A recently released report by the Rwandan government accusing France of having a role in the 1994 Rwanda Genocide, is a crucial step for Rwanda , let alone Africa.
The report accuses thirty-three French politicians, officials and soldiers, including former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and the late former president Francois Mitterrand, of playing major roles in the genocide.
Such allegations are extremely meaningful in light of this year’s recent events.
In its World Report in January 2008, Human Rights Watch (HRW) claimed that the Rwandan government was still “struggling with the consequences of the genocide”.
It took issue with the Gacaca jurisdiction in which the accused have no right to counsel and claimed that the popularity of Gacaca had declined following numerous cases of “faulty procedures, judicial corruption and false accusation”.
Gacaca is an indigenous form of restorative justice in Rwanda.
HRW’s report released in July, entitled Progress and Judicial Reform in Rwanda, was little more satisfying.
Despite acknowledgements that there have been noteworthy achievements in the delivery of justice in the last five years, the report claimed that “the technical and formal improvements in laws and administrative structure have not been matched by gains in independence in the judiciary and assurance of rights to a fair trial”.
The judiciary is said to be dominated by the executive and that official antipathy to views diverging from those of the government and its dominant party hamper the full realization of the potential of the reforms.
Allegedly, basic fair trial rights are not fully assured, including the right to presumption of innocence, the right to humane conditions of detention and the right to freedom from torture.
The report also argued that Rwandan political considerations have made it practically impossible for victims of crimes committed by Rwanda Patriotic Army soldiers in 1994 to receive justice.
The ICTR Trial Chambers took a similar position as they have consistently been denying the transferal of certain accused to Rwandan national jurisdiction, agreeing with HRW’s statement that “at this time, the independence of the courts and the assurance of fair trials are too limited”.
Requests for the transfer of Kanyarubiga’s case, as well as of Munyakazi and Hategekimana, were denied.
The Judges were not satisfied that the accused would have received a fair trial and, if sentenced to life imprisonment, the accused might have faced solitary confinement.
In such a context, accusing the French government of involvement in the 1994 genocide is a very meaningful political statement.
The head of HRW claimed that the accusation deliberately coincided with international pressure on Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front to bring to trial those RPA soldiers accused of crimes in 1994.
The investigative journalist Linda Melvern, on the other hand, argued that the report was far too serious to be “a sort of tit-for-tat as part of a diplomatic spat”. She added that “this is a European army being accused of human rights abuses in Africa.
It thus needs careful consideration by international human rights groups”.
But here lies the paradox. International human rights groups deem that the country’s judicial system is not ready to try the most important persons accused of Genocide.
Yet, Rwanda releases a report officially accusing another country’s government of participation in the genocide.
This is a serious matter and the message is clear enough. Indeed, Rwanda’s Minister of Justice Tharcisse Karugarama warned that “this report is not just going to lie down but it’s going to be used to help bring to justice people that were involved in committing Genocide”.
He said that his country would try to press charges in an international body.
Rwanda is asking that the concept of “Challenging Impunity”, which has been the ICTR’s motto, be applicable to all, including western powers.
Rwanda is asking the international community to bring those accused of genocide to trial, in this case French officials, in the same way that the international community has been urging Rwanda to try the accused RPA soldiers.
The Rwandan government is making a point; no one must escape accountability.
As Linda Melvern said, “What is needed here is the release of a lot of information”. For instance, regarding the assassination on April the 6th of Juvenile Habyarimana, the former president of Rwanda.
She claimed that “It’s incredible that two African presidents were assassinated that night over the skies of Kigali and that there’s been no international inquiry. Had it been two European presidents assassinated, there would have been an immediate inquiry”.
The journalist told Democracy Now that she believed certain western governments, including France, the US, and Belgium, are holding back information.
Beyond the question of whether the French government will be held responsible in the events of 1994, the way the international community will respond to the report might prove to be a turning point in African politics.