Towards the end of 2006, the then Minister for Foreign Affairs held a meeting with all foreign envoys accredited to Kigali, a meeting at which she unveiled a list of 93 fugitives wanted for their role in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
This event marked the beginning of a vigorous manhunt for persons responsible for the Genocide, most of whom former leaders in government, church or in the business community, who had sought safe haven in different countries across the world.
Having been the so-called elite, most used money they plundered from state coffers or looted from their victims, to flee to far-flung countries.
Though there had previously been some arrests and trials – like in Belgium— the 2006 meeting would mark the beginning of the journey to see justice done in terms of apprehending the fugitives and either put them on trial or extradite them to Rwanda.
The list that was presented to the diplomats was fully backed by indictments for the concerned fugitives, and in some cases, with full addresses and the assumed names used by the fugitives.
This was followed by the establishment in 2007, of a specialised unit in charge of tracking fugitives within the National Public Prosecution Authority, the Genocide Fugitives Tracking Unit (GFTU).
As of today, the unit has issued indictments against 196 fugitives to 30 countries, while other indictments, especially where the suspects’ whereabouts are unknown, have been served to Interpol.
Twenty years after the Genocide, some may contend that not much has been done, on the basis that Rwanda’s primary position has been to have the fugitives extradited, to ensure that Rwandans see justice being dispensed.
Since the establishment of the unit, there has been one extradition, at least technically, of Charles Bandora from Norway, and several deportations, including that of Leon Mugesera from Canada.
Other deportations were registered from the US and Uganda.
A Genocide survivor who spoke to The New Times and requested to remain anonymous to be able to speak freely, said that for him, it is the case of justice delayed, on account that after 20 years, the suspects are aging, so are the survivors, not to mention the fading evidence against them.
“It does not make sense seeing villagers who acted on whims of the elite being tried, serving their sentences (and actually many have since returned to communities and live with us in harmony), while those who masterminded the killings have remained scot-free and unrepentant,” the man, who survived from Bugesera, said in an interview.
Yet prosecutors have a slightly different view.
“Basing just on the extraditions would be unfair; there were over 100,000 suspects in Rwandan prisons, whose cases needed to be disposed of before we could turn to the fugitives,” said John Bosco Siboyintore, the head of GFTU.
Indeed for government, before convincing the international community that Rwanda is a bona fide destination of these cases, there was need for an overhaul in the legal infrastructure, including decongesting prison facilities.
The government also had to enact a special law allowing incentives to Genocide suspects to be extradited for trial in Rwanda, including having a specialised chamber at the high court where they are tried.
The ICTR blow
Rwanda’s prosecution was dealt a blow by a decision of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), to deny a request by the court’s prosecutor seeking to commit some cases to Rwanda, with the tribunal ruling that there were limited guarantees the suspects would get fair trial.
Subsequent to this ruling, some of the fugitives who had been arrested in Europe pending extradition were set free, a case in point being the release of four men by the United Kingdom.
Further amendment of the “special law” later convinced the tribunal to finally allow sending cases to Rwanda and now two of them — Jean Uwinkindi and Bernard Munyagishari — are on trial in Rwandan courts.
The tribunal has also sent six cases involving fugitives at large to Rwanda for prosecution.
European Court mileage
The decision by ICTR was followed shortly by another landmark ruling by the European Court of Human and Peoples Rights (ECHPR) which, after being petitioned by Genocide fugitive Sylvaire Ahorugeze, ruled that Rwandan courts have the competence to conduct free and fair trials.
Ahorugeze made a last-ditch attempt at the ECHPR after all courts in Sweden ruled in favour of his extradition to Rwanda. He has since sneaked out of Sweden and remains scot-free.
This ruling would later form the basis for the deportation of Mugesera from Canada, which brought to an end a protracted judicial and political battle put up by the historian, against his deportation to Rwanda to answer charges against him.
However, not much has been done by most of the countries that are habouring the fugitives in ensuring they are brought to book.
France, with over two dozen indicted fugitives on its soil, has for years been seen as a den for Genocide fugitives. It’s only last month that Paris started a marathon trial of Pascal Simbikangwa, who ended up with a 25-year jail sentence.
A military intelligence guru within the echelons of the genocidal regime, Simbikangwa had first been arrested in a French-affiliated island years back on charges of fraud and then released. Yet he would later become the first person to be tried and convicted for a role in the Genocide against the Tutsi by the French judiciary.
Try or extradite
Despite the government’s stance of prioritising extradition over having trials conducted by foreign jurisdiction, cautious hope followed the trial of Simbikangwa which has been termed as groundbreaking.
“This is a first step in the right direction. There are countless others still free in France, living in plain sight of French authorities, despite the fact that France has indictments and international arrest warrants from Rwanda,” Prosecutor General Richard Muhumuza told The New Times in an interview.
The Prosecutor General’s concerns are further justified by the different seemingly contradicting decisions taken by French courts, the most ridiculous being the setting free of Ex-Far Colonel Laurent Serubuga last year on the premise that genocide for which he was indicted was not punishable in the Rwandan Penal Code during the time he allegedly committed or conspired to commit it in 1994.
“These suspects must be extradited to Rwanda or France must prosecute them. It is only when this happens that our confidence in France will be restored, we will never stop pursuing either extraditions or prosecutions,” he says.
Among the key suspects living in France is former First Lady Agathe Kanziga.
According to Muhumuza, Kigali would have no problem with host countries arresting and prosecuting the suspects themselves.
“While it is desirable that Rwanda tries the suspects because it was the scene of their alleged crimes, other countries too have a duty to prosecute them once they are physically found on their territorial jurisdictions,”
Ironically, whereas there has been progress in prevailing on the fugitives found in Europe mainly, there has not been much effort on the African continent.
The time the initial indictments were issued, a number of fugitives were cited to be in southern African countries like Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.
According to prosecution, the only African country to have put significant effort in bringing to book the fugitives on its soil is Uganda, which arrested and extradited to Rwanda two people. Uganda has also transferred suspects to the ICTR.
Twenty years down the road, many masterminds of the Genocide have continued to evade justice, where some have actually openly used their sanctuary to continue mobilising resources to sponsor subversive activities on Rwandan territory.
A case in point is Callixte Mbarushimana, the executive secretary of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a DR Congo-based militia largely blamed for the Genocide. His last known address was France, and he has on several occasions given media interviews.
Mbarushimana is a former employee of the UNDP in Kigali, who during the Genocide, used UN logistics to facilitate militias to kill not only his Tutsi colleagues, but also attack several neighbourhoods in Kigali.
Netherlands tried two cases:
* Joseph Mpambara was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2011
* Yvonne Ntacyobatabara got six years and 8 months. They are both serving their sentences in the Netherlands.
Finland tried one
* Bazaramba Francois was tried and convicted to life imprisonment sentence in Finland.
Cases pending extradition decisions
* Five cases in the UK
* Dr Vincent Bajinya
* Celestin Mutabaruka
* Charles Munyaneza
* Celestin Ugirashebuja
* Emmanuel Nteziryayo
Two cases in Netherlands
* Jean Claude Iyamuremye
* Jean Baptiste Mugimba
One case in Denmark
* Emmanuel Mbarushimana a.k.a Kunda Emmanuel
One case in Norway
* Eugene Nkuranyabahizi
* In August 2010 Uganda deported Augustin Nkundabazungu to Rwanda and in December 2010,it deported Jean-Pierre Kwitonda.
* In June 2011, Pastor Jean Uwinkindi was the first ICTR detainee to be transferred to Rwanda; he is being tried in Rwanda.
* In October 2011, the European Court of Human Rights decided, in the case of Ahorugeze v Sweden, that genocide suspects could be extradited to Rwanda.
* In 2012, Marie-Claire Mukeshimana was deported from the United States, and in 2011, Jean Marie-Vianney Mudahinyuka was sent back from the US.
* Leon Mugesera deported from Canada to Rwanda on 23rd January 2012.
* In March 2013, Charles Bandora was extradited from Norway to Rwanda, the first ever extradition.
* In July 2013, Bernard Munyagishari was transferred from the ICTR to Rwanda.