It is a chilly evening in downtown Kigali, at the former Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where diplomats are engaged in small talk amongst themselves, others are chatting with a few government officials, a glass of drink in hand.
Many of the government officials in the room are from the justice sector.
Then, the then foreign minister strolls into the room and gets straight to business; a document is circulated to members of the diplomatic corps and everybody immediately pores over it.
This was some time in 2006 and the document in question, contained 93 names of fugitives of the Genocide against the Tutsi; some with addresses where they are presumed to be, while for some of the fugitives, their assumed names and nick-names.
The addresses of the individuals listed stretched from Africa, Europe, North America to as far as the Antarctica.
This list was arguably the first extensive work by the Rwandan prosecution in as regards pursuing masterminds of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi who, using loot from the state coffers and their victims, had fled as far from Rwanda as possible to avoid capture.
It had been put together by a team of no more than two prosecutors who formed what was called the Mobile Group, which operated under the Prosecutor General, with an uphill task to track and bring to book Genocide fugitives.
This office a year later expanded to a fully-fledged semi-autonomous unit; the Genocide Fugitives Tracking Unit (GFTU).
The list circulated 12 years ago has since grown and translated to nearly 900 indictments sent to 33 countries.
According to information from the unit, some 39 of these suspects have been tried either in Rwanda or in foreign jurisdictions and were sentenced to varying sentences while for others, cases are still ongoing.
This, however, is a drop in the ocean, prosecutors say, when you compare to the 900 that have been indicted not to mention others that are simply still at large.
Matters are also not helped with the years that are going – twenty-four years - because these fugitives are getting old, so are the survivors who want to see justice done, and the evidence itself is depleted.
“Imagine a person who committed genocide at 60, they are now over 80 years and may never see justice, much as it also does not help him dying a wanted genocidaire,” said Jean Bosco Mutangana, the Prosecutor General.
He said that in a few years, most will either be too senile or will be dead, a sentiment shared by the Minister for Justice, Johnston Busingye.
“Although the crimes don’t age, people age and die. Dying without facing justice is impunity in a way. In another way, however, there will always be a judgement and conviction against them in the court of public opinion,” says Busingye.
They will die as genocide fugitives who died in hiding rather than face justice, he says, adding that “that will be their legacy”.
Others, including Alain Gauthier, a Frenchman who, together with his wife Dafroza have for the past two decades dedicated their lives to bringing to book Genocide fugitives, mainly in France, have another concern.
According to Gauthier, the more the years go by, the more fugitives become hard to capture, mainly through assuming new names, profiles or even slipping through countries where they are assumed to be to simply disappear.
“Some of them are sick, others are very old...while there are even some who went off the radar, such as Philippe Hategekimana who was arrested (last week) in Cameroon three years after we opened a case against him,” said Gauthier.
Gauthier and Dafrose, are recipient of a presidential medal; Igihango National Order of Outstanding Friendship for their effort to pursue justice. He said that Hategekimana, a naturalised French citizen, was presumed to be in France but turned up in Cameroon where he was arrested.
Hategekimana has an indictment against him from Rwanda and prosecution says is among the most wanted fugitives of the Genocide.
“We need to find them, otherwise they will be senile or dead, while others will simply disappear,” says Mutangana, a former head of GFTU.
Recently, a senate committee that looked into the issue of Genocide fugitives that have avoided capture 24 years later made a set of recommendation for consideration by the executive, appointing an ambassador at large, whose role would be to go to those countries where indicted fugitives are and push for their arrest and prosecution.
They also called for an increase in funding and staffing of the tracking unit.
GFTU is charged with tracking the whereabouts of Genocide fugitives, preparing indictments and working with foreign jurisdictions during investigations into the alleged crimes by the fugitives in question.
“This is work that requires due diligence and expertise. However, right now, there are only 10 prosecutors working in GFTU and some of them are sometimes required to perform other ordinary judicial duties because the prosecutors’ office is generally understaffed. As a result, this causes delays in putting together files and following up on fugitives,” senator Mike Rugema who led the senatorial committee said in February, when his teamtabled their findings.
Asked about the validity of this recommendation, Mutangana said that indeed there was a lot of work that is required and the call for more staffing is justified, but added that this should be looked through the general framework of resource allocation in the country.
“The most important thing, however, more than the funding, is getting due cooperation from countries hosting these fugitives,” Mutangana tells The New Times.
Similar sentiments are echoed by Minister Busingye, who is also the Attorney General.
Busingye says: “Yes we should have a strong tracking unit to ensure the maximum quality and quantity of fugitives tracking, and because it links us with the international community.
“But GFTU alone cannot achieve much. It has to depend on other capabilities elsewhere which we need to build as well.”
That said, much needs to be done, especially by the African continent, where officials say, little has been done and where majority of the indicted fugitives are.