2011 may go down as the turning point in ensuring that Genocide fugitives don’t continue to evade justice.
The year saw ground-breaking decisions that paved the way for the extradition of suspects to Rwanda to stand trial for crimes committed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
The rulings were rendered by different jurisdictions including courts in European countries, where some of fugitives have, for long, benefited from domestic legal inadequacies and unwillingness to extradite them, to remain at large.
“Following such decisions by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) as well and the Supreme Court of Norway, the national prosecution authority believes there is enough jurisprudence to guide Europe on how to handle Rwandan Genocide fugitives,” said John Bosco Siboyintore, the head of the Genocide Fugitives Tacking Unit (GFTU).
The GFTU is a subsidiary of the National Public Prosecutions Authority set up to track, indict and seek extradition of persons responsible for 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, who remain on the run.
The decision by the ECHR, which gave the green light to the extradition to Rwanda of Sylvere Ahorugeze, who was arrested and subsequently referred for trial in Rwanda, was appealed in the court’s Grand Chamber.
Legal minds predict that chances are very high that the Grand Chamber will uphold the lower court’s ruling, citing a similar decision by other jurisdictions, notably the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), have set precedence.
“We are closely monitoring cases of three people; the decision by the Grand Chamber, the decision on Charles Bandora and the final decision at ICTR before we could make the next move; definitely 2012 is going to be a busy year,” Siboyintore said.
The ICTR case, in which Jean Uwinkindi, a suspect in the custody of the Tanzania-based UN tribunal, was referred to Rwanda by the Referral Chamber, awaits a final decision by the Appeals Chamber.
Bandora, a former core member of the MRND party that orchestrated the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, is accused of supervising killings in the Bugesera region, where he was a renowned businessman.
“We have cases in France, Switzerland, United Kingdom that, in the past, rejected extradition requests in circumstances and grounds that have substantively changed,” reads a statement from NPPA spokesperson, Alain Mukurarinda.
Requests that were notably denied in the United Kingdom include those that concerned four Rwandans, three of them former commune (district) mayors and a medical doctor, who were released on grounds they could not be tried in the European country.
“Those requests will be revived,” Mukurarinda stated.
Different incentives have been put in place to facilitate the transfer of Genocide fugitives, including establishment of a special law governing how these suspects will be extradited, either from national jurisdictions, or from the ICTR.
Meanwhile, MP Francois Byabarumwanzi, believes that the extradition law, that is before Parliament, will also play a key role in guiding the extradition process.
Byabarumwanzi, who is the chairperson of the parliamentary standing committee on Human Rights and the Fight against the Genocide, which is scrutinising the bill, noted: “Extraditions have previously taken place but we had to use special treaties with the concerned countries.”
The law defines terms and conditions under which extradition to or from Rwanda can be carried out.
“It is absurd that some countries have done little to ensure that these people are brought to book. Genocide suspects should either be tried in the host country or extradited; there should not be any compromise,” he said.
According to the lawmaker, while African countries should play an exemplary role in ensuring that Genocide fugitives are prosecuted, most of them have chosen to do little or nothing to bring them to book.
Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama said that the legal instrument will help remove any ambiguities in the extradition process, not only with regard to Genocide fugitives, but also other offenders.
“Yes, we have had extraditions even before this (draft) law, but we have been doing so based on laws of other countries. Once passed, this law will outline the basic principles that underpin extradition,” the minister said.
This year alone saw six arrests in Europe, with at least 43 rogatory commissions coming to Rwanda to investigate fugitives on their soils. However, no such missions were undertaken by any African country, even though Rwanda has sent out dozens of arrest warrants to several African states.
However, Siboyintore still sounded optimistic that African states, too, ‘will do the needful’, insisting it was just a matter of time.
“In August, this year, Rwanda hosted a meeting of African prosecutors, and we used the forum to call for their support in arresting the (Genocide) fugitives,” he said.
He said the delegates’ response was encouraging; adding that the Genocide fugitive tracking unit expected concrete action from African states, come 2012.
Statistics from GFTU indicate that over 1,000 suspects remain at large in various countries. Arrest warrants have been issued for at least 100 of them, all of which have been channelled through Interpol, the prosecution says.