By James Munyaneza
FINALLY. One of the most wanted Rwandan Genocide suspects may have to stand in the dock anytime from now should his captors hand him over for justice.
The New Times has exclusively learnt that Isaac Kamali was on Wednesday arrested by US security in Washington D.C., from Lyon, France, traveling on a French passport.
Reliable sources in France have intimated to this newspaper that Kamali was intercepted and kept under US custody after he was identified as one of the Rwandan fugitives wanted for participating in the 1994 Genocide.
“Kamali was arrested on his way to the US from France and he is still in the hands of the Americans,” a reliable source said, adding that the suspect holds a French passport.
The news was confirmed yesterday by Foreign Affairs minister Dr Charles Murigande. “It’s true he was arrested because we (Rwandan government) issued a red notice for his arrest to all governments. He is someone who committed serious Genocide crimes,” the minister said by telephone yesterday.
Asked about the next step now that the fugitive had been arrested, the minister said: “The next step does not depend on us. For us, we pray that he is extradited to Rwanda but that possibility is complicated by the fact that Kamali holds a French passport. Maybe as we talk now, Paris has intervened to secure the release of their beloved citizen.”
The situation is further complicated by lack of an extradition treaty between Rwanda and the US. However, Murigande said that that should not be a problem since the man’s alleged crimes are catered for under the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide, adding that the convention supercedes any other consideration.
“The Convention is clear; it commits all member states to ensure that Genocide perpetrators are brought to book, and in this case, we think it (the Convention) will supercede any other consideration,” he said.
But even besides that, added Murigande, “Considering the existing excellent relations between Rwanda the US and our close collaboration in judicial matters, we are hopeful that the US government will extradite him to Rwanda to be answerable for his Genocide crimes.”
He said the Rwandan embassy in Washington D.C. had already started engaging the US authorities with regard to extraditing the suspect.
However, contacted for a comment yesterday, the Public Affairs Officer (PAO) of the US, Brian George, said that he was not aware of the arrest. “I haven’t heard any information on that. I will have to confirm first.”
Asked whether Washington D.C. would extradite such a Rwandan Genocide suspect to Rwanda though the two countries have no extradition treaty, George said: “The (US) Justice Department will determine the best course of action. I can’t speak for the Department. I can’t speculate on what their consideration would be, but like I said I haven’t heard that news yet.”
Murigande said the development is yet another manifestation that France continues to harbour Genocide suspects.
Kamali has for long been on the list of the most wanted Genocide masterminds, a list the government circulated worldwide in frantic efforts to bring to book those that are responsible for the cold-blooded murder of at least one million ethnic Tutsis and Hutu moderates in a record 100 days.
He fled Rwanda after the fall of the Genocide government, and is believed to have lived in Senegal for some time before moving to France in 1997.
A legal expert said yesterday that the US government has an obligation to ensure that the suspect is brought to book by either trying him itself or extraditing him to either Rwanda or to the UN-backed International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). “Genocide is an extraditable crime. All signatories to the Genocide Convention are obliged to ensure that Genocide perpetrators are held responsible for their heinous acts. If it is true that he was arrested, the case is a test to the international justice; the US’ action will determine its commitment to justice,” the expert, who preferred to remain anonymous, said. Both the US and France are signatories to the convention.
When contacted for a comment, Police Spokesman Willy Marcel Higiro said he was unaware of the development but promised to find out and call back. He had not called by press time.
Classified under Category I of Genocide suspects, Kamali is charged with several counts including Genocide, complicity in Genocide, conspiracy to commit Genocide, murder, extermination and inciting and abetting to commit Genocide.
Born in 1949 to Denis Ugirashebuja and Jeneroza Nyirabahinzi in the former Kayumba sector, Nyabikenke Commune in Gitarama prefecture (now in Muhanga district), Kamali is a former senior government official. He was also a senior member of the former ruling MRND party, which is blamed for planning and executing the Genocide.
Kamali is accused to have actively participated in the acts of killings, looting and destruction of Tutsi’s property in Nyabikenke. He is also reported to have personally led a group of Interahamwe militias (a force that is largely blamed for the Genocide) that killed innocent Tutsis who had sought refuge at the office of Nyabikenke Commune.
He is also implicated in the killings of people in Nyamirambo and Kicukiro, both Kigali City suburbs.
Until his arrest, Kamali was working with a rehabilitation centre in Beviers in southern France, sources said.
The fact that the suspect holds a French passport is another issue of concern.
Rwanda accuses France of not only actively participating in the Genocide but also of continuing to shield scores of Genocide suspects who continue to live freely in the European nation despite most of them facing international arrest warrants.
Among the alleged Genocidaires that are believed to be staying in France are Fr Wenceslas Munyeshyaka who was last year sentenced in absentia to life in prison by a Rwandan court, and former First Lady, Agathe Kanziga Habyarimana.
The news that Kamali possesses a French passport is just the latest among many evidences Kigali says show France’s continued revisionist tendencies.
Relations between Rwanda and France hit an all-time low when the former recalled her Ambassador from Paris and expelling the French envoy in Kigali, after a series of diplomatic hiccups between the two sides.
Early this year, France blocked a Rwandan commission of inquiry (set up to probe and document Paris’s role in the Genocide) from accessing key witnesses in France.