|H.E. PAUL KAGAME, PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF RWANDA, ADDRESSES THE HIGH LEVEL MEETING ON THE RULE OF LAW AT THE NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL LEVELS|
New York, 24 September 2012
President of the UN General Assembly, Mr. Vuk Jeremic;
Excellencies Heads of State and Government;
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon;
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen
It is important that we are discussing how to make the rule of law more effective domestically and internationally and I am pleased to participate. In this endeavour, let me propose that we should consider three points relating directly to this subject of the Rule of Law, with the aim of addressing the realities of our present day.
One can begin with the important principle of universal justice, an ideal which I believe we all would like to see realised. The rule of law internationally is premised on the principle that equality before the law is universal. This, however, is not always the case.
What many countries can attest to, in actual fact, is that in application, “justice” is often not pursued fairly or without favour – what may be overlooked in one situation is aggressively sanctioned in another. Some national jurisdictions have assumed superiority over others without any legal or other justification, resulting in the law being applied selectively.
What is more useful is for people to work together towards a form of universal justice that is meaningful to all concerned. In this way, the rule of law will uphold equality between nations, guarantee fairness, and recognise and respect sovereignty indiscriminately.
Secondly, as a global community we should be alert to the dangers of politicizing issues of justice, both at the national and international level, because ultimately, this undermines the rule of law. We see principles such as universal jurisdiction being used – many times selectively and in one direction – as a political tool in the arena of international affairs, for the purposes of control and dominance.
Rwanda has firsthand experience with how important the rule of law is and more specifically, the implication of its absence or disregard, and unequal application. That absence destroyed our country in the post-independence decades leading up to the Genocide in 1994, followed by unjust treatment in the name of universal jurisdiction, where it has been very clear that motives veer more towards the political than the legal.
And to my third point – these two issues of justice and politics are complex and closely intertwined, requiring a contextual and balanced approach. A purely punitive course of action is not always the best, even when grievances are legitimate and obvious – in fact, the singular pursuit of either justice or political imperatives may aggravate the situation.
Rwanda’s experience following the genocide is a stark example – from a purely legal perspective, there were hundreds of thousands of perpetrators, and a strong case for a punitive approach. But to best serve our priorities of both justice and
social harmony, we sought to balance the strict application of punitive provisions of the law with restorative alternatives. This home-grown solution – though our Gacaca court process, has served us better than any other system could.
This principle of balancing punitive and restorative forms of justice is applicable to the international arena – the current international justice climate reveals that too often, motives for pursuing “justice” are both punitive and political, and aimed at serving certain interests, especially of one party over others.
This situation needs to change so that there is parity between nations, double standards are eliminated and fairness and respect for the rule of law established at the international level. To achieve this, certain minimum standards of the rule of law will need to be adhered to. These include the right to fair hearing, respect for basic human rights, and the existence of review mechanisms to check excesses in the processes. They must take into account the context and situation of each country because ultimately justice must serve and be anchored in the society.
We have been able to strengthen the rule of law in our country, particularly through universal access to quality justice, so that citizens are not hindered by financial constraints or long distances to judicial centres.
These and other efforts have been supported by our partners and we acknowledge this cooperation that complemented our initiatives, and look forward to continuing and expanding it to address the broader issues we are discussing today.
Thank you for your kind attention.