Pleading guilty to genocide Rwanda: Country's prime minister gives international trial credibility with his admission.

May 09, 1998

THE MOVEMENT to bring perpetrators of crimes against humanity to justice, mired with credibility problems, has received a dramatic boost.

Former Rwandan Prime Minister Jean Kambanda, arrested in Kenya, pleaded guilty to six charges of genocide before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which sits in Tanzania. He admitted a role in planning the slaughter of some 800,000 Rwandans, mostly minority Tutsis, in 1994.

Thus, the tribunal for Rwanda is no longer a sad joke, but instead a model for the comparable tribunal that is sitting in the Netherlands for war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia. That court has convicted small fish, while big fish who were indicted defy capture.

For his crimes, Kambanda faces life in prison. His is the first conviction of the 25 people in custody to face the tribunal.

Kambanda, a big fish in Rwanda, was instrumental in the slaughter fomented by the extremist Hutu government. His willingness to pay for crimes leads to hopes that he will give evidence on the roles of others. This looks like justice.

It contrasts with 22 recent executions by the Tutsi-backed current regime in Rwanda, which holds 130,000 more suspects. That looked like mere revenge.

The Kambanda confession comes as recriminations mount against France, the United States and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, then an under-secretary-general, for failing to act to prevent the 1994 genocide. Finger-pointing will bring back no life, but may create a presumption that next time something preventive should be done while possible.

Whatever Kambanda's motive, his guilty plea is positive. It makes suggestions for establishing world institutions to bring such criminals to justice seem a little more realistic.

Pub Date: 5/09/98

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