Everyday Ethics

Everyday Ethics

Rwandan Genocide Leaders Get a Whopping Sentence in Court…

posted by Padmini Mangunta


On Tuesday, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda sentenced a former governor of Rwanda to life imprisonment for his role in the 1994 genocide. This is the third such ruling this year; previous convictions by the U.N. court include 25 years in prison for a military chaplain convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity, and 30 years to a civil servant for genocide and incitement to commit genocide.

I would estimate that’s around 90 years total for three men convicted of genocide. 800,000 men, women and children killed in 100 days. Compare that to our very own Bernie Madoff’s 150-year sentence.

I think that sound you’re hearing is humanities’ values crashing to the ground.

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posted July 17, 2009 at 12:29 am

Hey Paddy, great post. Thanks for drawing our attention to this worthy news item. I’m just wondering, what do you think would have been a fair sentence? I don’t know much about this tribunal or what’s been happening in Rwanda lately (shame on me!). Do you suggest the 3 men should be shouldering the blame for the entire genocide, or are there more ringleaders to round up and the government is just slacking off? And, where does the responsibility lie in the individuals who did the actual slaughtering during this awful rampage?

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posted July 17, 2009 at 12:57 am

Oh no, by no means am I saying that these three men shoulder the blame of the entire genocide! Also, this is not a court run by the Rwandan government, it is a U.N. sponsored court. It is being held in Tanzania. The questions you ask are good ones, but ones that I doubt anyone will fully be able to answer. Does the responsibility lie with every individual who slaughtered their friends, neighbors, parishioners and patients? I would say yes. But what about the guilt of those who incited this unimaginable horror, who used it for power…what about the responsibility of the governments who watched and stood aside, while simultaneously preaching “Never Again”?
This are huge questions…my post was merely a comment on the length of these 3 sentences. 25 years for genocide and crimes against humanity? Does that not seem to anyone else unbelievably disrespectful to the sanctity of life?

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posted July 17, 2009 at 8:25 am

When comparing the sentences of those in Rwanda to that of Bernie Madoff, it appears the first thought that everyone here is having is that the Rwandan’s are getting off light. That is one great way to view this and as your blog states it also draws one’s attention to the values involved. However, what I noticed as well was the extreme sentence of Madoff, and I would ask the question, is that a reflection of our American values, where someone gets such a large sentence for stealing money and fraudulent schemes? Is the value of “money” more important than the value of “life?” Please do not misunderstand my point here. I am not stating that the Rwandan’s sentences were fair or unfair, I do not know all the facts of the case and cannot speak to that. But what I am saying, regarding the Madoff case, is his sentence is a reflection of the American values on materialism and money, which can be seen in the sentence he received, whereas rapist and child molesters are typically out of jail in 3 to 10 years. Is the inscription “In God We Trust” making a reference to a higher power or a reference to the thing itself that it is inscribed upon?

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Hillary Fields

posted July 17, 2009 at 10:06 am

Ha! Jason, I just LOVE what you said here. Food for thought indeed. Thanks for the insightful comment. We should have blogged about the Madoff sentence too.

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posted July 17, 2009 at 10:11 am

Jason, thanks for your comment. While I in no way dismiss the seriousness of Madoff’s crimes, I wondered the same thing the day he was sentenced to the maximum 150 years. I tried not to compare his sentence to say, the sentence of a child molester or rapist, arguing with myself that the number of Madoff’s victims would multiply the number of years. But it left me with a bad taste in my mouth and left me also reflecting on America’s values.
In the case of Rwanda, these light sentences leave me more with a sickness of heart. Can you imagine if a man killed your entire family, extended family, and all your neighbors and friends, and got off with 25 years in prison? Then multiply those deaths by thousands and imagine the same sentence.
I don’t know what the pundits think about these sentences, whether they were just or unjust…I can only comment on my shock upon reading about it.

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posted July 17, 2009 at 11:10 am

Going back to the Rwandan’s for a minute, admittedly I have not done my homework on the details and could be misspoken, but if these individuals received sentence in an international court system, yet were tried in absenteeism, they will never see one day in prison as long as they do not leave Rwanda. This is the case with the Darfur genocide, where the president was convicted in the Hague but will not spend a day in prison as long as he stays in the country.
Yes, Padimni the Madoff’s sentence is compounded by the multiple victims in his case and its a shame that the Rwandan’s sentences were not. However, looking back at our own systems where with any crime there is the element of degree upon which a crime is judged and sentenced… Is it worse to commit an investment scheme (which in all plausibility the victims could have lost their money in the real market) where some of the blame (in my own opinion) falls on the victims for trusting Madoff versus an established institution… or is it a worse crime to steal the innocents of a child or woman by force, of which the victims did not submit to willingly? Obviously that’s a rhetorical question and my only point here goes back to what I had posted in my earlier comment, and that is where are our values in the American judicial system? We have more people incarcerated in state of California than the entire country of China has incarcerated. What does this say about our system?
In reality, what kind of position does this put the voice of America in relation to these other countries? How can we tell another country to not violate human rights, when for the past 8 years we have committed similar violations? How can our court system be an example to the Rwandan system when we sentence money hungry thieves with greater sentences, yet release child molesters and rapists back into our neighborhoods to strike again? America can only set the standards regarding values for the rest of the world if and only if it begins to correct its own hypocrisies first.

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posted July 17, 2009 at 8:24 pm

@Padmini – If you feel that 25 years is an insufficient sentence, what kind of punishment would you think is appropriate for the crimes that you have outlined? If not 25 years, what about 50? 75? which would be the equivalent of life in prison. Death?

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posted July 18, 2009 at 7:28 pm

KES:I do think 25 years is inappropriate, but I’m not sure what is “appropriate” for a conviction of genocide….life in prison seems a fair start. What do you think?

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posted July 19, 2009 at 10:10 am

This issue and all of these comments made me think of even more questions that I feel could really define our individual approaches to judgment.
First, there’s the question of what is the purpose of punishment – is it deterrence? Is it for the satisfaction of society’s sense of justice? Is it for achieving a universal “true” sense of justice? Is it to satisfy the vengeance of society towards the criminal? (Say a criminal is indeed truly reformed after committing a horrendous crime and would actually be a highly valuable citizen to society thereafter…would we be willing to let him go?)
Second, what factors determine the severity of a crime? The number of people it affects? How severely each individual is affected? An equation that takes into account both? The affect of the crime on culture or society’s trust/mistrust overall? The “impact” of Madoff’s crime could be argued to be quite great depending on how you swing on this question or how you choose to measure severity.
Thirdly, could a punishment be divided amongst people? (Like 75 years served by 3 people at 25 years each) Does the division take away or change in other ways the impact of the punishment?

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posted July 21, 2009 at 10:01 am

All great questions, Bev! In regard to the purpose of punishment, satisfaction vs. deterrence….I must admit that while I normally am a proponent for rehabilitation and deterrence, I just can’t bring myself to believe that someone involved in inciting genocide, for instance, could ever be deterred or rehabilitated. Is that unethical of me? To condition my intellectual belief in something based on the heinousness of the crime? Probably…

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