Thursday, August 16, 2007

Rwanda Abolishes Capital Punishment

On July 25, 2007 the government of Rwanda abolished capital punishment. This carefully considered decision sent different messages throughout society. Some citizens were heartened; others quite distressed. However, in several ways the decision will permit the justice system to function more effectively in bringing the many thousands still charged with genocide and crimes against humanity to answer for their actions. Those already convicted and sentenced to die will while out their days in jail.

Lack of accountability for crimes of ethnic hatred was among the contributing factors to the 1994 genocide. Perpetrators of sporadic pogroms aimed at the Tutsi since 1960 had never been held accountable. This impunity led planners of the 1994 event to believe that they too could escape punishment for the ethnic slaughter they unleashed. However, despite the murder of nearly a million people, the perpetrators did not escape. Many were apprehended and held for trial.

Ending impunity and trying over 100,000 persons for genocide crimes was and remains a complicated task. Trials began in 1997 and the first convictions occurred in that year when execution was the law of the land.

In my book In the Aftermath of Genocide: the U.S. Role in Rwanda I write about the executions that occurred on April 25, 1998. Twenty-two persons died that day, four in Kigali.

“In Kigali the four convicted – Froudouard Karamira, Silas Munyagishari, Elie Nshimiyimana, and Virginie Mukankusi – were brought by truck to a field outside the Nyamirambo stadium. About twenty thousand persons somberly watched as the genocidaires were lined up, tied to stakes, and black hoods slid over their heads. There was no ceremony. A team of soldiers shot them at close range with automatic rifles. Another soldier administered a pistol coup de grace to each head. It was quickly finished. The bodies were carted away in the same truck that brought them. The crowd dispersed.

“The government had made its point. Impunity was at an end…. Having made the point the government carried out no further executions in 1998. This restraint began to pose a problem. I did not think the government wanted to execute the hundreds or possibly thousands of prisoners who would be given capital punishment. That would be a lot of vengeance for one government to administer. Suppose then that only the worst offenders were chosen for execution – but how to choose? They would all be convicted under the same law, and all equally guilty. Rwanda’s solution to this conundrum seems to be patience. Those sentenced to die remain in prison awaiting the carrying out of their punishment.”

Since those first executions, no further were done. About a thousand persons have been sitting on death row since 1998 with more added each year. Annulling the death penalty will now commute death sentences to life imprisonment. This relieves the government of the problem of potentially having to execute a thousand prisoners. Of course, it avoids the international outcry that would have resulted if a program of such executions were begun. Presumably the prisoners and their families welcome the change. Opponents of the death penalty are also pleased as are Rwandans who believe that national reconciliation can best be accomplished without further shedding of blood. Yet many survivors are disappointed and dismayed, even feeling betrayed. They had long awaited a final rendition of justice for those who murdered family and friends. They seek a sense of closure they will never have.

On the wider perspective of justice, absence of the death penalty opens the door for the extradition of genocidaires identified and even arrested in Europe, Canada and in other non-capital punishment nations. Heretofore such nations refused to extradite accused to Rwanda on account of the possibility of capital punishment. Now, they will be expected to comply with proper extradition requests. Similarly with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda that sits is Arusha, Tanzania. One impediment to close cooperation between the ICTR and Rwandan judicial officials was the existence of the death penalty. With the annulment cooperation should improve. Over the longer term as the ICTR winds up operations in coming years, cases can be transferred to Rwanda for adjudication and convicts for incarceration.

In summary, given the circumstances abolishing the death penalty was the right thing to do. Domestically, Rwandans know that impunity is finished and that justice is being meted out. Genocidaires are answering for their crimes. Life in an African prison is no bed of roses. Internationally, Rwanda is doing the right thing that enhances its reputation and its ability to apprehend more of the “big fish” genocidaires.

Nigeria - The Irony of Kleptocracy

By all reports Nigeria is among the most corrupt nations on earth. Little is accomplished without due consideration. Sadly, corruption has become the political and economic culture of the country. Patron-client relationships govern all aspects of life. For example, candidates for political office are nominated and selected by cultivating supporters with funds and promises. Such comity is extended with the certainty that when installed in office, officials will royally compensate their sponsors from government treasuries. Patronage includes flat out payments with diverted money, as well as jobs, travel, special privileges – building plots in cities, for example - and other patently illegal transactions including un-competed contracts and payments for projects that are not just never completed, but never begun at all. Moreover, people expect to pay “fees” for any service – public or private

Not only are billions in oil revenues blatantly misused, but a portion of Nigeria’s oil wealth is stolen daily via the simple means of pumping crude from isolated wellheads or draining a pipeline. More sophisticated theft involves over-invoicing, under-loading or a variety of slights-of-hand with documents.

Even the criminal system operates through corruption. Internet scams that capitalize on greed reflect endemic acceptance of corruption. Although violent theft and carjackings are commonplace, there has been a rising tide of kidnapping for ransom, extortion and protection rackets.

Because of embedded corruption nothing works efficiently or effectively, but the largest loss to society is that little of Nigeria’s enormous wealth is invested productively for the benefit of the nation. Roads are woeful, the railroad defunct, port infrastructure dilapidated, refineries inoperative and power generation minimal. The industrial sector is faltering and agriculture all but collapsed. Schools, hospitals, and clinics operate under shameful conditions. Most quality of life indicators are in decline. All this in one of the world’s great producers of hydrocarbons!

Is there hope for reform? Well, yes, a little. Successive governments, including the new administration of President Yar Adua have created and empowered anti-corruption commissions designed to identify and prosecute the worst offenders. So far, while some “big men” have been called to account, the record is not encouraging that such institutions can stem the tide. Concomitantly, however, there is increased understanding by civil society organizations, the people as a whole and even elected officials that the system is not tenable over the long haul. Anarchy, as is now occurring in the delta region is a reality that might spread. Disaffection leading to Islamic fundamentalism in the north is also on the rise. Fear of such threats to the state strengthens reform elements.

The irony is that had Nigeria’s wealth been properly invested, the whole economy would have expanded dramatically. All ships would have risen on the rising tide, including those of the small numbers of elite who have benefited disproportionately from corruption. Instead of the distortion that now exists with one percent of the population outlandishly rich, a small middle class composing a second tier and a poverty stricken majority in a distant last place, Nigeria might have more equitable income distribution and a public sector to be proud of.