To elude the long arm of the law, Genocide fugitives have adopted different tactics, including faking their death, concealing their true identity, and constantly changing their address. These, Jean Bosco Siboyintore, the head of Genocide Tracking Unit at the National Public Prosecution Authority (NPPA), says are among the challenges undermining the country’s efforts to hunt down the fugitives.
In an interview with The New Times’ Rodrigue Rwirahira, he said, since 2005, a total of 399 indictments have been issued of which 160 were issued last year. Siboyintore sees a progress in the recent past unlike in previous years when they issued fewer indictments due to difficulties in tracking down the suspects. But he wonders why some countries, including many on the African continent, are failing to cooperate fully to deliver justice by helping arrest the fugitives still roaming freely on their soils. So far, Africa has the highest number of indicted fugitives, with DR Congo leading with 46, Uganda 38, while Burundi has 12.
Tracking of the Genocide fugitives has been going on for the last 10 years, what is the progress in terms of countries’ cooperation?
We managed to issue 160 indictments and arrest warrants last year, compared to the previous year when we had issued only 55. We were also able to receive Rogatory (a formal request from a court to a foreign court for some type of judicial assistance) commissions of investigators and judges coming to investigate Genocide cases.
The rogatory commission members, who normally come from countries hosting suspects, conduct their investigations surrounding assessment of suspects’ files to decide whether to try them in their respective jurisdictions or extradite them to Rwanda.
We also managed to register three arrests, in Congo-Brazzaville, Ghana and Sweden. The one arrested in Sweden had acquired citizenship so he will be tried there, while the rest might be extradited depending on the outcomes of our extradition requests.
With respect to that, how far does our country trust the justice systems outside its boundaries, especially when some of the countries have been reluctant to arrest, try, or extradite suspected genocidaires.
First of all, I want to make it quite clear that such countries are not doing us any favour. It is an international obligation that should be adhered to by all states, to try a suspect of an international crime, including the genocide. Alternatively, if prosecution at home is not possible, the next step is to extradite suspects.
However, at this particular moment, we cannot say that there is unwillingness or lack of cooperation on the part of host countries. We are yet to understand why these countries are not responding to our requests; but we can’t just make a hasty judgement.
On the other hand, some countries cannot be entirely blamed because of lack of information on whether suspects reside in their respective territories, not until we engage them. Although some have reacted.
Countries like Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Uganda, US, Canada and others have tried to expedite cases cases to Rwanda or try them themselves.
Most of the trials abroad have resulted into convictions, and it clears perceptions that some fugitives are being pursued for political reasons. And this also shows that indictments issued were not manipulated or that evidence is fabricated as some suspects have been alleging.
So far, the conviction rate has been higher than the acquittal rate, since we lost only one case in trials abroad.
What does it take for countries housing suspects to reach a decision of extradition or trying suspects of Genocide crimes?
Under universal principles, countries have an obligation to deliver justice, mostly on international crimes. But our priority has always been that justice is served where crimes were committed. But it is the choice of host countries to decide whether to try them or extradite them to Rwanda.
And again, extraditing suspects is an indicator that the long arm of the law goes into action, that means that victims will be able to see justice done other than hearing that justice was served outside the country. For us, we prefer extraditions basing on these aspects. For example, it can help in the process of unity and reconciliation, but if countries decide to try them, we can’t object to that, it’s all about justice and how it is rendered.
So far we have 12 people, who have been transferred or referred to Rwanda by ICTR, or extradited or deported by other countries. We also had some countries trying and convicting suspects in their own Jurisdictions.
Africa has the highest number of fugitives compared to those in European countries, and yet only Uganda has managed to cooperate. How about the rest?
It is a challenge, at least with African countries, and this is where we are going to put more emphasis since we cannot rule out that they have refused to cooperate.
But there are many channels to use in ensuring a sense of urgency in the hunt for fugitives hiding in African countries. For example, we have the African Prosecutors Colloquium who meet at different levels. We can push to have some of the agreed declarations acted upon accordingly. We will soon visit countries to which we have issued indictments, talk to them and get to know what the problem is.
Genocide fugitives roaming around are a national concern and we think it should be a concern for other countries as well. We can’t have these people moving freely as if they have not committed crimes against humanity.
What are the other challenges in bringing these people to justice?
One of the most challenging issue in our tracking efforts is getting information on the whereabouts of the suspects
There are even completed cases of which the convicts remain at large. It becomes a challenge because you have a fully completed case file with prima-facie evidence but the suspect’s location is unknown. You can’t refer this file to a given country because there is no information on the whereabouts of the suspects.
Another challenge is change of identity and nationality. Some of the suspects change their original names because keeping them would lead to their quick arrest. Some go ahead and acquire other nationalities.
Additionally, some of the fugitives’ families or suspects themselves give false information that they have died to have their cases dropped. When we ask for proof, we are told that the people died when fleeing or in exile, but we don’t take it for granted, we seek more evidence.
For example, we have a suspect who was once declared dead but the person is now here on trial. They (suspects) are not stupid. They know that when someone is pronounced dead, the criminal responsibility and the process stops.
Our determination is such that even when a suspect is declared dead, we go ahead and find out where the person was buried and exhume the body for identification. We can use DNA tests to be fully convinced.
Another challenge is their incessant movements, moving from one place to another, which also impedes our efforts to track them.
And this is problematic because it delays our process. Imagine someone is in country ‘A’ where we have issued an indictment requesting for the person’s arrest, then he moves to country ‘B’, it will take more time to identify that the person who was indicted in country ‘A’ has moved to country ‘B’. And the moment we find that he is in country ‘B’, he has already left for country ‘C’.
In African countries, because of lack of technological knowhow, some of the countries do not have proper data base systems. This plays to the hands of the fugitives unlike in Europe or developed countries where every resident is essentially registered.
But we want to keep our tracking efforts alive and we want to engage our counterparts out there on matters of cooperation and keep awareness efforts going.
There are reports that France has been seeking to drop the ongoing case against Fr Wenceslas Munyeshyaka. Rwanda appeals such a decision, if so, how and where?
With regards to Munyeshyaka we have not been officially informed of the prosecution’s decision to drop the case. We have a file on him, and ICTR has a similar case file which they referred to the jurisdiction of France in 2007.
France has conducted investigations on him, we are yet to be officially informed of the progress, and not until they communicate to us, we have no reason to believe justice won’t be served.
The same applies to the case of Leopold Munyakazi, who is in the US. As of now, no official communication has reached us. But in any case, if it is proven that country ‘A’ has refused to cooperate, other channels that include diplomacy, arbitration at the UN level and others can also be used to reach to ensure justice is served.