The month of April for many religions, is a time for remembrance, hope, and renewal. April 1994 was different for the people of Rwanda, approximately 800 000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred by government forces and militias. Today this dark episode is collectively remembered by the world on the 7th of April as the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda. The month of April shall forever be recorded as a dark month in the history of Rwanda. This April, as the world commemorates the 18th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide it takes note of the lessons learned from Rwanda in transitional justice and the challenges that remain with regard to the principle of responsibility to protect and stopping genocides from recurring in Africa.
On the occasion of commemorating the 18th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, Justice Africa, reflects on the commitment made by the African Union (AU) Commission in 1994 to build a permanent human rights memorial to remember gross human rights violations committed on African soil. Justice Africa in partnership with the AU is working towards the establishment of a permanent human rights memorial at the site of the AU in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. As we commemorate the Rwandan genocide, the world also reflects on how April 1994 transformed domestic politics and its relationship with international law.
The International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda (ICTR) remains a stark reminder to would-be genocidiares in Africa that the world is prepared to act in the face of gross human rights violations. Recent indictments of African politicians at the International Criminal Court (ICC) attest to the fact that domestic politics is linked to the dictates of international law and human rights norms. Gross human rights violations are never to go unpunished, the principle of responsible to protect, dictates that the world acts collectively through institutions established under international law to protect the vulnerable in conflict situations. In an act of legal subsidiary, the ICTR has been left to deal with high level cases while the Rwandan justice system deals with lower level cases.
Faced with a huge case backlog, Rwanda resorted to endogenous conflict resolution systems, namely the Gacaca court system to help clear the case backlog. This year’s reflections on the Rwandan genocide provides Africa with an opportunity to revisit her endogenous conflict resolution systems and map out how they can possible contribute towards putting to an end some of the conflicts that have retarded human and economic development. Rwanda has taken the lead in this respect. In addition to the Gacaca court system, the Abunzi traditional conflict resolution system is part of Rwanda’s justice system. Discourse on the potential of endogenous conflict resolution systems in halting conflict in Africa is more apt now than ever considering the transformation of conflicts in Africa from state based (where the state is a party to a conflict) to second generation conflicts (where the state is not a party to a conflict).