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A Human Rights Retrospective with Alison Des Forge

2005 brought more allegations of human rights abuses in Africa, from Darfur to the DRC. For a closer look at the issue, English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua spoke with Allison Des Forge, senior advisor for the Africa division of Human Rights Watch.

She says, “I think a primary question is always still the protection of civilians in the areas of conflict. You mentioned Darfur. That’s an ongoing problem, the same thing in the eastern part of Congo, the eastern part of DRC. The question of how civilians can be protected against attack by either formal military forces or combatant bands, with that, particularly the growing problem of rape as a crime of war. Another major issue is the question of justice. How to assure accountability for the crimes that have been committed in the past and that remains a major strand of concern for the DRC, now for Burundi as well. Fortunately, we’ve had the end to most conflict in Burundi, but the question of justice remains. And even for Rwanda, where there’s no further conflict at this point, but where the vast numbers now, hundreds of thousands accused in the Rwandan genocide have not yet been brought to trial.”

Ms. Des Forge was asked about the best way to bring people to justice and try them. She says, “It depends on the situation, but where you have truly massive violations of international law, as you did in Rwanda, as you did in Congo, as you did in Burundi, all of those places, as you have now in Darfur, it’s hard to envision a system of justice which is purely local and national. In part because the crimes are themselves crimes that are violations of international law, in part because the scale of the crime is so enormous that any single national judicial system is probably not going to be able to handle it. And the, perpetrators, as well, often flee beyond national boundaries so that it becomes very difficult to assure their arrest and prosecution. So, I think what we’ll see evolving is a pragmatic mix of national justice and international justice and even justice in what you might call third party nations as we’re beginning to see now in Europe, for example, with Belgium and in the past Switzerland.”