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Last week, Reuters reported (here and here) that the government of Rwanda has formally accused several top French officials of involvement in the 1994 genocide.
This is an exciting idea. Imagine the Industrialized world being held accountable for its actions in Africa. This would be a huge step in protecting Africa from the foreign interests that constantly become entangled in its affairs and aggravate its conflicts. Imagine if the nations who insist on training or supplying arms to forces conducting genocide could actually be held responsible. It wouldn’t end Africa’s conflicts, but at least they could not take place on quite such a massive scale, and foreign interests would be unable to prolong them. It was not for moral reasons, after all, that Russia and China blocked a UN resolution to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe following its July elections.
Of course, this whole issue is hopelessly convoluted with political motives. The move may be in retaliation for France’s 2006 call for Rwanda’s President to face similar charges. There are also doubts as to whether the tribunal responsible for the latest accusation was truly unbiased (see the articles for more details).
Unfortunately, I think this is also completely impracticable. First of all, it is impossible to put the top officials of the world’s most powerful nations on trial. There is simply too much economic and political power involved.
Secondly, where do political or economic interests cross the line from interests to aids to genocide? China recently acquired rights to export ivory from certain parts of Africa. If this is one of the reasons why it refuses to support sanctions against Zimbabwe, does that make China responsible for the political murders that go on there? I’m tempted to say that direct involvement – say providing arms or training troops – is worthy of punishment, but I can see how this could become an area of contention in the courts. Of course, the courts would also be the ones to create the precedents for where to draw the line. Any thoughts?
And what would be the political implications of threatening economic interests in the region? After all, the protection of economic interests is the biggest reason that countries become involved in the affairs of others in the first place. If we make it dangerous for a countries to invest in the region, would they even be willing to help? I don’t know enough about the economic relationships between Africa and the rest of the world to be able to discuss this, but my gut reaction is that the Industrialized world’s involvement would decrease.
Still, an interesting idea. The fact that this accusation is even being made is a step forward in itself.
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