Early release of genocide criminals one more betrayal

In what was later called one of the most ignominious resolutions in the history of the Security Council, the abandonment of Rwanda came late in the evening of April 21, 1994. It was at 10. 30 pm when the Security Council of the United Nations voted to withdraw its peacekeeping force from Rwanda, aware all the while that Genocide against the Tutsi was underway.

In what was later called one of the most ignominious resolutions in the history of the Security Council, the abandonment of Rwanda came late in the evening of April 21, 1994. It was at 10. 30 pm when the Security Council of the United Nations voted to withdraw its peacekeeping force from Rwanda, aware all the while that Genocide against the Tutsi was underway. It is worth recalling the indifference there was. As those terrible days unfolded, the more evidence of genocide emerged the more reluctant politicians and their officials were to acknowledge genocide was happening. It was a first Council decision since the genocide of the Tutsi began.

I was at the United Nations in New York, finishing a book on a fifty-year history of the organisation and I sat with the President of the Security Council for the month of April, Ambassador Colin Keating, who told me how in the course of the secret meetings of the Security Council he and the ambassador of the Czech Republic Karel Kovanda had tried in vain to persuade the great powers to take action, to persuade them to acknowledge genocide was underway. The pleas fell on deaf ears. The intolerable negligence and inexcusable apathy was clearly apparent.


In those three terrible months the Council undermined every one of the UN’s founding principles enshrined in the UN Charter. It rendered worthless the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and all the celebrated human rights treaties, including the 1948 Genocide Convention, dismissing the promise of Never Again. Even today the enormity of the failure and the historic significance of the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi are yet to be realized.


It is extraordinary that from the beginning until the end, all UN governments and official bodies continued to recognize as legitimate the genocidal Interim Government, hastily sworn into office by the racist Hutu Power faction, and which was overseeing the slaughter of a part of the population.


No one bothered to explain why this hastily-created government, which was betraying every principle for which the UN stands, was allowed to retain a non-permanent seat in the Security Council. [1]

What a stroke of luck the Security Council seat was for the génocidaires, what an ideal place to obscure the true nature of their crime, to wage their campaign of fake news to persuade the world that the huge death toll was because of a ‘spontaneous uprising’ and not the planned slaughter they themselves had organized.

This same fake news was used afterwards by genocide deniers. Similar to those who once crawled over what was left of the Nazi concentrations camps to try to prove the gassings were exaggerated, the supporters of the génocidaires continue today to minimize, obscure, and diminish the genocide of the Tutsi, and to try to alter the historical record.

Judge Richard Goldstone was first Chief Prosecutor of the International Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). He once described how at the very beginning he was visited by ‘serious historians and professors from universities, particularly from Belgium and France’, who wanted to tell him that stories of genocide were untrue.

History teaches that people who commit the crime of genocide do not confess and they weave a web of deceit to try to prove that the events are misinterpreted and try to find support for their cause. There was no shortage of supporters, the witnesses who defended the génocidaires in their trials at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. These included scholars, regional experts, and journalists and it is remarkable how fast their defence testimony spread world-wide; their alternative facts spread far beyond the courtrooms and were posted as truth on internet sites – where it is claimed there were no plans to kill, the victims brought the calamity upon themselves, and the death toll is exaggerated. The targeted elimination of the opposition as the genocide of the Tutsi began, in effect a coup d’état, was described as a ‘recalibrated political transition’. The digital age gave a terrible impetus to the denial of the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi, kicked life into a coordinated campaign which eventually reached the mainstream media.

In the now infamous BBC documentary , Rwanda’s Untold Story, broadcast in October 2014, the programme-makers insinuated memorialisation of the genocide of the Tutsi was no more than state propaganda, that the ‘official story’ we have come to believe is the wrong one; and the BBC promoted the appalling lie that more Hutu were murdered than Tutsi.

Genocide denial is designed to spread confusion and cause doubt. Its aim is to destroy truth and memory. Deniers do not reject the authority of the truth and oppose it. They pay no attention to it at all. The denial of the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi does terrible harm to the survivors. For the survivors this is not a distant event from 23 years ago to be commemorated once a year. It is a reality with which they live every day.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was established by the UN Security Council in the belief that the génocidaires would otherwise never have faced justice. The tribunal owed its existence to the Security Council, and was mandated in UN Resolution 955 of November 8, 1994. It required all states to cooperate fully in bringing to justice those who were responsible for the genocide of the Tutsi and in so doing provide a definitive historical account of how the genocide was conceived and executed. An historical narrative would be provided to explain the basic facts, the material evidence available to explain how the racist Hutu Power faction managed to achieve the quickest murder rate in history of defenceless people. Only through international cooperation could such crimes be judged.

And yet still today too many génocidaires remain at large. Interpol shows 410 alleged génocidaires living in 30 different countries around the world. [2] These people stand indicted of masterminding, financing or carrying out genocide of the Tutsi. They include the chief financier of the extermination program, Félicien Kabuga, who is apparently impossible to find, and must receive protection from governments. [3] In France the fugitive group is unique in size, unique for the seniority of its members and unique because of a lack of trials or extradition. It is civil society groups in France who track down and build cases against suspects and dossiers exist on forty people including a senior military commander, a priest, a gynaecologist, a doctor and academic.

Another reality the survivors should never face is to see the early release from prison of convicted génocidaires. Last year the unexpected release of the propagandist of Hutu Power, its spin-doctor in chief, Ferdinand Nahimana, caused the greatest anguish. He created the hate radio RTLM, was its editorial director. He devised the radio’s politicized fake news bulletins, dreamed up the racist propaganda. He was granted early release in September 2016 after being sentenced to life in prison, reduced to thirty years and was released after only twenty years in international custody. Also released was a Catholic priest, Emmanuel Rukundo, serving twenty years and released last year after fifteen years in prison – a priest who aided and abetted soldiers to kill his parishioners.

Neither man has admitted guilt. No judicial hearing took place to decide these early releases. The decision to grant early release to these génocidaires is today under the sole purview of one judge, Theodor Meron. There is no recourse to appeal, no accountability. In June 2012 Meron, who is the President of the Mechanism, the ominous-sounding name chosen for the successor to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, changed the rules governing release, rules carefully laid out by other international judges. Meron eliminated any role in the decision making for the Government of Rwanda. The survivors have no say.

The doubts about the impartiality of Judge Meron can only increase. Interestingly, Meron is the recipient of the highest order France can bestow, the Légion d’Honneur, awarded in a ceremony in The Hague in June 2007. In bestowing the award, the French cited his love of France and its culture and his acute sense of justice and his exemplary moral conscience.

The decisions by Meron to grant early release to génocidaires who fail to even recognise the crimes for which they were convicted raises serious questions about the procedures in place. Meron seems to have attempted no verifications of the claims made by the génocidaires to obtain their early release; no questioning of prison officials who seem to think these convicts are somehow fit for release. There are no steps in place to see whether these prisoners, the world’s worse criminals, are in actual practice proven to be adequately rehabilitated, a claim made by their lawyers. Once released there is no monitoring to keep track of them. What they are granted is an unconditional reduction in sentence and there is nothing to stop these génocidaires justifying their crimes and continuing to promote their racist ideology.

It is yet one more betrayal. We owe the survivors so much more than this.

Linda Melvern is a British investigative journalist who has extensively researched and written on the circumstances of the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi. She is the author of two books on Rwanda; A People Betrayed and Conspiracy to Murder.

You want to chat directly with us? Send us a message on WhatsApp at +250 788 310 999    


Follow The New Times on Google News