France sanctions Genocide arrest, extradition
Dramatic events have taken place in France over the last few weeks as the country continues to feature prominently among the nations that have frustrated efforts to bring to book fugitives of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
Paris stands accused of blocking justice with regard to the horrific events that occurred in Rwanda 18 years ago or at least reacting with indifference to efforts aimed at apprehending and prosecuting the perpetrators of the most heinous crimes of the 20th century.
As if to coincide with this year’s commemoration of the Genocide, France, toward the end of last week, arrested Venuste Nyombayire, a former director of SOS-Gisenyi, a child-centred international organisation.
He was arrested on an international warrant issued by Rwanda in November 2011.
He is, among others, accused of playing a direct role in the killing of dozens of children who had been evacuated from SOS-Kigali to the Gisenyi centre in western Rwanda, at the height of the Genocide.
Earlier, in the same week, an appeals court of Rouen, France, upheld a lower court’s ruling, sanctioning the extradition to Rwanda of Claude Muhayimana – another Genocide suspect – after it concluded that “Rwandan courts were able to provide the fundamental guarantees of procedure and protection of rights of defence in accordance with the French conception of international public policy.”
“We welcome these efforts but it does not excite us,” said Martin Ngoga, Rwanda’s Prosecutor General. “We have witnessed similar arrests before, which did not necessarily result in justice.”
And, a few days before, a dramatic incident played out in the corridors of the French judiciary, after the mysterious reappearance of an extradition file for another fugitive, Hyacinthe Rafiki Nsengiyumva, which had disappeared late last year under unexplained circumstances.
No valid explanation was given to clear the air.
A former minister of public works, Rafiki is accused of spearheading the Genocide in the former Gisenyi prefecture, western Rwanda, and the disappearance of the dossier halted extradition proceedings. A new date for another hearing is yet to be fixed.
France, which was a close ally of the genocidal regime and had a couple of its own senior political and military leaders implicated in the killings, has over the past three years attempted to improve relations with Kigali, at least diplomatically.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is seeking re-election, visited Rwanda in February 2010 where he admitted to France’s “grave errors of judgment” in the wake of the Genocide, but fell short of giving an apology.
And in a reciprocal gesture, President Paul Kagame, in September, 2011, visited France where he said both countries were more committed to the future than the past.
That future, however, did not mean that the new “mutual cooperation” between Kigali and Paris was designed to ignore the past. Indeed, many Rwandans believed that the renewed ties between the two countries would result in France actively supporting efforts to bring Genocide perpetrators to book.
Yet, there appears to be a huge gap between the stated intentions by the French political leadership and the decisions of the country’s judiciary, which is yet to successfully prosecute a Genocide suspect or effect any extradition to Rwanda.
“Justice and diplomacy are not mutually exclusive; it’s discouraging and frustrating that France is probably doing worse than other western countries although it is home to the biggest number of key masterminds,” said a Kigali based lawyer.
Diplomatic relations between Kigali and Paris hit rock bottom late 2006 after a French judge, Jean Louis Bruguiere leveled dubious charges against senior Rwandan officials. Based largely on the testimonies of Kigali opponents and exiled members of the genocidal machinery, Bruguiere accused RPF of carrying out the deadly April 6, 1994 attack that killed then president Juvenal Habyarimana.
But that version, often espoused by Genocide deniers and revisionists, and individuals opposed to the government of President Kagame, was shattered by the findings of another French inquiry, led by judges Judge’s Marc Trevidic and Natalie Poux, which indicated in January that the missiles that brought down the Falcon 50 jet, were fired from the Kanombe military camp, which was heavily guarded by Habyarimana’s elite units.
Notably, the same finding had been the conclusion of Rwanda’s own Mutsinzi inquiry, released in January 2010, which blamed extremist Hutu elements which were opposed to power-sharing talks with the RPF.
The latest developments in France particularly come at a time when Rwanda is marking the 18th anniversary of the over a million of its citizens butchered in the 100-day bloodletting.
Speaking during the main commemoration event in Kigali, on Saturday, President Kagame, made reference to the West’s continued reluctance to help arrest well-known Genocide fugitives, saying that even when arrests are made, the suspects are released shortly after.
“Yet when acts of terrorism are committed against their people, the whole world is mobilised, in fact sometimes forced to join in the search of those criminals so that they can be brought to justice,” the President told mourners at Amahoro stadium.
Rwanda, through its Genocide Fugitives Tracking Unit (GFTU), has indicted scores of Genocide suspects, with little success, as most of them continue to move freely on the streets of mainly Western countries.
President Kagame said instead of cooperating in dispensing justice, some countries have gone on to provide platforms to Genocide suspects and revisionists to insult the survivors and Rwandans in general, in pursuit of their genocidal ideology.
A few weeks ago, French investigators bounced in Kigali after Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga protested at the fact that the more than 30 previous visits translated into little or no action.
Among the most sought fugitives on the French soil is former first lady, Agathe Kanziga Habyarimana, who was temporarily arrested in 2010, but later released.
Kanziga is believed to have been a key figure in the creation of a small clique of the extremists, Akazu, which is blamed for hatching the genocidal plan.
Also in France is the former priest of Kigali’s St Famille parish, Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, who was convicted in absentia by a Rwandan court, for his direct role in killing of Tutsis at different locations during the Genocide.
Munyeshyaka is believed to have remained in active service as a priest, even after receiving a life sentence in Kigali.
Ngoga refused to acknowledge there was a total shift in France’s approach with regard to Genocide cases, only stating that there had been discussions between the two sides in the recent past.
“They have had very disappointing performance which led to some disagreements. But the most recent discussions are such that we may expect improvement in the way they handle Genocide cases.”
But he remained cautious. “You will recall that in the past they have arrested some suspects but with no tangible results. They have given us their word, and we will see how it works.”
Both the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the European Court of Human Rights have ruled that suspects can be sent to Rwanda to stand trial.
In fact, ICTR has already referred three cases to Rwanda, with one of the suspects, Jean Uwinkindi, expected in Kigali this month, following last week’s ruling related to a trial monitoring mechanism.
In January, Canada deported Leon Mugesera, who gave a highly ethically charged speech in 1992 calling on the Hutus to exterminate the Tutsi. His trial is set to commence next month.
Contact email: felly.kimenyi[at]newtimes.co.rw