On 17th December 2008, the International Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) acquitted Gratien Kabiligi, of all charges the prosecution had preferred against him. Brigadier Gratien Kabiligi, was the commander of the Para-commando battalion based In Kanombe (Kigali).
As the Judge read the final verdict, Kabiligi looked nervous, shaking his head, biting his lips and finally giggled when the judge ordered his immediate release from prison. He was definitely hearing that the case was going in his favour.
Excitement was boiling within his mind as he made thumps up sign of victory. I could see eyes of a woman who sat next to me turn wet slowly before she allowed tears to roll down her face like a baby.
“It is incredible; I cannot believe what I am hearing today. Kabiliigi cannot be innocent, not with the position he had during the genocide. Something must be wrong somewhere in the ICTR. No serious judge can set this man free,” these murmurs could be heard from the audience, which was watching the court proceeding alive from Arusha, at the ICTR headquarters in Remera- Kigali.
Gen. Gratien Kabiligi, a former Head of the Military Operations Bureau (G-3) of the Ex-FAR during the 1994 Genocide, was primarily in charge of systematic implementation of the genocide. The active, trusted military men like him, were left to make operations against Tutsi during the genocide.
“I served in the Ex-Far. What I know is that Gratien Kabiligi was in charge of Para-commandos that started the killings in Kigali. They worked under his orders; I do not understand how they base themselves acquitting him of all crimes. There is enough evidence and people have testified in the very ICTR, so it is absolutely heart breaking to let him free,” said Mugabo Saul a resident of Kigali who served in the Rwandan army up to the time of the genocide.
The stunning move to set Kabiligi free is seen by many Rwandans as mockery of justice. If a man, who spearheaded the search, deployment and training of militias to kill people en mass, is declared innocent, what else can you call such, justice?
It is mockery of the highest order, no wonder the beneficially, could not believe what he was hearing on the day. He looked nervous because of what he had inside himself-piled crimes that could have led to heavy punishment, were now reduced to zero crime.
Kabiligi’s case confirms to what many pessimists say, that, “man or woman will be heavily punished for killing one person, than killing thousands”.
Try to kill a person today anywhere on this earth, you will be dealt with forthwith, and given the right punishment. But when you go for thousands, your case will be given a sluggish procedure and ultimately end with the slightest punishment on earth. Is the world gambling with justice?
Do we know what we are doing, if we are not punishing the worst criminals in our societies, but the least ones?
Look at the case of Juvenal Habyarimana’s brother in law. Anatole Nsengiyunva, he was handed a light sentence you can imagine of, compared to the atrocities he committed. He was recently sentenced to a 20 year jail term, but will virtually spend only twelve years in prison. The magnitude of his crimes cannot measured with the punishment given to him.
ICTR does not respect what witnesses from Rwanda give, but rather tends to rely on superficial international laws, as stipulated in books to take decision- Rwandans are therefore victims of such classical human rights laws.
No wonder as Michael Goldfarb put it right, while releasing annual list of the world’s most repressive regimes at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 2005, “several of the world’s greatest human rights violators sit on UN Human Rights Panel.”
Similarly, officials from such countries are not expected to give Rwandans justice (as a human right), since they themselves have not lived to it, in their own countries. This is our greatest undoing!
If we were to go by human morals, I would not have expected to see a lawyer, defending such criminals, well knowing what they did against humanity—not at any cost. But see what, they have fought for the jobs-the bloody jobs.
That is the human nature of greed, and I am not surprised either, when those who committed it, deny it. For up today, they feel they have not done enough. That is why a man like the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda FDLR Leader, Ignus Murwanahsyaka, has guts to say he did nothing.
He denies his group was involved in the Tutsis genocide. He further emphasises that he is ready to collaborate with officials from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), to prove his innocence.
“This is not to say that we are genocidaires or that we accept everything people say about us,” he told ICTR officials on phone while in Rome.
The failure of the court to bring justice may be again traced in its history right from the beginning. It never wanted to be involved in knowing the causes of the genocide, calling it irrelevant and out of its mandate.
In April 2002, the tribunal’s prosecutor at the time, Carla Del Ponte, said, “The tribunal will not be able to mathematically re-write the whole history of the Rwandan tragedy and notably the beginning of the genocide because we do not have any proof or mandate for that.”
He also quoted the lead prosecutor in this case, Chile Oboe Osuji from Canada and Nigeria as saying, “we don’t have to be entangled in what the cause of the genocide was”.
You cannot get the truth if you shy away from the causes. Genocide is prepared and therefore undergoes a long process that must be unravelled if you are to pin the perpetrators.
The ICTR has been very adamant go through the process, which is why it is generally not at its best. There is therefore an overall reluctance to give the cases, the weight they deserve, no wonder Gratien Kabiligi is free. We are still waiting to see if the prosecution will ‘successfully’ appeal.