Local realities: strife and struggle
DOI link for Local realities: strife and struggle
Local realities: strife and struggle book
Gross human rights violations in an adverse environment In Rwanda between April and June of 1994, more than 800,000 people were killed (Prunier 1995: 265). The image of a river turning red with blood suddenly became a horrifying reality as the Kagera was stained with the blood of thousands of victims, almost all belonging to the Tutsi tribe. As a result of this intra-state violence, more than two million persons fled their country, many of them merely to die abroad in refugee conditions. In the (then) Zairian refugee area of Goma, the number of deaths was so great that priority had to be given to burying the dead rather than treating the sick. Despite peace accords, the ensuing war in that region has continued uninterrupted, showing no signs of resolution (see below, p. 196). Incomprehensible as such horrors may be, the killings were not unanticipated. Indeed, the “early warning” system worked. The United Nations was indeed already present in the country with a peace-keeping force. It was, rather, in early action that the real challenge to international inertia manifested itself. As Prunier noted regarding “the causes and probable consequences” of the Rwandan genocide, “one is struck by a feeling of predictability” (1995: 346). In that light the international reaction to the crisis in Rwanda was entirely incomprehensible. Precisely when it became clear that the killings were the beginning of a genocide of frightful proportions, the United Nations – already in Rwanda to monitor an insecure truce between the government and the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF ) – decided to reduce its force of 2,500 to a mere 270 lightly armed soldiers. Thus, rather than starting a massive peace-enforcing operation, the community of nations decided to abandon its failed peace-keeping mission. In order to better understand the failure of the international community to intervene in an effective way to prevent the bloodshed in Rwanda, it is necessary to examine the setting of the international human rights mission as well as the environment in Rwanda that preceded the killing. Let us examine the set-up of the human rights mission first. The “international venture for the protection and
promotion of human rights” – as it is usually called, rather softly, as noted above (p. 46) – tuned as it is towards enforcement and protection of legal rights, relies upon the existence of environments that are already “enabling” from a political economic perspective, implying a well functioning economy, good government and a strong judicial culture. Such a setting may be graphically depicted (see Figure 4.1). Yet, the reality is that more than half of the global population lives in what comes closer to a “disabling” environment for the realisation of human dignity: misallocation of resources, extreme social and economic inequality and exclusion, violence in and among communities, corruption, anarchy and cultures of domination and submissiveness. Such an environment is schematically represented in Figure 4.2. In such an adverse or “disabling” environment, a system that is tuned towards the legal enforcement of rights is obviously of little use. Human rights enforcement as currently practised by the UN thus has a severely limited capacity to protect human dignity in adverse environments, precisely where the grossest human rights abuses are most prevalent. Let us now examine the situation in Rwanda in 1994 as “typical” of such adverse environments. Rwanda is a densely populated country whose resource-base offers its people insufficient income-generating opportunities in an insecure coffee culture and virtually no employment in industry and commercial services such as tourism (Trouwborst 1994: 348). As there was little productivity, there was also little effective taxation. Official development assistance was therefore the major source of public investment. In such an environment, state power becomes the
“dominant social good” in the sense that those who have it “can command a wide range of other goods” (Walzer 1983: 10). Under those conditions, politics predictably takes the form of a fierce fight for entitlement positions arranged by the state, resulting in a system of governance rooted in corruption. Rwanda’s population is ethnically divided, around 90 per cent Hutu, 9 per cent Tutsi and 1 per cent Twa. After independence the regime became Hutubased with the Tutsi excluded. Economic deterioration in the years preceding the genocide provoked a growing resistance to the Habyarimana administration (Hutu-based with its roots particularly in the Northwest). Between 1986 and 1989 international coffee prices fell by around 50 per cent. In 1989, due to severe balance of payments problems and a strongly increased foreign debt, the government accepted and began to enforce the structural adjustment prescriptions of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. As a result the currency was strongly devalued. Any possible positive effects of this measure on exports were, however, completely offset by a further fall of the coffee price on the world market (Dupont and Marijsse 1994: 340-341). A high rate of population growth (±3%) also placed increasing pressure on the land. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, international pressure on one-party states also affected the regime in Rwanda. Consequently, on 5 July 1990, a process of democratisation was announced. The following month the Rwanda Patriotic Front, a political and military organisation of refugees from earlier intra-state violence in 1959, invaded the country from the north. The government’s reaction to the growing external pressure was not just to announce the end of the one-party state, but also to curtail its expenditure on education and
health in order to mobilise more soldiers and import more military equipment. The ruling elite and all those dependent on them through family ties and patronage politics feared they might be deprived of their privileged entitlement positions. The majority Hutu population was mobilised to attack their Tutsi compatriots – often their own neighbours and/or brothers and sisters in the same church – in order to defend their entitlements with a fanatic paramilitary called Interahamwe (those who fight together) in the vanguard. Through Radio Mille Collines – alias “Radio Machete” – the Hutu population was incited to see the Tutsi as “cockroaches” that “should be crushed”. Eventually, internal and external pressure for multi-party democracy in an adverse economic, political and socio-cultural environment resulted in the degeneration of politics into war and genocide. Clearly, the global as well as local failure to create the conditions necessary for an adequately functioning market economy led to a type of politics focused entirely on the fight for positions in the state sector as bases for otherwise lacking entitlement positions. And it is precisely because politics took this form that institutions indispensable in path dependent development (relating to economies of scale, complementarities and externalities, North 1990) were not created. In cases of high conflict susceptibility like Rwanda in the 1990s, development aid provided in its conventional state-oriented patterns merely tends to increase the privileges of those in power, thus feeding and entrenching the root problems rather than helping to solve them. Blindly following conventional aid patterns in such situations is thus not only unproductive, but counterproductive. External assistance of a different nature – more oriented towards an improved infrastructure (economic-technical, legal, administrative, etc.) – might assist in breaking the catch-22 situation of a malfunctioning economy and politics in the form of a fierce and violent fight for state-related entitlement positions. Yet, the international reaction to the conflict made no attempt to provide the Rwandan population with new economic perspectives. Where intra-state conflict is rooted in serious problems of resources sharing within an economic structure that offers insufficient opportunities for the whole population, both preventive diplomacy and post-conflict peace-building will have to address these socio-economic constraints. Only on that basis can the military political aspects of the struggle be resolved. The Rwandan genocide may also serve to illustrate the social and political, if not also economic, limitations of structural adjustment programmes imposed from above. Based on pure and in itself indisputable macro-economic logic, such schemes tend to display a lack of concern for the political and social fabric of the societies in which they have been applied and also to neglect global causes of economic crises. As a result, their economic performance is highly questionable, too (Bello and Cunningham 1994). Prunier concluded his impressive historical account of the genocide as follows: “The whole system went wrong for reasons which at first were economic and then turned politico-cultural” (1995: 350). Unfortunately, however, at the pre-genocide stage the international community made no attempt to address
the global and local socio-economic context of the conflict; instead, it merely sent some “peace-keeping” troops and engaged in “peace-making” efforts to bring parties together and start a process of political reconciliation. Rwanda is a catastrophic example, but we must acknowledge that the worst violations of human rights most commonly occur in such adverse environments. Usually, these involve whole populations in a situation of civil war, like the people of the Darfur region in Sudan. In response to such dreadful events, international authorities trying to enforce human rights tend to focus on judicial measures against the culprits. Thus, the International Criminal Court in The Hague has indicted a number of high officials in Sudan, including its Head of State Omar al-Bashir (ICC 2009). No matter the justification for that decision, it offers little expectation of peace and security to those directly affected by the bloodshed, including millions of displaced persons. For those people hope lies only in a drastic change of their whole political-economic environment.