THE killers had gathered them together at night, thousands of men, women and children, at the garbage dump outside town. When they began to throw grenades into the terrified throng, 8-year-old Marlene Maniraho scurried for her life, meeting a young mother and her child as they fled into nearby undergrowth.
Both had lost limbs, but the militia soon caught up with them. Marlene was forced to watch as her beloved brother was hacked to death with machetes. The young mother and child later shared the same fate.
She cheated death only by pretending to be dead. As Marlene recounted her story recently, a large crowd’s audible groan of anguish cut the night silence. They came to Nyanza on the outskirts of Kigali, to mark the 16th anniversary on April 7 of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
It was a shameful moment for the United Nations, which decided to do nothing. As a result, all that the helpless blue helmets left in Rwanda could do was stand by and watch the killings.
How has the world responded to this historic negligence? With tragic indifference. For even today, the perpetrators run free while the wheels of international justice barely move. The people of Rwanda deserve better, and the world by now should certainly know better.
Hunting the killers
At the time, the Clinton White House ignored pleas for intervention. Fours years later, President Clinton issued a reputation-saving apology: “We in the United States and the world community did not do as much as we could have and should have done to try to limit what occurred.”
Afterward, many of the culprits fled to Europe and North America. They still dream of a comeback, but for now they use old skills to get new work as academics, doctors or even priests. At least 20 fled to Italy to new parishes with unsuspecting flocks. Life is good.
After the Holocaust, Simon Wiesenthal set up his center in Vienna to track down Nazi fugitives. Fed up with official state apathy, Wiesenthal’s detective work has, in the ensuing 60 years, uncovered perpetrators in their comfortable new lives.
Wiesenthal succeeded when politicians turned their back on the 1948 Genocide Convention.
In his home outside Paris, Alain Gauthier has taken on a Wiesenthal-esque mantle. By day he is a teacher, but by night and in every moment of spare time, this quietly spoken Frenchman tracks down the Rwandan killers. Gauthier and his tiny, voluntary organization — the Collective of Civil Parties — searches them out and issues legal writs against them. It’s a start.
But many of the accused have been released by seemingly indifferent judges, while others, now French citizens, are free to travel away.
After more than a decade before the French courts, some cases are still no nearer to a judgment and have taken on an almost Dickensian aura.
At the Nuremberg trials, leading Nazis were swiftly put before the allies and hanged. For Rwanda’s victims, there is no Nuremberg.
There is only the U.N. court set up in 1995 with much American government money — and guilt — in Arusha, Tanzania. But U.N. justice is painfully slow.
The trials have already cost over a billion and the court has only completed a meager 50 cases, or roughly one case every four months.
The trial of the genocide mastermind, Theoneste Bagosora, took six years before he was given life in December 2008.Others have received sentences of eight or 15 years — not much for atrocities of this scale.
Is this justice?
In Arusha, light sentences or acquittals due to technical errors and feeble prosecutions are all too common. As Robert Jackson, the U.S. chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, wrote, such sentences only “mock the dead and make cynics of the living.”
Is this justice, they ask? It seems as though the West has failed them again. It failed to stop the Genocide, and now it fails to bring those responsible to task for their appalling crimes. In Kigali, U.N. and embassy flags have been flown at half-staff marking the 16th anniversary of the genocide.
It becomes just another empty token of half-felt regret, unless the global political will is found to search out and punish the culprits in their comfortable Western exiles.
Those politicians who ignore the killers in their midst in Europe and North America must wake up to their moral responsibilities. After all, justice delayed is, indeed, justice denied.
Andrew Wallis is a freelance journalist and author of Silent Accomplice: The untold story of France’s role in Rwandan genocide.