Africans Hope New Institutions May Help Prevent Repeat of Rwanda

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:15pm EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - Two newly unveiled, Africa-driven initiatives have raised hopes here that a tragedy on the scale of the genocidal conflict which erupted in Rwanda 10 years ago this month will never be repeated.

The African Union (AU) has established a peacekeeping and defense force and a court of human and people's rights, two institutions which Kenyan-based political scholar Akasha Alsayeed Akasha said constituted a significant milestone in efforts to prevent Africa's perennial civil conflicts.

The African peacekeeping and defense force, established under the AU's Peace and Security Council, is expected to start operations soon.

The new Peace and Security Council is itself an innovation. No members will have veto powers, and a two-thirds majority vote will pass motions to intervene in conflicts.

The force will have permanent bases in each of Africa's five geographical regions and is mandated to be deployed by the council within the first three months of the start of any conflict.

By contrast, United Nations-coordinated peacekeeping missions' deployment in Africa tends to take months or years, a factor seen to have contributed to the Rwandan genocide.

Meanwhile, a protocol for another AU structure, the court of human and people's rights, is still being considered for ratification by individual governments.

The court will hear cases brought by AU member states and organizations, and its decisions will be binding on those countries that give it jurisdiction.

Akasha said rights abuses had often accompanied civil unrest in Africa, with Rwanda providing an extreme case.

Last week, the small nation in the Great Lakes region marked the 10th anniversary of the 1994 genocide, acknowledging that the Rwandan people must bear first responsibility for the slaughter of some 800,000 people within 100 days.

The carnage was set off by the death of President Habriel Habyarimana, a majority Hutu, in an April 1994 plane crash blamed on the then-rebel group, the Tutsi-dominated Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), led by the current President Paul Kagame.

Massive violence broke out, mostly perpetrated by Hutu militias against Tutsi and moderate Hutus, and in civil warfare as the RPF sought power.

While the bloodshed was homegrown, Kagame this week accused France of contributing by training Hutu militias, a charge dismissed by the French Foreign Ministry as "running counter to the truth."

France was a key Western backer of pre-RPF regime in Rwanda. When Tutsi rebels first launched their armed campaign against the Hutu authorities in the early 1990s, France sent soldiers to Rwanda and helped stop the rebel's advance. In June 1994, France sent troops under a U.N. mandate to establish a "safe zone."

France was not alone in facing accusations of collusion or inaction.

Campaigners in the U.S. led by Africa Action executive director Salih Booker said Washington did little to stop the genocide in Rwanda.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said from Geneva that neither the U.N. Secretariat, the Security Council, member states in general, nor the international media had paid sufficient attention to the gathering signs of the disaster.

The 10 years since the atrocities have been marked in Rwanda by political calm and economic growth. The country's first multi-party elections held last year were largely peaceful.

A significant number of high-profile perpetrators of the violence are still at large, but a sizeable number of them have been captured and are either facing trial, or have already been convicted at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, based in neighboring Tanzania.

During the 10-year commemorations, tens of thousands of people attended ceremonies in the capital, Kigali, including many emotional survivors of the genocide.

From Geneva, Annan warned that the international community must stay alert to ensure that the events of 1994 were never repeated.

"[The] international community cannot lack the political will" to act when there are gathering signs of genocide, he said.

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