another such disaster, but there was no mention of reparation.

The damning report also criticised Belgium – for an action described as disgraceful – for unilaterally withdrawing its peacekeepers after the murder of 10 Belgian soldiers, thereby leaving more than 2,000 civilians to be killed.

The report compared events in Rwanda in 1994 with the Nazi holocaust against the Jews in World War II.

Recent media reports indicate that over the past 65 years, the German government paid more than $70 billion in reparations to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust.

Ndahiro said: “If Germany did it to survivors of the holocaust, Rwanda needed some sort of Marshall Plan. We are not begging. It is not a sense of entitlement but a right. Why the discrimination if it was done somewhere else? Instead of catering for victims, they are rehabilitating the perpetrators”.

‘Words not enough’

However, Genocide survivors do not want reparation to be confused with monetary or material compensation, as they insist on the need for all those who failed Rwanda to make amends for their wrongs by providing assistance to victims of the Genocide.

Laurent Nkongoli, a human rights activist and lawyer, prefers reparation to compensation because the latter, he said, tends to focus on money or material things but when you say reparation, it really has complete meaning.

“In the Genocide people suffered morally and, it is not a question of profiteering from it. Reparation and compensation are two words that have very differing meanings. How can one be compensated when their entire family has been killed in the most horrific manner and can never be brought back?” Nkongoli posed.

When former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, in 2000, visited Rwanda, he asked for forgiveness for his country’s part in failing to prevent the Genocide. Belgian troops, then based at the Official Technical School (Ecole Technique Officielle, ‘ETO’), abandoned more than 2,000 Rwandans who had sought refuge there to meet death at the hands of Interahamwe militia and government soldiers.

“Here before you I assume the responsibility of my country, the Belgian political and military authorities,” Verhofstadt said at the time.

But Ndahiro insists that: “Words are not enough”.

“The Catholic Church and France are known to have been complicit in the Genocide. Pope Francis expressed contrition for his institution’s responsibility in the cataclysm but France has not. Both owe a lot to Rwanda and Genocide survivors in particular,” Ndahiro said.

French officials facilitated the flow of weapons into Rwanda in the build-up to the Genocide, despite knowing about violent attacks against the Tutsi. An inquiry by Washington, DC, law firm Cunningham Levy Muse LLP, last year detailed afresh the involvement of France in the planning and execution of the 1994 Genocide.

“The time is ripe to raise our voices demanding reparations as a form of justice. The amount is not as important as the gesture and its meaning. There is no money worth a life, let alone over a million lives, and the suffering endured by many survivors. What we are demanding is a gesture that they care about the human loss”.

Hearings in Belgium, Netherlands

What should happen after some in the international community owning up, Nkongoli said, is to follow up with reparation, but this never happened.

“When the ICTR was established, I personally thought an element of reparation would be part of the mandate. This never happened. It was very sad. You just can’t say that you set up a court and people are found guilty for genocide and war crimes and then you don’t do anything to console the victims,” he noted.

Legally speaking, he argued, considering the nature and gravity of the crimes committed when a criminal is punished but the victim is totally ignored “it is not real or complete justice”.

Recently, Alain Destexhe, a Belgian senator who initiated the 1997 Belgian Senatorial Commission of Inquiry into the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, supported and described as “exceptional” the ongoing trial in Brussels in which the Belgian State and two of the most senior military officers who led a Belgian peacekeeping contingent in Rwanda in 1994 are defendants.

The civil appeal case is before the Court of Appeal in Brussels. Petitioners want court to recognise the legal responsibility of Belgium and the two officers in the decision to withdraw Belgian troops from the compound where thousands of Tutsi had found refuge.

Destexhe drew parallels between the Belgian troops’ abandonment of the refugees at ETO to a similar incident in Srebrenica (Bosnia) involving Dutch troops.

Last June, the Dutch Court of Appeal awarded reparations to family members, known as the ‘Mothers of Srebrenica’, of 350 Bosniak men and boys evacuated from a UN compound in July 1995.

According to reports, the ruling upheld a 2014 decision that Dutch peacekeepers could have known that the refugees at the base in the village of Potocari would be murdered by Bosnian Serb troops if forced to leave – as they were.

Nkongoli said: “I remain optimistic simply because the crime of genocide and mass crimes are not crimes that age, with time, and I think reparation will still be possible”.

Asked what can be done to warrant reparation, the former diplomat pointed to the “fact” that Rwanda’s diplomacy is at a good stage and more efficient.

“Of course our diplomats have a lot of work to do but if they put in more efforts there will be results. For example, now as we head into the main commemoration period, as the media momentum gains, even national or public agencies should give priority to looking into whether UN declarations are implemented.”

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