Is Europe a safe haven for Rwandan mass killers? This is the question I ask myself every day.
Unfortunately, given the facts on the ground, the sad truth is ‘yes!’ I will try to explain why.
Nobody really knows their exact numbers, but they are everywhere – in cities, in towns, in remote villages, where they have managed to hoodwink hosts who have received them with open arms.
I had thought that genocide was a crime against humanity. I thought that all nations of the world would stand together to try to prevent it happening again. I thought they would want to punish perpetrators regardless of where the crimes had been committed.
What has been particularly shocking to me, as a genocide survivor, is to see how little interest many countries, including Britain, have in arresting suspected genocidaires living within their borders.
The majority of suspects accused of major involvement in the 1994 genocide – in which Hutu extremists killed an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and several thousand Hutus opposed to extremism – are on the most wanted list of the Rwandan Government and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR – see box overleaf).
Britain is currently thought to be sheltering some 19 major suspects. Four of them, Vincent Bajinya (who has changed his name to Vincent Brown), Celestin Ugirashebuja, Emmanuel Nteziryayo and Charles Munyaneza were arrested in England in 2006 on suspicion of ‘killing, or conspiring with or aiding and abetting others to kill, members of the Tutsi ethnic group with the intent to destroy in whole, or in part, that group’.1
Presented with a substantial body of evidence, the then-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith authorized their extradition to stand trial in Rwanda.
But in April 2009 the High Court in London overturned her decision and set free the men, who were able to return to their families and continue living in Britain.
Genocide survivors, the Rwandan Government and many international organizations were left baffled and angered.
In their ruling, the appeal judges declared: ‘We conclude that if [the four suspects] were extradited to face trial in the High Court in Rwanda, the appellants would suffer a risk of a flagrant denial of justice by reason of their likely inability to adduce the evidence of supporting witnesses.’1
This has been contested by Phil Clark and Nicola Palmer of the University of Oxford’s Transitional Justice Research (OTJR), who argue that their research in Rwanda over the last six years ‘shows that most defence witnesses are willing to testify in genocide hearings. The quality of justice delivered through Rwanda’s courts has increased markedly during this period.’2
The option of trying the men in a British court was not available due to a legal loophole. Britain’s relevant genocide legislation, passed in 2001, was not made retroactive to 1994 when the Rwandan genocide took place.
Meanwhile, another loophole in British law relating to residence prevented many suspects from being extradited. Suspects had to be officially resident in Britain to be extradited on genocide charges. Many are not. They either have other types of visa or are seeking asylum.
However, following the release of the four accused – Brown, Ugirashebuja, Nteziryayo and Munyaneza – in London last year, the campaign groups Redress, African Rights and Aegis stepped up their efforts to get the law changed – with some success.
In July 2009 the Government decided to apply the jurisdiction of British courts to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes retrospectively to 1 January 1991. Then in October 2009 the loophole relating to residency was tightened and the definition of residency clarified. The new laws came into force on 6 April this year.
This means that, in theory, Brown, Ugirashebuja, Nteziryayo and Munyaneza could now face trial in Britain. It remains to be seen whether Britain uses these new powers to see justice done, but it is likely that Rwanda will request extradition again.
There are numerous other cases lying dormant in UK police files that could have been acted upon had the new laws been in place earlier.
‘What should happen now,’ says Nick Donovan of the campaign group Aegis, ‘is that police go back over existing files of suspects and reopen their cases.’
‘Our worry is that the police lack the resources to carry out this work. The war-crime team of one or two police also has to do anti-terrorism work, which is considered more urgent.’
Justice campaigners are calling for more resources to be directed to pursuing genocide suspects. They are also calling for a specialist war crimes unit (which existed to pursue Nazi war criminals) to be recreated in Britain. ‘We think the situation warrants a specialist team of experts,’ says Nick Donovan. Sweden, Belgium, Norway, Canada and the US all have such teams.
Across the channel in France, Rwandan genocidaires have been able to exploit a culture of impunity with even greater ease.
Though their exact number is not known, many of the suspects are on the Interpol Red Notice list. In some instances the French authorities – and the clergy – have done everything possible to assist in the settlement of suspects. Persistent calls by the Rwandan Government and organizations of genocide survivors have been ignored.
It beggars belief to see how much energy the French authorities have put into forcibly removing Afghan and Iraqi asylum seekers from the Calais ‘Jungle Camp’ formerly known as Sangatte, while tacitly allowing hard-core Rwandan Hutu extremists accused of the most heinous crimes against humanity to settle in France.
Among the high-profile suspects living in France is Agathe Habyarimana (aka Kanziga), the widow of the late Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana – whose death in a plane crash on 6 April 1994 triggered the 100-day carnage.
Although she is on the list of suspected ‘first category genocidaires’, Agathe Habyarimana has lived peacefully in a suburb of Paris since 1994. She was denied leave to remain, but the French authorities have so far been unwilling to extradite her.
In March this year, following a visit by President Nicolas Sarkozy to Rwanda, she was arrested on a Rwanda-issued international arrest warrant on suspicion of helping to mastermind the genocide. She was later released on bail.3
Another big fish living in France is Callixte Mbarushimana. He is accused of crimes of genocide by his former colleagues at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Kigali, where he worked. Mbarushimana is alleged to have directed and participated in the murder of 32 people – including UN employees he was hired to protect.4
After the genocide, Mbarushimana went to Angola where he continued to work for the UNDP, until he was laid off when the charges against him became known. In spite of this, he was later enrolled as a UN staffer in Kosovo. Again, the accusations against him came to light and he was discharged in 2001 – but then went on to claim $47,635 compensation from the UN for unfair dismissal.
On 5 March 2009, the UN Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Committee for Sanctions put him on the list of people barred from travelling under UN Resolution 1857. Mbarushimana is also accused of serious crimes against humanity in his role as Secretary General of the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) which is currently wreaking havoc in the eastern DRC.
The FDLR is an offshoot of the former Rwandan government forces accused of being at the helm of the 1994 genocide. After their defeat by Tutsi rebels from the now ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), they fled to Congo where they reincarnated themselves as the FDLR. The latter are accused of mass atrocities including killings and rapes of thousands of women.
In November last year a UN report established a direct link between the FDLR and its political leadership in Europe, and its chairman and vice-president were arrested in Germany. Callixte Mbarushimana stepped into the breach to become the organization’s de facto world leader.
Other key suspects who have found safe havens – and jobs – in France include two medical doctors, Eugène Rwamucyo and Sosthène Munyemana. Both are alleged to have been among the top ringleaders of massacres of Tutsi in Butare, Southern Rwanda.
Rwamucyo was even able to get a leading French politician, Thierry Lazaro of the ruling UMP, to intercede on his behalf with Sarkozy’s cabinet minister to obtain papers enabling him to work in French hospitals.5
He continued to work in the French health system until last October, when a nurse working in the same hospital in Mauberge discovered that Rwamucyo was wanted for genocide crimes.
The second doctor, Sosthène Munyemana has been described in the UN and other post-genocide investigations as a close protégé and ideological partner of the Hutu-power leader Jean Kambanda.
Residing in France since the genocide, Munyemana was employed as a doctor in the emergency room of a Bordeaux hospital until his arrest, made at the request of Rwanda, in January this year. He was released on bail and denies the charges against him.6
Others currently in France and wanted by Interpol include the former Governor of Gikongoro, Laurent Bucyibaruta, who is accused of training and arming others to kill around 45,000 Tutsi at Murambi Technical School and in other parts of the province. Father Wenceslas Munyeshyeka, who was parish priest of Sainte Famille Church in the heart of the capital Kigali in 1994, is accused of genocide, rape, murder and extermination.
A hopeful thaw
Frosty relations between Rwanda and France – which was accused of sponsoring the former Hutu regime that carried out the genocide – have not helped the struggle for justice.
Matters were not improved when French judge Jean-Louis Burguière issued arrest warrants against high-ranking officials of the current Rwandan Patriotic Front Government that came to power after routing the genocidal forces. Rwanda responded by breaking off diplomatic relations with France.
Meanwhile, calls by Rwandan genocide survivors of the Collectif des Parties Civiles pour le Rwanda (CPCR) for France to arrest suspected genocidaires have fallen on deaf ears.
But in recent months there has been a change of mood within the French administration and diplomatic relations between France and Rwanda have been restored. A visit to Kigali by Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in January was followed a month later by a visit by President Nicolas Sarkozy, during which he admitted that France – and the wider international community – had made ‘mistakes’ over the genocide.3
In a surprise move, the French authorities have indicated that they intend to set up a new panel to try cases of genocide committed in France or abroad. Kouchner and justice minister Michèle Alliot-Marie have been quoted as saying that the legislation to set up the new court within the Paris High Court will be made public in the next six months. We shall see.
I sometimes wonder whether one genocide has the same importance as another
Other countries such as Belgium, Switzerland and Sweden have shown less tolerance towards Rwandan genocide suspects. Since 2001, Belgian courts have put on trial a number of suspects, including two nuns. Meanwhile, Canada stands out as taking a leading role in arresting and putting on trial some of the fugitives hiding there.
But there are still many suspects living unperturbed in European countries. Some of these suspects even harass genocide survivors exiled in these countries and propagate the same anti-Tutsi ideology that was behind the genocide.
I sometimes wonder whether one genocide has the same importance as another. In light of the facts presented above, it seems to me that in the eyes of the world the Tutsi genocide counts for less. I was surprised, a few months ago, at the way in which the US and Germany hastened the arrest and trial of retired US car-worker John Demjanjuk for his alleged role in Nazi massacres. Why is the world not acting with the same decisiveness in apprehending Rwandan genocide suspects?
The 1994 Tutsi genocide took place in broad daylight. It has been blamed on the culture of impunity that characterized Rwanda for decades. In letting off the hook the many perpetrators living in exile, the international community will have failed to honour its post-Holocaust pledge of ‘never again’.
The ICTR, which was to complete this year, has been extended until 2012. The international community still has a chance to prove that it is not indifferent to bringing to justice the mass murderers currently finding refuge abroad. We genocide survivors will be watching.
ICTR - at a glance
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was established by the United Nations Security Council in order to judge people responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Located in Arusha, Tanzania, the Tribunal has so far convicted 41 persons and acquitted eight.
Those prosecuted include senior political and military figures, as well as influential persons in the media and clergy, and a songwriter who was found guilty of assisting the genocide.
The tribunal has set certain precedents in law, including the recognition of rape as a war crime and, when specifically targeted against a certain ethnic group, a crime of genocide.
The ICTR is not without its critics. Some argue that it has been overly influenced by the Washington-based Human Rights Watch organization, which has questioned the ability of Rwanda’s justice system to ensure a fair trail. This in turn has hampered extradition processes.
For its part, Human Rights Watch, while praising the work of the Tribunal, has criticized its prosecutor for failing to bring charges against members of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (which became the Rwandan Army) who had been implicated in war crimes.
- Frances Gibb, ‘High Court halts extradition of four men wanted for Rwanda genocide’, The Times, 9 April 2009.
- Phil Clark and Nicola Palmer, ‘The International Community Fails Rwanda Again’, Oxford Transitional Justice Research Working Paper Series, 5 May 2009.
- BBC, ‘Rwanda president’s widow held in France over genocide,’ 2 March 2010, http://news.bbc.co.uk/
- Michael Montgomery and Stephen Smith, ‘The UN Betrayal, American Radio Works, http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/rwanda/segb1.html
- Ségolène Royal, ‘France-Rwanda des relations complexes : Eugène Rwamucyo, le symptôme’, 22 October 2009, http://www.lepost.fr/
- R Marquand, ‘France arrests Doctor Accused in Rwanda Genocide’, The Christian Science Monitor, 21 January, 2010.
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