Government has expressed frustration over the release by French court of Genocide suspect Col. Laurent Serubuga, wanted in Rwanda in connection with the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Serubuga, who was the deputy chief of staff of the genocidal forces was arrested near the northern French city of Cambrai in July under an international arrest warrant issued by Kigali.
But French court on Thursday rejected Rwanda’s request for his extradition and ordered his immediate release.
In rejecting the extradition request, the court in Douai in northern France, said Serubuga, 77, cannot be prosecuted for genocide since the crime did not exist in the Rwandan criminal code when the atrocities were committed.
It also rejected charges of murder against Serubuga, saying the arrest warrant was issued more than 10 years after the alleged crimes, so it was beyond the statute of limitations.
Reacting to the release yesterday, the Minister for Justice, Johnston Busigye, said, “We are shocked, but certainly not surprised, by how easy it must have been to commit genocide in Rwanda in 1994, escape to France and be shielded under French justice. That system seems to excel in legal innovation meant to block any attempt to hold Genocide suspects to account.”
Prosecutors in Serubuga’s case have said they will appeal the decision.
“We continue to hope that someday French law and justice will acknowledge the Genocide and its suspected masterminds holed in France who continue to enjoy the same freedom and comfort as free French citizens enjoy, while their victims still cry for justice, two decades later,” the minister added.
In a statement, head of a French-based rights group, Collective of Civil Parties for Rwanda, Alain Gautier, said it’s the 15th or 16th time that France had turned down an extradition to Rwanda.
“By refusing to extradite, the judges did not say the charges are unfounded: they simply state that the defendant will not have a fair trial in Rwanda,” reads a statement from Collective of Civil Parties for Rwanda.
Gautier noted that Serubuga was a very important figure during the Genocide.
France has repeatedly refused to extradite Genocide suspects to Rwanda, but has sent some to Tanzania to face trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, yet the same Tribunal has made transfers of Genocide suspects to Rwanda.
Serubuga was part of a group of officers known as “The Juvenal Habyarimana comrades of July 5, 1973,” who had helped him overthrow former President Kayibanda.
As such, argues Gauthier, Serubuga “had a great influence before the Genocide” and “very close to Habyarimana, he is one of the brains behind the killings.”
The lawyer representing Rwanda’s interests, Gilles Paruelle, also said he was not surprised by the decision as France had previously rejected several similar extradition requests.
There are currently about 20 Genocide-related cases pending in French courts.
The Court of Appeal of Paris in 2011 rejected the extradition of Agathe Habyarimana, the widow of the former Rwandan president Habyarimana. In 2010, it refused to extradite Eugene Rwamucyo, a Rwandan doctor.
In 2014, France will start trial of Pascal Simbikangwa, another Genocide suspect who was arrested in Mayotte in 2008.