Jegede’s yeoman service on Rwandan genocide

PHOTO: www.cp-africa.com

PHOTO: www.cp-africa.com

UNDOUBTEDLY, mindless annihilation of people based on their demographics which manifested, especially during the Second World War and is generally characterized as genocide constitutes a festering sore on us all and warrants speedy and effective treatment in order to save humanity from man’s inhumanity to man. The resurgence of: genocide first, in the Balkans and then, in our own domain of Rwanda has increased the urgency to deal with the scourge.

Segun Jegede has done a yeoman service to humanity by documenting his impressions and experience as a lawyer and prosecutor of those accused not only of genocide but also war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). His book, though highly technical, makes easy reading for the lavrnan who has no inkling of concepts such as actus reus, non facit mens rea, nullum crimen nulla poena sine lege, etc.

The tracing of the historical antecedents of the Rwandan debacle by the author gives much food for thought. How the colonial conquistadores could foist separation, exclusion and discrimination on a people who are otherwise linked to one another genetically and by marriage and history to such an extent that they would later set upon themselves for political and other reasons remains a critical issue for research by students of contemporary African political sociology.

The trajectory of social conflict in post-colonial Africa would suggest that like the Bourbons, Africans seemed to have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. Their inability to deal with the contradictions thrown up in the post-colonial society remains a troubling issue in contemporary Africa, the resolution of which would open new vistas for, our people and nations.

Perhaps the most poignant analysis contained in the book is in relation with genocide as propounded in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 1948 which forms the backdrop of the various Tribunals subsequently established to try persons accused thereto as well” as the Home Statute, 1998 which resulted in the creation of the International Criminal Court which took off in 2002.

Jegede attempted and largely succeeded, in my view, in articulating the Jurisprudential ramifications of genocide, especially the recondite issue of conspiracy to commit the crime of genocide.

The concept of war crime which encapsulates criminal acts committed during armed conflict and which stretches way back to the 19th century cannot but enjoy resonance in any discussion encompassing armed conflict even if in a non-international context. Although it is something of an oxymoron to talk of killing people humanely, the fact has to be admitted that International Humanitarian Law (IHL) espouses rejection of atrocious and unacceptable conduct in situations of conflict which humanity no longer tolerates and indeed attempts to punish in order to prevent impunity and recurrence. This is another significant contribution made by the author in a bid to come to grips with ugly and unacceptable conduct in the course of armed conflict.

Admittedly the Rwandan imbroglio somewhat falls short of the traditional international war situation’ envisaged under the 1949 Geneva Conventions, the 1977 Second Additional Protocol thereto mercifully brought civil strife and internecine conflict within the ambit of IHL. This is especially critical if the world is to be saved from atrocious conduct perpetrated against the innocent by compatriots imbued by unconscionable impulses the like of which we have seen so brutally manifested lately in the antics of evil men numbering in the ranks of the murderous gangs of the Boko Haram.

In other words, lessons have to be learnt from the, atrocities
perpetrated during the Rwandan debacle to the effect that Judgment Day would certainly come for heartless and callous people who kill and maim without batting an eye-lid in quest of ethnic jingoism, religious bigotry or racial prejudice or whatever. The lesson of all this is that society must always be ready and willing to stand up against hate speech and, or naked murder and defend social solidarity as well as our common humanity. As is well-known, there is nothing like a small sin and we are well advised to recognize the truism that a stitch in time saves nine, by ensuring that perpetrators of evil never go unpunished.

Another dimension explored by the author is the new thinking in IHL to the effect that military commanders are answerable for atrocities committed by those under them. The exculpation of armed men committing murder and all manner of, mayhem under the guise of “carrying out orders” no longer avails combatants and other persons bearing arms in the world of today. Similarly, Heads of State and other high public office-holders are now stripped of immunity where and when odious atrocities are attributable to them. The old notion of the king can do no wrong has now been consigned to limbo and everyone is now liable for IHL infractions. Once again, the Akayesu case just like that of Milosevic are quite instructive as Jegede’s penetrating analysis clearly shows.

Accordingly, we cannot thank him enough for this promethean effort in documenting the attempts by the ICTR to bring perpetrators of heinous crimes to book.

• Oyebode, Emeritus Professor of University of Lagos, delivered this as a review of the Rwandan genocide: Historical background and jurisprudence, a book written by Segun Jegede

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