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Police Accountability in Rwanda
Police accountability promotes stability in nations and increases safety in security. Directly related to reducing poverty, police accountability mechanisms assist community members, specifically the poor and disempowered, to politically mobilize and exercise agency over the future.

In the context of Rwanda, corruption and brutality have been historically prevalent; however, massive improvements have been made in safety and security. Today, Rwanda has one of the highest ratings of citizens’ evaluation of safety, corrupt police officers have been largely eradicated and a strong partnership has been established between the citizens and their protectors. Police accountability in Rwanda is consistently improving and measures have been taken to reduce corruption.

History of the Rwandan Genocide

In order to understand the context of police accountability in Rwanda, a brief background of the genocide that occurred in the 1990s is necessary. Before the genocide, Rwanda’s ethnic makeup was dichotomized: a large majority (around 85 percent) identified as Hutu, and the minority remaining were Tutsi. When Belgium colonized Rwanda, they put the faction of Tutsis in positions of power to rule over the Hutu.

Tensions continued to be exacerbated, even before the colonial rule ended. A Hutu revolution occurred in 1959 that caused over 300,000 Tutsis to flee and eventually resulted in Rwandan independence. Racialized violence continued for years until extremist Hutu leaders began slaughtering Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), consisting of mainly Tutsi refugees, responded with reciprocal violence, which continued until finally a coalition government was formed.

During the genocide, an estimated 800,000 were murdered, a majority of which were Tutsi. Much of the violence of the genocide was gender-specific, and it is reported that in the course of 100 days over half a million people were sexually assaulted. The aim of this violence was to tear apart communities, and it succeeded in that.

After-Effects of the Genocide

After the genocide, Gacaca courts were established in an effort to promote truth-telling and create a unified state. Gacaca courts, in the short term, disrupted women’s efforts to reestablish normal social relations in local communities, and in the long term delivered justice for some and established at least a partial truth about what happened, but many Rwandan women and men felt they were denied justice.  

These courts were flawed in their process of acknowledgment and straddled the line between restorative and punitive justice in many communities. The Rwandan government aimed to keep down mass incarceration levels after the genocide, and the Gacaca courts seemed like a good solution.

There were many shortcomings of the Gacaca tribunals. Several recent accounts of the courts’ performances reveal an egregious lack of due process protections, damaging the fairness of punishment as well as the prospects of reconciliation, according to leading scholars. Many judges of these courts, usually village elders, received minimal training and no lawyers were involved in the trials. Reports of false testimony were common and sentences neither followed a system nor were consistent.

Many Rwandans, nevertheless, served time in prison due to the determinations of these judges. Some have even said that these courts are an example of when a society so strongly yearns for reconciliation, citizens put justice before truth.

The legacy of these tribunals, and the tension that still exists for many Rwandans, led to the corruption and brutality that was perpetrated by the police in the early 2000s. Extrajudicial executions, meaning killing prisoners without legal process or judicial proceedings, were common and frequently made the news.   

Improved Police Accountability in Rwanda

Much has changed since then. Reform and a focus on security and accountability have been successful, and in Transparency International’s latest survey in 2017, Rwanda was ranked sub-Saharan Africa’s third least corrupt country. 200 police officers who were implicit in extrajudicial executions and implicated in corruption were dismissed from duty and the government has been hailed as one with no tolerance for corruption.

Police accountability in Rwanda has been condemned by leaders, and Rwanda police spokesperson Theos Badege said there would be “no mercy” upon corrupt officers in the police. “It is a national policy to ensure zero tolerance to graft,” Badege said, adding that accountability and integrity are among the core values expected of police officers while on duty. The past does not define this nation; instead, it helps shape the nation’s brighter future.

– Jilly Fox
Photo: Flickr

Protests_in_Honduras
For the fifth consecutive Friday, thousands of protesters in the Honduran Capital have marched, torches in hand, calling for their President and other leaders to resign on charges of corruption. In fact, their demands go beyond what many see as simply political theater in having high ranking officials resign. The protesters are seeking systemic change by having an international observing and prosecuting body investigate and fight corruption and impunity in the struggling Central American Nation.

This international commission, which exists only as an idea, is coming to be called CICIH, the International Commission Against Impunity in Honduras. The inspiration for such a sagacious demand by protesters seems to be the success of the CICIG, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, in enforcing the rule of law and subverting corruption in Honduras’s neighboring state.

The CICIG’s recently renewed mandate to operate in Guatemala was welcomed by the State Department and presented as an effective model for curbing violence, unlocking growth and reducing poverty in the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, in an earlier Borgen Blog post.

The grievances behind the recent protests in Honduras serve as a great example of how corruption undermines growth. An estimated $120 million was “fraudulently misspent” by the Honduran Social Security Institute, a large proportion of which went to fund President Juan Orlando Hernandéz’s 2013 campaign. Mismanagement of public funds, not to mention poor investment climates and the struggles of doing business, are some ways in which corruption impedes poverty reduction. In 2005, corruption was estimated to cost the world $1 trillion.

Leading the world in murders per capita, and Latin America in income inequality, life is difficult in Honduras.

At least 32.6 percent of Hondurans live in extreme poverty, reports the World Bank, and the the number of people below the national poverty line continues to climb. Rocked by a drug war, hyperactive and omnipresent gang activity and intense violence from law enforcement, the symptoms of corrupt and unstable institutions consistently make headlines in what The Economist warned was fast becoming a “failed state.”

The issues facing Honduras are not entirely endogenous and are incredibly complex. For starters, their geographic location is favored by narco-traffickers aiming to get products to markets in the U.S. They are still reeling from a 2009 coup. Impunity among state security forces is rampant, something that has been blamed for their out of control killings and targeted assassinations.

Among the many things that Honduras needs, are dependable and capable institutions, which are difficult to cultivate in the environment in which Honduras finds itself. Thankfully, the unique model provided by the work of CICIG in Guatemala lends itself perfectly to their situation, and the people of Honduras are ready for it.

– John Wachter

Sources: Al Jazeera, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace , CNN Español, The Economist, The Guardian, Huffington Post, La Prensa, Tico Times 1, Tico Times 2, World Bank 1, World Bank 2
Photo: Flickr

Legal-Education-in-Afghanistan
Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous and impoverished nations in the world. What can be done to help to turn it around?

One of the biggest problems Afghanistan faces is its history of a weak rule of law. The rule of law has to do with the strength of legal institutions, as well as laws themselves. It also applies to how laws are carried out—equally or unequally.

When the rule of law is strong, it provides a basis for a society’s economic development, security, infrastructure and an accountable government. A strong rule of law also improves public health, alleviates poverty and improves education.

Weak rule of law leads to crime, corruption and the unequal application of laws across a society. Afghanistan has struggled with all these things, and improving and solidifying the rule of law is important to secure its future. For a country to flourish, a strong rule of law is needed.

It is a generally accepted idea, that for some, education is a pathway out of poverty. However, without a strong rule of law, which limits the Taliban preventing girls from going to school or corruption from impacting learner’s education, this pathway is fraught with difficulties. Corruption is a massive problem in Afghanistan—the country ranked last for the absence of corruption in the World Justice Project’s 2014 Rule of Law Index.

Sadly, the problem runs deeper than merely educating Afghan girls and boys with hopes that they will escape poverty. For Afghanistan to improve its rule of law and therefore it’s future, it’s legal education system must continue to be developed.

Because of Afghanistan’s five constitutions since 1964 along with Soviet occupation and the Taliban government, the country’s legal system been decimated and fallen behind the rest of the world. The legal education system has failed to produce a capable body of legal experts, instead a group of jurists who have made their best effort in recent times but are woefully unprepared.

Since U.S. military intervention and the fall of the Taliban in 2001, much has been done to try and improve both the university and legal education systems in the county. Strengthening these institutions can lead to fewer instances of land disputes—the main cause of conflict in Afghanistan. They are common because both informal and formal devices used to resolve the conflicts are fragile and weak.

Land disputes are also a perfect example of a weak rule of law because they illustrate an instance where a law says one thing, but in practice, it is not relevant, enforced or practical. The current land ownership law states the need for documents proving ownership of land, however, only 20 percent of land actually has these documents.

The U.S. State Department has played a role in developing the legal system in Afghanistan by bringing young lawyers to the U.S. to study, who have then gone back to their home country to set up legal practices. This is a good step, but improvement in the rule of law via more development of the legal education system in Afghanistan itself could go even further to improve its future as a safer, less impoverished country.

– Greg Baker

Sources: The Hague Institute for Global Justice, The New York Times, United States Institute for Peace, The World Justice Project, U.S. Department of State
Photo: Clarksville Online