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Is Rwanda the Victim in a Modern Day Salem Witch Trial?

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Note: Media is just now reporting on the second leaked document discussed in the latter part of this post.

Americans are out of the loop when it comes to rigorous analysis of foreign policy in in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They may be vaguely aware that international opinion has coalesced around a report issued by the United Nations that is critical of Rwanda. Americans may not realize that the premature leaking of this report has had broad consequences for the region and has influenced media coverage as well as humanitarian aid. Most recently, the United Kingdom decided to freeze $34 million of aid  to Rwanda based on allegations contained in this highly contested report.

Genocide Memorial in Rwanda by Georgianne Nienaber

Genocide Memorial in Rwanda (Credit: G. Nienaber)

But Americans don't like to be duped when it comes to the central tenet of the American justice system--that the accused is innocent until proven guilty.

Let's offer the thesis that public opinion has been railroaded with respect to Rwanda amid accusations that it is supplying aid to a newly minted and highly successful rebel army in eastern Congo.

There is no scenario that the American psyche enjoys more than a courtroom drama rife with corrupt prosecutors, judges on the take, compromised witnesses, faked evidence, dishonest snitches, and jury tampering. It is dramatic to entertain the possibility that justice will not necessarily prevail, but Americans abhor a lie in the courtroom. Look no further than the mesmerizing real life dramas of Casey Anthony and O.J. Simpson. Law and Order: SVU, Criminal Minds, Without a Trace, The Closer, Harry's Law, Cold Case and Columbo are a few of the fictionalized television dramas that come to mind.

If we want to take American history as a guide into fascination with corruption in the courtroom, there is no more shameful real life drama than the 1692 Salem Witch Trials, which have been part of a national dialogue for over 300 years.

Consider this exchang e during the examination of accused "witch" Bridget Bishop by inquisitor John Hathorne.

Hathorne: How do you know that you are not a witch? Bishop: I do not know what you say. . .I know nothing of it. Hathorne: Why look you, you are taken now in a flat lye (sic).

A reasonable argument can be made that Rwanda is the victim of a similar witch-hunt in the Security Council of the United Nations.

Here is a quote from the legal review of the charges leveled against Rwanda.

A "rush to judgment" in the Group of Expert's reports; insufficient recounting of Rwanda's position; no right of rebuttal in the interim report; and only a limited right of rebuttal in the addenda.

Even the accused "witch," Bridget Bishop had the right to a rebuttal before being called a liar.

How would Americans react to the possibility that they have been fed a frenzy of lies, paranoia, and innuendo based upon a leaked report? Is leaking a report comparable to jury tampering?

A "group of experts" was appointed by the United Nations in much the same manner as was Salem prosecutor John Hathorne. There is reason to believe that the "group of experts," instead of offering counsel to the UN Sanctions Committee, assumed the role of judge, jury and executioner by declaring Rwanda is guilty of supplying arms to a Congolese Rebel Army (M23/CRA).

The result has been the unfortunate withholding of foreign aid  to Rwanda, still recovering from the scars of the 1994 genocide, as well as acute embarrassment for a country that, while still struggling, is one of the biggest success stories in Africa. This is not to say that there are not serious societal problems remaining in Rwanda, but in the particular issue of supplying aid to a foreign army, Rwanda has been the victim of a whispering campaign similar to that endured by the "witches" in the Salem trials. The historical parallels are instructive.

John Hathorne embodied all that America has come to loathe in a corrupt Prosecutor. A local and unremarkable Salem magistrate, Hathorne, was chosen by Governor William Phipps to be a judge in the Salem Trials. While promoting the presumption of guilt rather than innocence, Hathorne inhabited the role of prosecutor rather than that of impartial judge. Hathorne was a true believer in witches and, in his megalomania, thought he knew how to expose them. He was able to encourage the selective perception of witches lurking in every household.

A master at encouraging the accused to testify beyond their own forced confessions, Hathorne elicited finger-pointing that resulted in a farce of a "trial," where rumor and innuendo became "fact." This increased the number of accusations and resulted in the conviction of 200 "witches" and the execution of 20 on absurd accusations of consorting with the Devil. After Governor Phipps wife was also accused of being a witch, he prohibited further arrests, released many of the accused, and dissolved the special court. There was a lot of recanting by judges and a day of fasting to atone for the profane miscarriage of justice. But it was too late for the dead.

In an eerie parallel to the current conflict, English rulers William and Mary had started a proxy war with France in the American colonies in 1689. Upstate New York, Nova Scotia and Quebec, were flattened by conflict and refugees poured into neighboring counties and Salem Village. The refugees, or Internally Displaced Persons (IDPS) in today's jargon, were a strain on resources and pitted agrarian interests against foreign trade. Land and trade wars erupted, neighbor was pitted against neighbor--all against the backdrop of a developing frontier and a harsh winter.

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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota, New Orleans and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill (more...)

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Why is everyone buying the Group of Experts' repor... by Georgianne Nienaber on Tuesday, Dec 4, 2012 at 11:27:53 PM
Th is article's defense of neoliberal Rwanda's com... by Ezili Danto on Thursday, Dec 6, 2012 at 3:59:17 PM
Georgianne has created an insightful article. ... by Bill Quam on Wednesday, Dec 5, 2012 at 1:32:46 AM
I did not realize the total lack of transparency w... by Georgianne Nienaber on Wednesday, Dec 5, 2012 at 5:17:49 AM
for the Rwandan people, but not shedding any tears... by Chantal Laurent on Wednesday, Dec 5, 2012 at 8:45:29 AM
Have you ever been to Central Africa?... by Georgianne Nienaber on Wednesday, Dec 5, 2012 at 9:16:54 AM
No. And I've never been to Salem, Massachusetts du... by Chantal Laurent on Wednesday, Dec 5, 2012 at 9:56:28 AM
With US Blessing, Rwanda Backs M23 Rebels in Co... by Chantal Laurent on Wednesday, Dec 5, 2012 at 10:02:58 AM
There is absolutely no proof of this. Just chatter... by Georgianne Nienaber on Wednesday, Dec 5, 2012 at 10:20:32 AM
I've worked with activists for human rights in the... by Ezili Danto on Thursday, Dec 6, 2012 at 1:42:37 PM
I asked  a serious question. Experiences in e... by Georgianne Nienaber on Wednesday, Dec 5, 2012 at 10:30:52 AM
Back on topic: It's interesting that Susan Rice tr... by Chantal Laurent on Wednesday, Dec 5, 2012 at 10:57:06 AM
Chantal - The topic is that NO one has clean hands... by Bill Quam on Wednesday, Dec 5, 2012 at 12:11:53 PM
The difference between "us" and Susan Rice is not ... by Chantal Laurent on Wednesday, Dec 5, 2012 at 12:52:10 PM by Chantal Laurent on Wednesday, Dec 5, 2012 at 1:07:44 PM by Chantal Laurent on Wednesday, Dec 5, 2012 at 1:24:54 PM
To quote the iconic Glen Ford: A Second Wave of Ge... by Ezili Danto on Thursday, Dec 6, 2012 at 2:33:37 PM
I don't understand the psychology of the political... by Jim Arnold on Thursday, Dec 6, 2012 at 11:57:11 AM
There is no "liberal guilt" about it. Read the UN ... by Bill Quam on Thursday, Dec 6, 2012 at 1:21:39 PM
I am not familiar with the events in Congo and it ... by BFalcon on Thursday, Dec 6, 2012 at 2:00:11 AM
You are not alone in not understanding the genesis... by Georgianne Nienaber on Thursday, Dec 6, 2012 at 7:04:49 AM
Of the bias that the UN can have, given the (mis)p... by BFalcon on Thursday, Dec 6, 2012 at 10:44:01 AM
here is my archive at HPhttp://www.huffingtonpost.... by Georgianne Nienaber on Thursday, Dec 6, 2012 at 11:15:10 AM
A Second Wave of Genocide Looms in Congo... by Ezili Danto on Thursday, Dec 6, 2012 at 2:26:43 PM
However, I keep saying that I am interested in fir... by BFalcon on Thursday, Dec 6, 2012 at 9:01:02 PM
I believed in the Vietnam war "firsthand." I would... by Jim Arnold on Friday, Dec 7, 2012 at 1:53:52 AM
ASIA FOR THE ASIANS, AFRICA FOR THE AFRICANS... by George Wells on Wednesday, Dec 5, 2012 at 4:42:08 PM
I would advise to understand that  Georgianna... by Mark Sashine on Thursday, Dec 6, 2012 at 7:55:27 AM
  Be nice to each other. Act civilly.Sorry if... by Don Caldarazzo on Thursday, Dec 6, 2012 at 3:22:55 PM
American government has always had its "bad seeds"... by Corey Mondello on Thursday, Dec 6, 2012 at 8:01:47 AM
So you are anti-white over there I see.Distracting... by George Wells on Thursday, Dec 6, 2012 at 3:43:42 PM
Rwanda/Uganda invasions into the Congo for th... by Ezili Danto on Friday, Dec 7, 2012 at 1:34:08 AM