Thursday, April 08, 2004
The international community fails to give an adequate voice to the less powerful of its members. It is no secret that the strong get their say -- and their way -- but this deficiency can become all the more exasperating when it comes to acknowledging and listening to victims as the authorities on their own conflicts. As I have argued earlier, this is also happening in Iraq, where the debate over the country's future has stayed in upper levels, and no real devolution of power to the people has occurred. Rwanda is a no less painful example.

Article: Rwanda's Latest Ethnic Cleansing;
True reconciliation is impossible until everyone's suffering is recognized.

This second one is written by a Rwandan genocide survivor. In keeping with a non "first world"-centric point of view, I believe it is important to look at what a people have to say of their own history in addition to what analysts from outside -- myself included -- would claim:

Article by Joseph K. Sebarenzi, Speaker of Rwandan Parliament 97-00

I have put these two articles side by side for a reason. The first is written by a person who has done considerable research on Rwanda, has been there, and makes a strong case for the need for truth in Rwanda. The latter is written by a Rwandan genocide survivor, Joseph Sebarenzi, who can write with more firsthand information. This is to counter what I perceive is a deficiency by the international community in acknowledging and listening to victims as the authorities on their own conflicts.

Sebarenzi lost his parents, seven brothers, and many members of his extended family in the genocide. While in parliament he fought against corruption in government, and after an assassination attempt he was forced to resign and go into exile. More on Sebarenzi here.

Sebarenzi now argues that "For the victims, the most pressing need is the truth, healing, and prevention of future violent conflict that a successful reconciliation process could provide." I agree with him, and I do think a Truth commission is very much needed in Rwanda. "Yes, I am a victim of genocide. But we cannot judge one million people -- no jail is big enough. Retributive justice will just lead to another cycle of killing," he says.

This is not to say that there isn't an opposing viewpoint, however. I have read (and will later include the link here) other Rwandan scholars who argue that it is better for Rwanda to simply move one rather than try to recount the past. While I disagree with them, I think it is important to consider genocides victims as authorities on the issues that concern them. And, as authorities in any subject are bound to do, Rwanda genocide victims disagree on how to best achieve reconciliation. But listening to them, and paying attention to what they have to say is a very important first step.

As Kavanagh says in his article,

"In Rwanda, if you question political oppression, if you criticize the widely disputed elections of August 2003, or if you inquire about the massacres the RPF itself carried out in western Rwanda and in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the wake of the genocide, you are labeled a génocidaire. Consequently, Rwandans are afraid to speak their minds...And no matter how enlightened the government's rhetoric, it seems unlikely that there can be a real, lasting conversation about "unity and reconciliation" when 80 percent of the population feels they are not part of the discussion."

For more people to speak up as Sebarenzi has done, a public forum needs to be opened. And the international community must be receptive to the idea of letting the victims give their own accounts.


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