Why Agathon Rwasa?
See also: Who is Agathon Rwasa?
Q: Why single out Agathon Rwasa? Don't all sides in Burundi have blood on their hands?An estimated 300,000 people, mostly civilians, have died in Burundi since the current round of fighting began in 1993. Alongside the thousands of Tutsi civilians deliberately killed by Rwasa's FNL, thousands of others have been murdered by Burundi's largest rebel group, CNDD-FDD, according to human rights groups. And thousands, if not tens of thousands, of Hutu civilians have died in "reprisal attacks" by the Tutsi-dominated Burundian army.
There are a number of different versions of the "Why Rwasa?" challenge. The most radical position denies the moral and practical utility of prosecuting any of Burundi's killers. So many Hutus and Tutsis have died, the argument goes, that it would be better for the two sides just to "call it evens and move on", wiping the slate clean with some kind of general amnesty. Proponents of this view suggest that examining past atrocities can only "reopen old wounds" and lead to more conflict. Burundi's judicial system has, historically, been very selective, prosecuting those accused of killing Tutsis, but turning a blind eye to crimes against the Hutu majority, further fuelling ethnic tensions. Some argue that the issue of justice in Burundi has become so politically explosive that it is now best to leave it well alone. Some suggest that it's morally unjust to punish particular inviduals when it's never going to be practically possible to prosecute everyone who's taken part in the violence. Others suggest that it's wrong for non-Burundians to get involved in the debate. Most radical of all is the view that the world as a whole needs to "move on from retributive justice" and replace our current punishment-based judicial model with one based on people confessing their crimes and then being forgiven.
Some of these objections are easier to deal with than others - firstly, we fully agrees that all those responsible for human rights abuses in Burundi should be brought to justice, not just Rwasa. Clearly there are senior members of the Burundian army, and CNDD-FDD who must also be held accountable. We are focussing on Rwasa only because we believe that you have to start somewhere, and because we, personally, have been affected by FNL atrocities.
We also believe it's absurd to argue that if you can't prosecute every murderer you shouldn't prosecute any murderer. There is no country in the world with a 100% murder clear-up rate, so if we followed that logic to its natural conclusion, no murderers would ever be prosecuted anywhere. It's also important to look at the conflict in Burundi in the context of the interlocking ethnic conflicts across the Great Lakes Region (Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo). Rwanda's problems have been addressed by a well-funded International Criminal Tribunal; Uganda and the DRC are being assisted by the new International Criminal Court. Imperfect though these mechanisms are, they have yielded results; moral consistency would seem to demand not that Burundi's killers are allowed to go free, but rather than Burundi is given similar support to that given its neighbours in bringing the killers to justice. Under international law, every country in the world has a duty to help prosecute those guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. We see no reason why Burundi should be the exception.
The "call it evens" argument is a particularly insidious one, premissed on a very simplistic view of Burundi's conflict. The reason it's insidious is because it assumes that a massacre of Hutus by Tutsis can somehow "cancel out" a massacre of Tutsis by Hutus. If we accept this view, we are accepting and endorsing the logic of the extremists who seek to "avenge" one massacre of innocent civilians by carrying out another massacre of innocent civilians. Yet the Hutus who get massacred are not, by and large, the ones responsible for massacres of Tutsis - and the Tutsis who get massacred are not, by and large, the ones responsible for massacres of Hutus. This is because when Hutu and Tutsi extremists attack, they tend to go for the civilians who are poor, powerless, unable to defend themselves, and unable to run away. This is one reason, for example, that such a disproportionate number of children have been killed. There have also been many instances of people being attacked by members of their own ethnic group, such as when the FNL executes Hutus who they suspect of not supporting "the cause" enthusiastically enough. The problem in Burundi is not a problem of Hutu vs Tutsi per se; it's a problem of powerful Hutu and Tutsi elites using ethnicity as a political tool. All too often, ordinary Hutus and Tutsis (and, of course, those of 'Twa' or mixed ethnicity) have suffered at the hands of the extremists in both camps. "The call it evens" argument lets the extremists off the hook, tars all Burundians with same brush, and denies justice to the ordinary Hutus and Tutsis whose only crime was to belong to the wrong ethnic group when the killers showed up. The solution to Burundi's problem is to start holding the extremists, like Agathon Rwasa, individually accountable for their actions, regardless of their ethnicity or the ethnicity of their victims.
We believe that the most powerful argument for the prosecution of Rwasa is that it will help to deter future atrocities. If Rwasa is not prosecuted, or if he is granted an amnesty, then there will be nothing to stop him, and those like him, from resorting to violence the next time they believe that they can gain some political advantage from doing so. Rather than "reopening old wounds", holding Burundi's killers individually accountable will help to defuse communal tensions by shifting the focus away from ethnicity.
It is a basic universal rule of human societies through the ages that those who commit terrible crimes must be held accountable and made to offer some form of atonement.
Disturbingly, a number of people who have chosen to involve themselves in the Burundian peace process appear to have a particular kind of agenda. These people favour amnesties, or quasi-judicial "truth commissions" as an experimental alternative to the basic, universal human model of justice, and they seem to see Burundi as fertile ground for testing out their theories.
We do not believe that it is right for Burundians to be treated as guinea pigs in this way. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights spells out, in article eight, that the victims of injustice have a right "to an effective remedy by a competent tribunal". Many of the experimental models of justice put forward as "solutions" to Burundi's problems by non-Burundian theorists do not offer anything remotely approaching an effective remedy. In fact, when you strip away the obfuscation, few of these "experimental models of justice" amount to anything more than the same old failed doctrine that letting killers of the hook might bring peace. It's failed in Burundi since 1972. We see no evidence that "one more amnesty" will do anything other than perpetuate the killing.
See also: Human Rights Watch: “Agreements based on immunity from prosecution rarely work”