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

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Georgianne Nienaber       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   32 comments

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill Magazine, the Huffington (more...)

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