Human Rights Violations and Genocide in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

T Y Okosun & N Kibiswa. Contemporary Justice Review. Volume 16, Issue 4. December 2013.


Following the genocide of the Jewish community by German Nazis, the world entered the era of dealing directly with human rights as a critical component of international justice. Human rights would become an important signifier of coalition around sanctions against harms. The significance of HR was characterized by the coalition of nations that were responsible for winning World War II: the United States (US), the United Kingdom (UK), the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and France. These countries were central in legitimizing the United Nations (UN), an organization created after the war (Glendon), and encouraged other nations to join. The critical legal dynamic agreed upon by members was the sanctions ordered against defeated nations (Germany, Italy, and Japan) for their misdeeds during the war.

Members of the UN adopted a series of international sanctions designed to protect human dignity and freedoms. The laws were embedded in the 1945 UN Charter, the 1946 Nuremberg Principles, the 1948 Geneva Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG), and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Together with the subsequent twin Covenants on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) and Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR) adopted in 1966, these proclamations constitute the basis for HR claims all over the world, including in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Within these laws, individuals and communities were protected against governmental encroachment or groups that may turn against their respective populations or other nations. This was clearly a way of preventing future occurrence of mass killings anywhere in the world.

After examining the mass killing of Tutsis perpetrated by the Hutus in Rwanda between April and July 1994, as well as the post-genocide revengeful killings of Hutu refugees who fled to the DRC led by the Tutsis and Congolese between 1996 and 2003, two different UN investigating structures deemed both massacres to be genocides. The first investigation was conducted by a Special Reporter in Rwanda between January and June 1994, and the second was led by a committee of experts in human rights between July 1998 and August 2010. The anti-Tutsis genocide established by the first investigator was swiftly recognized as such in November 1994 by the Security Council of the UN. This quick recognition was mostly the result of political and diplomatic moves to convince and get major world powers, particularly the US and the UK on board (Des Forges).

With the UN and most world powers recognizing the Hutu perpetrated Tutsi genocide, a number of crucial political dynamics were actuated which had significant benefit for Rwanda and eventually the major powers that neglected to act against the genocide. The Tutsi genocide which received little or no attention from major global powers (which raises the disturbing question: is it because they are Africans?), was eventually stopped (not by major world powers), but by the Rwandan Patriotic Front/Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPF/RPA) led by Major General Paul Kagame in 1994. With this singular act of courage and valor, the scene was set for General Kagame and the RPF/RPA to gain significant recognition within the international community. Even though major powers (the US, Canada, several capable EU members, Russia, Japan, China, and even Israel) benefited from this recognition, it is important to underscore their resounding silence during the genocide. While the international community did not act to end Rwandan genocide, several of its members seeking to be seen as human rights champions, found this recognition a way to save face by welcoming General Kagame, the RPF/RPA, and the political system they formed as heroic and credible.

Now positioned as a credible international member, the RPF/RPA was content with the recognition of its heroic liberation of what was left of the Tutsis from the 1994 genocide. Instead, RPF/RPA organized itself into a military-political movement, gained national political power, and eventually linked up with some members of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL). But why was the RPF/RPA linking up with AFDL? Two possibilities exist. First, it may be that because of his overwhelming success, Kagame envisioned his military system as a new regional liberator that could lend support to oppressed regional neighbors. Or second, it may be that he was not satisfied with just the liberation of the Tutsis and wanted more retributive action in place for the perpetrators of the genocide. Somehow, Rwanda’s post-genocide activities, one of which includes the initiation, sponsor, and support of the alliance of Congolese citizens led by Laurent Desire Kabila, a long-standing opponent to President Mobutu of the DRC (then Zaire), would signal that the second possibility best captures RPF/RPA’s intention. In other words, Kagame and the RPF/RPA in Rwanda found Kabila and his AFDL to be a catalyst for entrée into the DRC for the sole reason of going after the Hutu refugees (Friends of the Congo [FOTC]).

It is important to point out at the onset that political and other reasons entered the scene to enhance the denial of the mass killings as genocide. Those who deny that genocide occurred used other provisions to argue against genocide recognition by insisting that the killings were a less damaging, albeit important, category of human rights violations.

Genocide is specifically explained with emphasis on the key criterion that allows its occurrence and recognition. The core of the discussions are a number of actions led by Tutsis in the DRC as described in the UN committee’s report that surveyed them on DRC territory. Juxtaposed with the Tutsi-led mass killing actions is a discussion of the arguments presented by the Rwandan government against qualifying the acts as genocide, and a discussion of the attitudes of the world’s major powers with regard to genocide recognition.

Human Rights and Human Rights Violations

Human rights are premised on the very existence of humanity, but it took time and concerted struggles to fully develop them in terms of linking them to all human beings. Human rights are defined in various national constitutions and are best sustained through legal enactments. Basic concepts of human rights are the products of the Enlightenment period’s thinkers who founded their claim of inalienable basic rights on the dignity bestowed on each human being by the divine realm (Grudem; Hoekema). They evolved from divine law, through natural law, to natural rights, and then to human rights (Hayden, pp. 4-5). These are privileges that are a priori imbued, prima facie with everyone (Campbell) and they are ‘rights that one has simply by virtue of being human’ (Hayden, p. xv). Ishay additionally points out that human rights are, ‘rights held by individuals simply because they are part of the human species … rights shared equally by everyone regardless of sex, race, nationality, and economic background … universal in content’ (p. 3).

However, moving from the domain of divine rights, through natural laws/rights to the secularized conception as human rights requires some social arrangements to prevent and deal with contradictions or infringements. This means that society at large has the responsibility to monitor and sustain the rights as well as prevent their violations. The UN joined individual theological and philosophical thoughts on human rights and enacted international law to sustain them. What followed were the UDHR, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC Statute), the UN Security Council, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), which coalesce to deal with human rights violations (breach, abuse, or denial by a state authority or even a non-state entity of fundamental rights).

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR and OHCHR) distinguishes two broad sets of treaties: those it classifies into the International Bill of Human Rights and those it calls the Core International Human Rights Instruments. In the former are the 1948 UDHR and the two 1966 Covenants on Civil, Political, CESCR along with the two Optional Protocols on CCPR. In the second set are all the numerous stand-alone treaties, conventions, and declarations, mostly related to CCPR or the first generation of human rights with a few of them addressing the second generation of human rights related to CESCR, as well as the third generation of human rights or solidarity rights. Almost all sets of human rights have their monitoring bodies which define violations, including infringements to the right to life, freedom from torture, freedom from slavery, right to a fair trial, freedom of speech, freedom of thoughts, conscience, and religion, right to adequate food and water, and much more.

Nevertheless, it is important to point out an implicit distinction made between human rights at the onset of the UN within some Core International Human Rights Instruments that emphasize the protection of human life and dignity. Such a distinction seems to derive from the Constitution of the 1945 International Military Tribunal (IMT), a body set-up by the victorious powers whose attention was, at the time, directed toward the most horrific war crimes committed by warring parties in order to punish what they called ‘the major war criminals of the European Axis countries’ (see IMT Constitution, art. 6). By using that concept, they seemed to put aside the numerous human rights violations deemed minor that would not warrant their attention and would not fall into the jurisdiction of the IMT. This distinction influenced subsequent treaties and international laws, including the Statute of Rome. Indeed, in its fifth article, the Rome Statute of the ICC adopted on 17 July 1998 and entered into force on 1 July 2002 enumerates the four most serious crimes. These are the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression. The statute defines their contents in subsequent articles, except for the latter crime (see Rome Statute, art. 5-8).

Definition of Genocide

According to article 2 of the Geneva CPPCG adopted by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1948,

Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. (CPPCG, art. 2)

The above definition has been incorporated verbatim into the Rome Statute in its article 6. A simpler definition of genocide is provided in the preamble of Resolution 95(I), previously adopted on 11 December 1946 by the UN General Assembly. This definition captures the right to life of an individual with the right to existence of a whole group or human social entity. It was adopted as a result of judgments rendered by the post-World War II Nuremberg Tribunal, and defines genocide as ‘a denial of the right of existence of entire human groups, as homicide is the denial of the right to life of individual human beings’ (see Resolution 95 (I); Orentlicher, p. 79).

In addition to original acts enumerated in article 2, article 3 of the convention extends genocide to the following acts for which it requires similar punishment, namely ‘(a) Conspiracy to commit genocide; (b) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide; (c) Attempt to commit genocide; (d) Complicity in genocide’ (see CPPCG, art. 3). Together, both articles provide the full definition of the crimes that make up genocide. These acts are not cumulative because each act applies separately provided that required conditions are fulfilled in their commission. Thus, from this inclusive definition, Orentlicher, among several other scholars, distinguishes two critical elements namely, the physical and the mental components which should be assessed in any alleged genocide crime.

Moreover, the conditional and essential criterion of genocide is the perpetrator’s intent to destroy the targeted group. For Lemkin, a former US Department State advisor who was the first to use genocide in his proposal to have war crimes punished by the US government, the intention to destroy the targeted group was the distinguishing element between genocide and other war crimes. Lemkin’s original meaning of genocide emphasized a remote political and cultural future annihilation rather than an immediate physical destruction of the targeted group or nation, the latter being extreme and exceptional. Also, such elimination should have resulted from a coordinated plan of actions to wipe out or annihilate the living foundations of that group or nation, including disintegrating its sociopolitical institutions or system and its economic settings. This also includes disrupting its cultural heritage such as its values, language, and religion. But these political and cultural elements did not retain the highest attention of the community of nations that adopted the Geneva Convention on Genocide.

Human Rights Violations Perpetrated By the RPF/RPA Allied with AFDL

Following the invasion of the DRC in 1996, military forces of the Tutsi-led Government of Rwanda along with their Congolese allies of AFDL undertook a systematic tracking down of military and civilian Hutus in the DRC. The operation led to systematic and massive violations of the human rights of Hutu refugees and Congolese citizens. After the fall of President Mobutu and the self-proclamation of Laurent Desire Kabila in May 1997 as the new DRC president, the UN decided to investigate human rights violations in the DRC. But President Kabila’s DRC government refused to cooperate with the UN commission of investigations, and the project was consequently abandoned until the discovery in 2005 of three mass graves in the DRC’s North Kivu province that borders Rwanda. This discovery led the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to command a new and countrywide investigation which it named the ‘mapping exercise of the most serious human rights violations in the DRC’ (UNHCHR and OHCHR, pp. 1-2). It began on 17 July 2008, and published its report on 1 October 2010.

As its name suggests, ‘the mapping exercise provides (province by province) a chronological description of the violation(s) and their location in time and space, the nature of the violation(s), the victims and their approximate number and the – often armed – group(s) to which the alleged perpetrators belong(ed)’ (UNHCHR and OHCHR, p. 4). Also, it addresses only the most serious violations of human rights, leaving aside the less serious ones, except in provinces of fewer concentrations of violations, according to the report. Indeed, the 566-page document lists only 617 of the most serious violations of human rights, professionally collected and documented. It is important to keep in mind that the distinction made by the drafters of first human rights instruments were applied, thus ‘only incidents meeting a “gravity threshold” set out in the methodology were considered’ (UNHCHR and OHCHR, p. 10).

The report is specific and clear. Like the 1994 UN special report in Rwanda, the DRC mapping exercise identified acts of genocide that were carried out by Tutsi soldiers on Hutu refugees and Congolese citizens. The report points to several incidents that were intent on destroying the Hutus in the DRC. The attacks were targeted and widespread, and included the killing of innocent women, children, the elderly, the inf irmed, and those who survived even after their camps had been isolated in a deliberate attempt to eliminate the Hutus. This went quite beyond any sort of irresponsible collateral damage in war. The additional issues of heinous crimes such as rape, physical and mental torture, burning, and beating to death, as well as blocking humanitarian supplies aimed to starve the Hutus were clearly premeditated actions aimed at eliminating the Hutus.

The report also noted that the attacks were conducted in locations where the AFDL/APR had screened numerous Hutus and deemed them refugees. In other words, the attackers systematically pursued Hutus for months in these locations with the sole aim of their elimination. The report also points out that ‘awareness-raising speeches’ were made in North Kivu which triggered the killing of Rwandan Hutu refugees who were also called ‘pigs.’ The attackers made no effort to distinguish between the ex-FAR/Interahamwe (ex-FAR is acronym for the former Hutu-led Rwandan Armed Forces, and Interahamwe, in Kinyarwanda language, stands for the Hutu militias that sided with the Rwandan Armed Forces to kill their fellow Tutsi citizens) and regular Hutu refugees just minding their own business (UNHCHR and OHCHR, pp. 280-282).

However, in order to be balanced and to justify a judicial investigation, the mapping exercise goes on to provide some grounds for independent judgments. The report suggests that a number of critical factors could lead the court in the opposite direction of not finding the attacks to be acts of genocide. The APR/AFDL spared lives and helped a sizeable number of Hutu refugees return to Rwanda. This by itself dislocates the intent of eliminating the entire ethnic group. The report goes on to suggest that rather than viewing the killings as genocide, they may have been acts of revenge on Hutus in DRC who supported the ex-FAR/Interahamwe (UNHCHR and OHCHR, pp. 14-283).

Rwandan Government’s Denial of Hutu Genocide

After the Rwandan government received the mapping exercise documenting the most serious violations of human rights and international law in the DRC between 1993 and 2003, it categorically rejected it. In a letter (Letter No. 552/16/ohchr/vs/ka/10 of 09/30/2010) sent to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva on 30 September 2010, the Rwandan Permanent Representative to the Geneva Headquarters of the UN transmitted a detailed reaction of his government. This government’s reaction concentrated its arguments more on the UN investigation committee’s methodology, mandate, members, and the legitimacy of the Rwandan war in the DRC than on the substance of crimes that the committee claimed the Rwandan army perpetrated in the DRC (see paragraph three of the government’s detailed note attached to the letter).

In addition, the Rwandan government accused some UN members of supporting a theory it called Double Genocide, which it believed constituted the basis of the conclusion of the report. On that subject, the government (Republic of Rwanda, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, p. 6) pointed out that the Double Genocide theory is a political attempt to criminalize those who stopped the 1994 genocide and lump them in the same category with those who committed the genocide. By so doing, the 1994 genocide is minimalized, and all the efforts to sustain a more peaceful Rwanda are trumped since the current Rwanda government would also be viewed as criminal.

Since the Rwandan government rejects any possibility of labeling their action in the DRC as genocide, it substantiated its position by insisting that:

Casualties (that occurred in the DRC during wars its army conducted) did not result from a genocidal plan. These casualties resulted from combating armed combatants (the Hutus) whose intent was on finishing the genocide, defeating Rwandan government forces, other government forces, and informal military groups. (Republic of Rwanda, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, p. 26)

The government compared the reported casualty attributes of the RPF/AFDL with those occurring in the DRC as a result of confrontations between the UN peacekeeping forces in Congo (MONUSCO) with Hutu militias that are still scattered in DRC’s frontier. The government (p. 30) argued that MONUSCO’s current experience helps to sustain the RPF/AFDL’s two years’ wars in the DRC, pointing specifically to the inevitability of casualties despite well-crafted efforts. In conclusion, the Rwandan government considered the Draft Mapping Report irresponsible because it ignored the inevitability of war casualties despite any best intentions to minimize casualties.

The government goes on to say that, ‘Rwanda, having been the victim of one of the most intense modern [acts of] genocide, cannot allow the crime of genocide to become a political tool in the hands of individuals who seek to manipulate it’ (Government of Rwanda, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, p. 24). Moreover, the government found it absurd that its army was being accused of perpetrating genocide on the Hutus when its troops in the DRC had within them members of the former Hutu military and militia who were retrained and reintegrated into the Rwanda army. To this effect, the government pointed out that ‘New recruits were deployed to the former Zaire. As such, if the Rwandan forces are being accused of committing genocide, the argument follows that these ex-FAR, then integrated into the RPA, targeted their former comrades with genocidal intent’ (p. 25).

Examination of Rwandan Government’s Arguments

The Rwandan government does not really address crimes and arguments set forth in the report. In its 2010 response, they note that mass killings did not result from a genocidal intent, but from a normal and legitimate war activity. Also, Rwanda suspects some sort of manipulations within the UN generally and among its investigation committee members specifically, which Rwanda claims advance the Double Genocide theory against it. Rwanda also accused some UN groups of seeking to re-fuel other possible conflicts in the African Great Lakes Region through their report. Rwanda claims specifically that, ‘The manipulation of UN processes by organizations and individuals – both inside and outside the UN – for purposes of rewriting history, improperly apportioning blame for the genocide that occurred in Rwanda, and reignite the conflict in Rwanda and the region’ (Republic of Rwanda, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, p. 3).

Nevertheless, the Rwandan government’s arguments do not address the substance of accusations which detail crimes against humanity, war crimes, and acts of genocide. Instead, it chose to protect its own experience of genocide while negating the accusations in the report. In addition, it imputed more importance to its own (the Tutsi) genocide, discussed its pursuit as a necessary outcome of war, and largely dismisses the magnitude of the killings. Rwanda’s denial may be better construed as a tacit concealment of its culpability. Consider its position, ‘… given the lack of transparency in the report, in terms of anonymous witnesses, victims, perpetrators, and investigators, we simply are unable to address those charges in an informed manner’ (Republic of Rwanda, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, p. 24). In other words, Rwanda would agree with the report’s accusations provided they are classified in categories other than genocide. But even a reclassification would still be problematic their view because the report failed to note that many ex-Hutu soldiers who were re-integrated into the RPA/RDF, many of whom were in DRC, would not have embarked on a campaign of genocide against other Hutus.

However, based on the report and comments from news reporters, the genocidal intent was present in the Rwandan wars in the DRC. Pomfret , a news reporter of The Washington Post, wrote that a Rwandan officer admitted in Goma (a town in the DRC) that Tutsi soldiers went to the DRC ‘to take revenge against Hutu refugees’ while assuring Rwandan national security. Moreover, in the aftermath of President Mobutu’s fall, a Tutsi officer of the newly installed personnel of the DRC Ministry of Interior in Kinshasa indicated that ‘Rwandan troops and their Congolese allies were given a free hand to go after the Hutu refugees so long as they also contributed to toppling Mobutu’ (Songolo, pp. 112-113). This was the political deal on which the alliance between the RPA/RPF and the Congolese leaders (members of the AFDL) hinged.

In terms of premeditated actions and according to former Rwandan Army Major General Paul Kagame, who became Vice President of Rwanda and Minister of Defense, the plan for the DRC operations to hunt for Hutus was developed in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. Kagame explained the Rwandan government’s actions and objectives in the DRC in an interview reported by Le Monde and The Washington Post on 6 July 1997. He pointed out that the objectives had been to take out the refugee camps, the Interhaamwe, and ex-FAR militias, and to overthrow Mobutu. In an interview, Kagame pointed out that the origin of the objectives were hatched in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city, and that Rwandan troops provided training and support for Kabila’s insufficient and unseasoned rebels (see also Songolo, p. 114).

Moreover, concerning the plan and operations to annihilate Hutus and related ethnic groups in the DRC, Garreton and the UN, UN Special Reporter for HR in the DRC, and Emizet, professor at Kansas State University, provide more elements that connect Rwandan troops’ actions in the DRC to the genocide criteria. In the report, Garreton and the UNdescribes Hutu killings in the DRC as a planned and coordinated series of actions undertaken since the coalition AFDL/RPA/RPF attacked refugee camps in the DRC. Emizet (p. 179) reminds the world of Garreton and the UN’s findings of 1997 where the tactics of laying siege, killing indiscriminately, luring Hutus to meetings so as to massacre them, using radio to draw Hutus out – promising them health care and food aid – only to kill them, and squelching humanitarian initiatives, all fulfill the genocide criteria.

Based in part on the UN and Human Rights Watch reports, Emizet affirms, ‘Rwandan soldiers used different and systematic tactics to attract refugees and kill them’ (p. 179). He highlights that coalition soldiers used aid agencies to track down and assemble refugees in an apparent move to provide them with food, and then soldiers will select numerous refugees to be fired upon (p. 180). After gathering refugees, soldiers also used local Congolese to single out Rwandan refugees, especially in areas like Mbandaka, the capital city of the DRC northwestern equator province where people speak Lingala, an unfamiliar language to Rwandans. Emizet points out that Kabila’s troops would ask a resident to shout in Lingala, the local language, asking people to get down on the ground. Those usually left standing were Rwandan refugees who did not understand the language. Quickly singled out, they became casualties of the RPA/ADFL forces (p. 180).

Further, in their policy of revenge against Hutus and their tactics for Hutu extermination in the midst of DRC forests, Tutsi soldiers targeted young boys to prevent possible acts of revenge from Hutu males while they encouraged women, girls, and the elderly to return to Rwanda, according to Emizet who reports:

Boyer (1997) provides this grim and frightful account of the massacre of refugees: ‘They [Tutsi soldiers] separated the little boys from the girls … and they started killing the boys. First they shot them, and then they cut them in half. So that … if they came back to life they wouldn’t be able to escape.’ According to this account, [says Kisangani] the RPA was pursuing a policy of revenge to eliminate the Hutu refugees in a systematic fashion by killing as many as possible. The revenge was also fuelled by hatred and fear of reciprocal treatment. By cutting the boys in half, the Tutsi soldiers feared the same fate if they let them live. A powerless boy today may be a powerful one tomorrow. (Emizet, p. 180)

After consideration of the behavior and tactics used by Tutsi soldiers in the DRC, including cleansing grave or massacre sites, burning corpses, and killing or intimidating witnesses to conceal evidences, Emizet states that ‘such acts qualify as genocide’ (p. 181) according to article 2 of the Geneva Genocide Convention.

World Powers and Anti-Genocide

In spite of all the above evidence that substantiates the acts committed by the RPA/RDF in the DRC, there is no guarantee that Hutu genocide will be recognized, especially because conventional politics support Rwanda’s position. For unknown reasons, it appears that the more powerful nations are reluctant to accede to the possibility of further Rwandan genocide. According to Orentlicher, only two cases of genocide beside that of Jewish Holocaust have been recognized by the international community since the adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948, the Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda Genocides. Orentlicher indicates that:

When those crimes were committed [in Rwanda in 1994] – and gruesomely portrayed in the daily media – legal experts in the US government were asked, in the words of a former State Department lawyer, ‘to perform legal gymnastics to avoid calling this genocide. (p. 77)

Orentlicher asserts that this strategy was applied by the Clinton Administration when genocidal crimes were going on in Rwanda, because all the administration’s spokespeople were instructed, ‘not to describe what was happening as genocide lest this “inflame public calls for action”‘ (p. 78). Could this also be the case with the identified acts of genocide in the DRC?

Songolo adds another rationale to foregone attitude. He asserts that:

The international community is loath to use the word genocide, particularly when Africa is concerned for fear it will be compelled to act as required by the term of the 1948 CPPCG. (p. 111)

He provides examples of genocidal crimes that have been dismissed in Africa including crimes committed by the Tutsi-led government of Burundi against its Hutu citizens in 1972 and those in Darfur (Sudan) in 2008-2009, while those in the DRC are still under debate (p. 111). He points out that the international community has made it difficult for victims to demonstrate they have suffered genocide to deter such claims. This amounts to the powerful members of the global community insisting that frequent claims would allegedly trivialize genocide. Thus, for various reasons including possibly not having highly qualified lawyers to sustain them, African victims who allege genocide claims would trivialize a phenomenon that is reserved for ‘superior’ human beings. Since the ‘the Genocide Convention imposes a general duty on States parties to prevent and to punish genocide’ (Orentlicher p. 79) wherever it occurs without any consideration of borders, world powers would try to avoid carrying the bulk of charges entailed by it. By doing this, world powers divest themselves from the transcending basis of human rights and human dignity which they sacrifice in the name of political, economic, and regional interests.


Troubling difficulties exist when examining the nature of international justice and human rights protection specifically as they apply to conflict in African nations. International justice and global security are premised on the notion that all global citizens should enjoy protections from all harms, especially one that is or resembles genocide. To sustain the integrity of international justice and security, powerful nations, specifically those who claim to be champions of human rights, political freedoms, civil societies, and democracies, must be willing to act on behalf of vulnerable nations or groups. The reverse-genocide by Tutsis on the Hutus discussed here, draws out deep concerns about the behavior of powerful nations and the surrogates they empower. On the question of the silence of powerful nations, we cannot but link this behavior to the usual tactic of avoiding economic and other responsibilities required to protect vulnerable people in conditions of genocide specifically in Africa.

This means that powerful nations with their legitimized surrogates feel immune from legal, ethical, and other consequences. What has become dominant with this behavior is a destructive power that harms targeted populations within and beyond various borders. Clearly RPF/RPA’s incursion into the DRC in pursuit of the Hutus and led to human rights violations, fits with the description of genocide, and mirrors the tactics of some powerful nations. Rwanda’s tactical exoneration of itself from culpability is also in keeping with the behavior common to the world’s most powerful nations.

Watching Rwanda’s incursion into the DRC, prominent nations, as well as capable African nations, retained their silence in the presence of genocidal harm. The implication of the silence is that it gave unquestionable authorization to the RPF/RPA to decimate the Hutus, thus enacting a chilling second silence on Rwandan genocide activities. However, more than silence and authorization, we are confronted with a painful confirmation that political and other capabilities can be manipulated to suit the whims of powerful nations and those they choose to legitimize as partners in the generation of harms.

No manipulation of political or philosophical language to diminish the incidents in the DRC by the RPF/RPA can delimit the effect of genocide. Even though the Tutsis suffered at the hands of the Hutus in 1994, retributive trajectories are not the best course for pursuing justice, peace, and security. In fact, retributive justice is a recipe for the fomentation of tension and future conflict. Ironically, when a future conflict does erupt, the conflict parties in Rwanda and the DRC should not be surprised that powerful nations will once again be silent. It is useful to point out that because of Rwanda’s choice of retributive rage against the Hutus, the seed for perpetual conflict between the Tutsis, the Hutus, and other discontented groups in the region have been sown. The question that will continue to haunt all those who examine this scenario is whether powerful nations would even consider African conflicts and the painful conditions they generate to necessitate equal international responsibility and protection (cf. Darfur).

Whereas, Rwanda shares blame for not opting for the justice of forgiveness and reconciliation, a dynamic protection and security trajectory, powerful nations must do better than maintain their distance/silent treatment policy on African conflict issues. In cases such as genocide, powerful nations should be organized around decisive and concerted efforts that do not compromise the protection and security of those being harmed. Moreover, powerful nations must stop legitimizing dangerous surrogates whose only intention is to destroy their enemies. Such legitimization is a form of complicity in the harms. It is useful to add here that we are not asking powerful nations to assume the role of functioning as a global justice police force; rather, we are suggesting that their capabilities are better utilized when linked with vulnerable nations to collaborate on creating safe and thriving conditions that compel people to seek positive advancement rather than pursue the regression and negation that war and conflict create.

The actions of the Tutsi soldiers in the DRC against Hutu refugees and some Congolese fall under three of the five categories enumerated in the Geneva CPPG: (i) killing members of the Hutus refugees, (ii) causing serious injuries both mental and physical that harmed and continue to harm Hutus, and (iii) deliberately inflicting on Hutus and other Congolese ethnic group members conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part. Generally, the nature of international justice which is meant to be inclusive of all nationalities despite impoverished economic, social, and political conditions ought to thrust the attitudes of more powerful nations to be sympathetic of and cheerleaders for justice for those oppressed. The two tactics (denial and silence) often deployed to negate acts of genocide especially in Africa appeared to have been actuated in the case of the Hutus in the DRC.