Reimagining what’s possible

ACOFI Youth Affairs Officer, Tatenda Tomu, attended Festival for the Future, an inspirational conference held in Wellington from 30 July – 1 August this year. This is her story of how the event impacted her.

We received an email in the lead up to the Festival for the Future. The last line of the email suggested we ‘start planning our inspiring weekend now’.

After attending the festival, what I felt was so much more than planning an inspiring weekend. The festival made me feel like I was planning my inspiring future. A weekend of defragmenting the pieces that make me. I was here, in one center, I felt vitality, a purpose, I was in a house full of mirrors. Every person reflected everything I have been, everything I am and everything I am becoming. Being in this space as an Indigenous person with many other Indigenous people, made me realise that we are all facing the same struggles. We have all been pushed into the minority box with no possible way to break free.

The great news is there is a way out. My suggestion is to give the youth a voice because they, we can make a difference. There are solutions to a better world. I know this because I was privileged enough to experience it by listening to the inspirational powerhouse of speakers that shared their stories at Festival for the Future. There are youth who are out here breaking barriers, challenging the system, returning to their roots and claiming back all that was stolen from their ancestors. There are youth out here in our own community that share the same vision of a better future.

In 2022, I would like ACOFI to implement a programme run by myself and other appointed executives from other organisations. If we all come together as one and share our ideas, dreams and visions, we can find the youth in our community that are ready to transform their lives and be the leaders to a better world and take them on an exclusively sponsored trip to 2022’s Festival for the Future.

If they take away a fraction of what I did from this year’s festival, these youth will carry gratitude to do the work required thereafter to lead and guide those within their range. Thus, starting a snowball effect of healing, growing and evolving that is much needed in our community.

I would also love the opportunity to be one of the people that steps up on stage to share my story. Our story of inspiration to others. Open doors for the youth that reflect our image to stand up and do the same. We as a people should not have to miss out.

Genocide: Past, present and future

Drew White is a Canadian Lawyer who prosecuted the perpetrators of the Rwandan
Genocide in 1994. He attended Kwibuka, the 27th commemoration of the
Rwandan Genocide in Auckland, where he was able to join the Rwandan Community and other invited individuals and representatives of various organizations linked to African communities based in Aotearoa-New Zealand.

ACOFI’s Secretary General, Henok RG took the opportunity to interview him about his experience of the Rwandan genocide trial and discuss the possible Genocide that looks looming out of the ongoing conflicts and wars in parts of Africa.

What makes a genocide trial different and challenging than other legal court business?
Some of the main differences are that first, genocide is an old act but a ‘new’ crime. There is very little judicial precedent to follow. Although genocide was first made a crime through the United Nations Genocide Convention in 1948, it took another 50 years before the first conviction, in 1998, which happened at the Rwanda Tribunal.

Second, the entire purpose of genocide is to destroy a group, leaving none to tell the story, so the vast number of victims with so few left, the ongoing suffering of survivors, the profusion of perpetrators and the challenges of locating and producing witnesses to the crime makes the prosecution of genocide trials lengthy and uncertain in outcome.

Third, genocide trials are procedurally elaborate, partly because with so little judicial precedent there are a lot of issues that arise and that have not been fully settled, unlike in national jurisdictions where the criminal trial procedures have become very settled over time.

Fourth, genocide trials are factually very complicated. This is partly because the evidentiary context in which the crime takes place is enormous. For example in the 1994 Rwanda genocide against the Tutsis the context was a whole country for a whole year.

Why has the word “genocide” become such a controversial term to apply in to various atrocities happening to human race in parts of the world?

Governments are generally very cautious about describing an event as genocide because calling it genocide carries a legal obligation to do something about it. More than three- quarters of the countries in the world have agreed to the terms of the Genocide Convention, so most countries have an interest in dealing with the question of genocide as part of a diplomatic process, rather than as part of a system of international justice.

What are the fundamental lessons the world has to learn from the Rwandan genocide of 1994?

Humanity has many lessons to be learned from the long history of genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. A few that have become the most memorable for me are:

  • Even after the killing subsides, genocide ideology continues to destroy.
  • The human spirit is capable of an amazing resilience, especially in facing a shared experience of tragedy.
  • When influential people in positions of authority use lies to create fear and division in citizens, ordinary people can become capable of doing great harm.
  • If there is enough political will, it is possible to succeed in building a system of international justice to bring accountability and fight impunity.
  • The United Nations requires organisational reform in order to respond to international crime more effectively.

How closely have you been observing the current crisis in Ethiopia and Myanmar? And how identical are the two countries in terms of military involvement, Nobel peace prize winning leaders, and crackdown on press and opposition groups?

Although there are some similar features to the situations in both countries, the fact that one crisis is driven by a coup against the government and the other is driven by the government itself, makes a significant difference to who might be held legally responsible.

Of course, both political leaders are Nobel laureates and have disappointed the world, for which they might face political accountability, but that will have no bearing on any potential legal accountability. Repression against press and human rights defenders and political opponents is an extremely serious violation and abuse of human rights, which has become a patterned, standard, common tactic by regimes that are struggling to exert control over the free choice of citizens.

How difficult would it be to conduct a research and prosecution on a call of genocide in a certain country when the Security Council of the UN fails to address the crisis fast enough and pave the way for ICC to go on legal probe?

The level of difficulty will depend on the country involved and whether that country is a party to the ICC statute. If the country involved is a party to the 1998 Rome Statute that authorizes the ICC to act, then investigation and prosecution is the responsibility of the ICC, without involving the Security Council. On the other hand, if the country is not a party to the ICC statute, then the responsibility is left with the Security Council to choose whether to refer the case to the ICC for investigation, or even to create a separate ad hoc tribunal for the case, such as it did for Rwanda and for the former Yugoslavia.

In the absence of action by either the ICC or the Security Council, recently the Human Rights Council has been authorizing investigations under their human rights protection mandate, but those investigations are without any authority to prosecute, so they simply archive the evidence for possible use later.

How would a prosecutor treat a third-party intervention as a perpetrator in a neighbouring country? For example: Eritrean soldiers active engagement in the war crime they have involved in support of the Ethiopian government?

In general, it is not the nationality of a perpetrator but the nation where the crime is perpetrated that is the key issue for a prosecutor. This is because the first question will always be whether the prosecutor has legal authority, referred to as ‘jurisdiction’, to prosecute the crime. In other words, it won’t matter if the perpetrator is Ethiopian, Eritrean, Egyptian or Estonian, if it is a crime that takes place within a territory that a prosecutor has jurisdiction for. More specifically, cross-border perpetrators are still perpetrators under international law,
even if there might be no jurisdiction to actually prosecute them.

One of the important distinctions under international law is whether the armed conflict is determined to be an “international armed conflict” (as between two nations) or a “non- international armed conflict” (as between groups within a territorial state). This distinction affects the type of law that applies and the availability of jurisdiction to prosecute.

In the situation of Eritrean forces supporting Ethiopian government forces, this has the hallmark of a non-international armed conflict, with the result that the legal protection for civilians will be more limited and more difficult to enforce. However, it does not mean that cross-border support is not legally accountable.

One of the notable features of the conflict is that both the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments appear to have publicly acknowledged that Eritrean forces participated against Tigray. Therefore, the Eritrean president could potentially be held extra-territorially responsible for any criminal acts of the soldiers, just as President Charles Taylor of Liberia was held responsible for “aiding and abetting” crimes in Sierra Leone.

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