A Swedish lawyer who has helped some victims of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi get justice has warned his country against harbouring Genocide fugitives.
Goran Hjalmarsson was speaking to reporters at Ibuka head offices in Kigali where he presented reparation packages to his six clients after a court in Stockholm last month handed life sentence to Claver Belinkindi for genocide crimes and gross violations of international law.
Hjalmarsson said: “We think that if you have committed genocide, you should not think that you can hide in Sweden. In Sweden, we want to find such people and help the victims of the Genocide. We think this is very important. We are working a lot and we will never give up.”
Hjalmarsson was not inclined to reveal the amount in the reparation packages for his six clients but told The New Times that it was part of the court ruling.
The lawyer explained that the money does not come from the Swedish government but it was confiscated by the police from Belinkindi’s house.
“Swedish police found a lot of money in his house (that was not on a bank account) as should be the case in Sweden. It is not from the Swedish government,” he said.
Being the first time reparation of any sort is coming from Europe, Hjalmarsson said “it will be a positive precedent” because he knows there are other Genocide fugitives being pursued in other countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, and Finland.
“The most important thing for my clients is that the court has said ‘we believe in you,’ and for me I will not forget the stories they told court. I am happy that they ruled to give economic compensation, which is another thing I had been fighting for,” he said.
His clients, too, are happy that justice has been served. Alexis Nkeramugabo, who still resides in Nyanza District, told The New Times that the reparation package is welcome but knowing that Belinkindi is in jail is better than anything else.
“Reparations can make one happy somehow but surely what is most important is that he was arrested and brought to trial, and jailed. When they initially questioned us, we thought they were only being politically correct. It was only when we were told that they had arrested him that we took them serious,” he said.
Pelagie Mukarutabana, another of the clients, is happy but apprehensive, citing possibility of backlash from deniers and revisionists.
“Authorities as well as other security organs should look after us particularly now because every time we came out to speak publically and give information, we have been harassed. I am a trader and recently my husband was roughed up and robbed by unknown people,” she said.
“That is a problem. Survivors are often harassed. And now that I have been given this money I am worried.”
Ibuka prays for more
Ibuka’s first vice-president, Egide Nkuranga, appreciated the efforts of Swedish authorities in ensuring that Genocide fugitives are brought to book.
“Our message, as usual, is that countries in Europe and elsewhere should collaborate with Rwanda. The prosecutor’s office has done a good job and a list of indicted suspects is already known,” Nkuranga said.
Nkuranga emphasised that the issue of reparations cannot be bigger than the fact that justice was done. He said: “The most important kind of reparation is justice. The symbolism here is important. What we most need is impunity to end.”
It is reported that Belinkindi, 62, became a naturalised Swedish citizen in 2012. His trial began in 2015 and partly took place in Rwanda and involved more than 50 witnesses.
It is the second time a Genocide trial is held in Sweden, the other being when Ladislas Mbanenande, another Rwandan turned Swedish, was sentenced to life in prison in 2013.