International police (Interpol) and the Rwanda National Police last week hosted a three-day experts conference on genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity under the theme: ‘Closing the impunity gap’.
Attended by the organisation’s president and secretary general as well as security officials from across the world, the conference deliberated on ways to see more Genocide fugitives brought to book. Stephano Carvelli, the Assistant Director at Interpol who also heads the Fugitive Investigative support unit based in Lyon France, spoke to The New Times’ Collins Mwai on tracking the suspects of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Excerpts
What were the aims and resolutions of the meeting?
We resolved to work closely to eliminate international crimes. This also means increased awareness and vigilance. The fact that there are units in charge of investigating international crimes, such as genocide, means that once the information is circulated to a country, there are experts and specific units that act as contact points with the authority to carry out investigations.
This is the 6th experts meeting and the first to be held in Rwanda, a country that experienced a terrible genocide. It is an indication that we are concerned with what happened here 20 years ago. The meeting is also a great step towards the initiatives we plan to undertake in the region in the next phase.
The Kigali conference is historical. This is because 20 years after the Genocide, Interpol, the largest police organisation in the world, is showing Rwandans that the world considers the fight against genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity as a priority.
So far, Interpol, at the request of the Rwandan government has issued about 200 Red Notices to facilitate the apprehension of Genocide fugitives holed up in different parts of the world. How exactly do Red Notices work?
Red Notices are an indication that there is a national authority that has issued an arrest warrant and because the suspect is out of the country, the judicial authority, through the Interpol national centre bureau, decides to circulate the information to member countries regarding that particular suspect so that they can be arrested wherever they are.
The process begins when the concerned country, for instance Rwanda, decides to extend the search for a suspect outside the country. This request is sent to the Interpol national centre bureau in Kigali who submit the request for a Red Notice in Lyon, France.
Once the Red Notice is issued, it means the information about the wanted person is circulated to the 190 member countries through the national centre bureau.
The Interpol fugitive investigative support sub-directorate, which I head, then gives a go ahead to all member countries to hunt down the suspect.
Once a Red Notice is issued, it is immediately forwarded to the national authorities in the country of possible destination. All the member countries are requested to cooperate and provide more information, even if a country is not listed as one of the possible destinations of the fugitive.
Out of the 200 Notices issued, only 40 have been honoured. It must be a challenging task to track down the fugitives.
There is a challenge of locating fugitives. Locating the fugitive calls for serious investigations.
Then when the possible location of a fugitive has been provided, investigators have a task of verifying whether the fugitive is indeed where they are reported to be, they could have shifted base.
Forty arrests of persons that were on the run since 1994 is a milestone for us because tracking down a fugitive that has committed a crime recently is much easier than tracking down a fugitive who disappeared 20 years ago.
This is because the long period has enabled fugitives find shelter, process fake documents, change their identity or even change their face.
As for international crimes, Interpol is still pursuing Nazi fugitives who massacred Jews and other fugitives in the former Yugoslavia who committed heinous activities more than 20 years ago. But all these pose similar challenges because its a long period of time that has elapsed.
It is also difficult to gather evidence for a crime committed 20 years ago because it might have been destroyed.
However, the role of Interpol is to facilitate the collection and finding of information even when it regards a person who disappeared 20 years ago.
How would you rate the level of International cooperation in fugitive apprehension?
All Interpol member countries have expressed commitment in tracking down fugitives for serious international crimes. The fact that we are now organising experts meetings and training to build capacity in investigating serious international crimes is a demonstration of the commitment on the part of member countries.
Besides the police activity and cooperation which Interpol is responsible for, there are other authorities like the ministries of justice that play a part in the extradition of suspects. Sometimes the process takes long because of the different actors involved. But the fact is that police cooperation in this area is strong and growing.
The cooperation we have is commendable and all member countries are now committed to tracking down genocidaires.
Would you say the same thing in regard to France?
We recently had the conviction of Pascal Sibikangwa in France. It was a historical moment in the conviction of a genocidaire in France. He was one of the persons whom we issued a Red Notice and thanks to information provided from Kigali and law enforcement in France, he was arrested and convicted.
This, to me, is a strong signal of France’s cooperation in supporting the fight against perpetrators of genocide and crimes against humanity.
I am convinced that all member countries are doing their best to investigate, prosecute and track down war criminals.
In your view, is Interpol’s performance impressive?
I have monitored and registered an increase in activities like the recent conviction in France for genocidaires and the recent extradition from Norway of Charles Bandora, arrest of the masterminds indicted by ICTR like Kalisa Nzabonimana, Bernard Munyagishari, among others. These are great milestones in the apprehension of genocidaires.
What do you think has facilitated the arrests made so far?
The apprehension of people behind the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi has been facilitated by the cooperation and engagement of all law enforcement authorities around the world and in countries where the fugitives have been located. It has supported the investigation and hunt for the fugitives.
Interpol has a newly formed unit for tracking down fugitives. What will be the new unit’s mandate?
Interpol decided to reinforce the unit that is now the fugitives investigative support unit. This unit has been in existence since 2004. Reinforcing it means making it larger and more efficient. Since 2004, Interpol has worked not only in tracking down fugitives but also supporting member countries in investigating war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The goal of the new unit is to expand the mandate not only to track down fugitives but also to support ongoing investigation on genocide and crimes against humanity.
Is Interpol in any way involved in prosecution of the arrested fugitives?
Interpol is a facilitator for law enforcement. It means that we facilitate the contact and exchange of information with police officers across the world. We are not involved in prosecution. We are only involved in tracking down suspects who are indicted and a warrant has been issued at the international level. We also help in investigation where need be.
We are, therefore, only involved in the locating, tracking down and when it is possible and there is a legal framework, we facilitate information regarding extradition.
What can guarantee Interpol and member countries a higher success rate in apprehension?
The key success of this process will depend on the exchange of information and the engagement of all possible law enforcement agencies.
The fact that people have been arrested after several years on the run is a credit to the national prosecuting authorities in Rwanda, ICTR, to the mechanism of international tribunals, to the Rwandan police, and to the Interpol fugitive support and Interpol as an organisation.
We have a specific unit that is dedicated towards the fight against genocidaires. It is called Rwanda Genocide fugitives project. It was created a shortwhile ago and it is one of our priorities. Our objective is to see all fugitives apprehended.