France, Rwanda Genocide and the Principle of Universal Jurisdiction

“I think the French need to come clean on their involvement in the Genocide. France like others needs to respect other people. In Africa and in Rwanda we are not there because they wish us to be there. We are there because we have the right to be there,” President Paul Kagame, recently in an interview with the Financial Times.

“I think the French need to come clean on their involvement in the Genocide. France like others needs to respect other people. In Africa and in Rwanda we are not there because they wish us to be there. We are there because we have the right to be there,” President Paul Kagame, recently in an interview with the Financial Times.

France takes over the Presidency of the European Union (EU), this month, with its moral authority in African affairs, hanging on the balance, with countries such as Rwanda, challenging its duplicity, with regards to the application, of the principle of Universal Jurisdiction.

Amidst the overwhelming evidence of the role France played in the 1994 Genocide of Tutsis, the best she can do is apologize to the people of Rwanda, hand over genocide perpetrators in her territory and allow Rwanda to close that dark chapter in her history with dignity.

France’s complicity in the Genocide is well documented.  Its cozy, relationship with the former government led by Juvenal Habyarimana,  is a source of much contestation with Kigali and a shame to the international community.

Habyarimana, whose death in a plane crash in April 1994, provided Rwanda’s detractors with an ‘opportunity’ to ‘cleanse’, the nation of the Tutsi ethnic group.

A good alibi for murder

Within those horrific hundred days, the systematic manner in which the attacks and killings were carried out, one can only conclude they had been planned well in advance.

France remains apathetic to the plight of the Rwandan people, continuing to deny its role in the genocide claiming instead that, its intervention helped stave off a worse catastrophe. I would like to argue that, France’s hands are drenched with the blood of my people.

The Rwandan government is about to release a damning, well detailed report which mentions names – giving fresh evidence of France’s role in the Genocide.

In his book “Shake Hands with the Devil”, General Romeo Dallaire narrates his experience with the French ‘humanitarian’ army Aid (Operation Turquoise) that was deployed in Rwanda during the 1994 Genocide.

“The French Army came into Rwanda under the pretext of being on a humanitarian mission (called Operation Turquoise) to set up camps for Tutsis and displaced Hutus. But the reality is they didn’t bring any humanitarian supplies, just military supplies,” he writes.

“They weren’t there as neutrals to help victims of the genocide, they were there to help perpetrators of the genocide.,,,,Often the French camps where the Tutsis were taken turned out into slaughter camps where the French abandoned them to the genocidal Hutus.”

Operation Turquoise included over 2,500 members of elite units, state-of-the-art weapons, command and control communications, over one hundred armoured vehicles, batteries of heavy mortars, a squadron of light armed reconnaissance and medium troop-lift helicopters, even a dozen or so ground-attack and reconnaissance jet aircraft…

Despite its humanitarian aim, Operation Turquoise had arrived extremely light in trucks, which are essential for relief operations.

This is part of the back-ground, informing my response, to France’s absurd claims in her application of the principles of Universal Jurisdiction.

Claims that are patronizing, against Rwanda, based on racial and European superiority, reinforcing a dichotomy the people of Africa have fought since our triumph against colonialism.

Like school boys, our leaders wait to be lectured on what is good for them and their countries. The world let Rwanda down once, ‘Never Again’, was the clarion call in the conclusion to the horrible chapter of genocide.

‘Never Again’, is empty rhetoric when the opportunity to correct past wrongs gets compromised, with the worlds continued silence, towards France’s sickening attitude against my Government and my people. 

I will not dwell on her sordid affairs with dictators in the world, she only changed tack on Zimbabwe recently; defended military dictators like Sani Abacha  - while business goes on with the Burmese Military Junta.

In this regard, Universal Jurisdiction or the universality principle is a controversial principle in international law whereby states claim criminal jurisdiction over persons whose alleged crimes were committed outside of their territories.

The state backs its claim on the grounds that the crime committed is considered a crime against all, which any state is authorized to punish, as it is too serious to tolerate jurisdictional arbitrage.

The concept of universal jurisdiction is therefore closely linked to the idea that certain international norms are erga omnes (owed to the entire world community), as well as the concept of jus cogens (that certain international law obligations are binding on all states and cannot be modified by treaty).

According to human rights defender, Amnesty International, a proponent of universal jurisdiction, certain crimes pose so serious a threat to the international community as a whole, that states have a logical and moral duty to prosecute individuals responsible for them; no place should be a safe haven for those who have committed genocide, crimes against humanity, extrajudicial executions, war crimes, torture and forced disappearances.

Opponents, such as Henry Kissinger, argues that universal jurisdiction is a breach on a state’s sovereignty: all states being equal in sovereignty, as affirmed by the United Nations Charter.

“Widespread agreement that human rights violations and crimes against humanity must be prosecuted has hindered active consideration of the proper role of international courts. Universal jurisdiction risks creating universal tyranny -- that of judges.“

According to Kissinger, as a practical matter, since any number of states can set up such universal jurisdiction tribunals, the process can quickly degenerate into politically-driven show trials as attempts are made, to place a quasi-judicial stamp on a state’s enemies or opponents.

However, its efficiency is questioned when it comes to certain aspects of France’s attitude towards Rwanda. She for instance develops selective amnesia, when it comes to the extradition of Rwandan genocide suspects who are legal residents in her territory - Universal Jurisdiction becomes null and void.

Key instigator of the Rwandan genocide, business-man Clavere Kamana, remains protected by French political and legal systems.

The Tanzania-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), set up after the Genocide, has dealt with a number of genocide related cases. Though it is still faced with many challenges, in delivering justice to the people of Rwanda in a satisfactory manner.

Rwanda is yearning to close the dark chapter in her history. This can only be possible if the world sincerely holds on to its vow, ‘Never Again’, by providing us a dignified opportunity to deal with the justice and accountability matters, to do with those responsible for the genocide - in this regard France’s pompous role must be tamed. 

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