Last Tuesday, Rwanda’s high court sentenced Victoire Ingabire to eight years in prison for conspiring to harm the country through war and terror and minimizing the 1995 genocide. Some of the evidence used against her include questioning why no Hutu victims were mentioned in a genocide memorial. While the case raised controversy in Rwanda because it called into question the independence of the domestic judiciary and the freedom of political movement under a president seen as increasingly authoritarian, the case also raises interesting questions for international law.
While Ingabire questioned the selectivity of victim recognition within Rwanda, she could also have questioned the selectivity of victim recognition within the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). The UN Security Council created the ICTR for the “prosecution of persons responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of Rwanda between 1 January 1994 and 31 December 1994.” The ICTR defines crimes against humanity as “crimes committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against any civilian population on national, political, ethnic, racial or religious grounds”. As such, some of the deaths of between 10,000-30,000 Hutus which James D. Fearon and David D. Laitin discuss, many of whom were allegedly killed for being political moderates, could have fallen within the jurisdiction of the ICTR.
However, the ICTR has directed most of its efforts to indicting and trying Hutu individuals charged with genocide and crimes against humanity perpetrated against Tutsis. The need to focus its limited resources on the most serious violators, coupled with a political awareness that it needs to maintain good relations with the Kagame government in order investigate these crimes, may explain the ICTR’s selective focus. Yet, if one of the purposes for creating the ICTR was “to contribute to the process of national reconciliation in Rwanda,” one has to wonder if such selectivity slows national reconciliation efforts by perpetuating a narrow interpretation of what happened during the genocide