My quest is to speak for the voiceless, says Gauthier

When France pulled out of commemoration activities for the 20th anniversary of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Rwandans were not the least shocked by the shenanigan act.
Gauthier addresses an international forum on Genocide at Parliament Buildings in Kigali last week. (Timothy Kisambira)
Gauthier addresses an international forum on Genocide at Parliament Buildings in Kigali last week. (Timothy Kisambira)

When France pulled out of commemoration activities for the 20th anniversary of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Rwandans were not the least shocked by the shenanigan act.

Standing with Rwandans are some French citizens, including Alain Gauthier and his wife Dafroza, and former French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner. They not only travelled to Kigali to commiserate with Rwandans, but have been critical of French government’s decades of posturing.

Survivors interpreted Paris’ pull-out as guilt for their role in the Genocide, while Kouchner described his country’s action as “childish.” 

For Alain Gauthier and Dafroza, Paris’ action is just a fraction of a lot more on the horizon. The couple has dedicated their life and resources to pursuing Genocide suspects sunbathing in French cities without a bother to the horrors their misdeeds in 1994 have caused Rwandans.

In an exclusive interview with The New Times, Gauthier reveals his motivation for pushing through with the risky pursuit of tracking down Genocide suspects. The Gauthiers, through a civil society organisation that fights for the rights of Genocide survivors (better known in French as Collectif des Parties Civiles pours le Rwanda), have turned the mission into passion.

He believes in justice for Genocide victims, saying it is a prerequisite for sustainable peace, and that he wants to be the spokesperson of the voiceless who cannot speak “because people decided one day that they no longer needed to exist.” 

Your organisation, Collectif des Parties Civiles pours le Rwanda (CPCR), has over the years worked hard to see Genocide suspects living in France brought to book. How did it all start?

The idea for CPCR came up in 2001 at the end of a trial of Rwandans in Belgium, I think it was the two nuns from Sovu (current Huye District).

After the trial, one of our friends who at the time headed a similar organisation as ours in Belgium engaged us on how we can take with us the same idea to France, create a similar organisation to push for justice, especially for survivors. We acted quickly and by November the same year, CPCR was born with support from a few friends.

When and how did you meet Dafroza?

We got married in July 1977. I had worked for two years at Petit Séminaire de Save (Butare) from September 1970 to July 1972 as a French language teacher. Back home, we had an option of, instead of a year of military service, working in the foreign service. By chance, I was sent to Rwanda which, at the time, I barely knew by name. I was a student in the Faculty of Theology at the University of Strasbourg. Dafroza was just one of the many contacts that I had in Rwanda.

In 1973, Dafroza, having been chased from her school, fled to Burundi for a few months and then later rejoined her older brother who had been living in Belgium for several years. 

It was not until 1974 that we had the opportunity to see each other and decided to enjoin our destinies and embark on life’s journey together. 

What’s your take on the French government’s withdrawal from the national event for the 20thcommemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi?

I was shocked by the decision because commemoration is in honor of the memory of Genocide victims and under no circumstances should the memory of the victims be politicised.  

For us, we will go ahead and honour the victims and ignore the actions of the French government. 

President Kagame did nothing more than just to recall what he has always said and we have always said, which is a fact. It is time that France faces the reality–history. I don’t agree with their attitude.

It was out of your advocacy that a Genocide trial was initiated against Pascal Simbikangwa in France. What do you make of his 25 year sentence?

It is not the number of years (of sentence) that is important for us. No punishment would be big enough for a crime of genocide. What is important is the condemnation of the crime. It is the first time that in France one is sentenced for genocide. Even as the trial was well conducted during its initial six weeks, the attitude of the defence was often intolerable.

The trial of Pascal Simbikangwa was not the first one that we had expected. Many other older lawsuits were filed in France, six of them, even before the creation of the CPCR. The French justice system has for long dragged its feet because the political leadership had not given it the means to do its job.

Things changed in January 2012 with the creation, in the Tribunal de Grande Instance (TGI) of Paris, of a special unit which is composed of three full-time judges and many gendarmes who regularly travel to Rwanda to investigate basing on the lawsuits that we file.

For this Simbikangwa case to come first, it is simply because this man has been in provisional custody for four years after serving a sentence for falsified documents. The provisional detention cannot exceed four years and the alternative was therefore to release him, hence we are happy the trial started.

Note that the prosecution in France has never prosecuted any alleged Genocide suspect on its own initiative. Without the lawsuits from CPCR and some other associations which support us, there would be no trial until now in Paris.

This trial and Simbikangwa’s conviction must be considered as a symbol of the end of impunity. From now onwards, in France, people may be charged for Genocide. It is a great sign of hope for the other cases.

What motivates you to do this seemingly dangerous job – tracking Genocide suspects? 

The motivation is essentially our faith in justice. We think that justice is a prerequisite for sustainable peace; I mean justice, not revenge or hatred...other than that, we do not expect anything else. 

We want to be the spokespersons of the voiceless, those who cannot speak because people decided one day that they no longer needed to exist. Our struggle cannot be imagined as just a commitment by the two of us, Dafroza and me, but as of all members of CPRC.

How, in your opinion, did many Genocide suspects end up getting comfortable in France anyway? What makes it easy for them to live in France?

For there to be many Genocide suspects in France, it is because there were friends, contacts, supporters of different forms. And again, there exist associations which welcome and advocate for them. 

Then, Genocide suspects are smart enough not to talk about their past or their personal history; they are good neighbours, good parents, good Christians. 

They re-established themselves as innocent, blameless folks in France, and began a new life. Until today, French magistrates in charge of extraditions have refused to send them back to Rwanda, and they now feel like they have some kind of security.

What prevents the extradition of these suspects? 

The French justice system has dealt with a dozen requests, they have refused to extradite them on grounds that Genocide suspects would not have a fair trial in Rwanda, that witnesses would not be protected, and especially that the organic law punishing the crime of genocide in Rwanda was enacted after the Genocide itself, thus people cannot be tried retroactively.

Many of the suspects have obtained citizenship but it is not always easy to know who. 

Habyarimana’s children are French citizens; Paul Kanyamihigo has become Paul Camy. For others, more research would be necessary. But most of them are now French.

Do the French even know about that these suspected mass killers live with them?

The French population is not well-informed on the presence of Genocide suspects in France. This is one of the reasons Simbikangwa trial is important. At least in the first days, most media houses were interested in it, and they made various reports in newspapers and TV through which we hope the French people got to learn more. 

Do you think average French folks understand their government’s role in the Genocide in 1994? Do people on the street care about what happened in Rwanda in 1994?

The majority of the French people do not know the role of the French government in the Genocide against the Tutsi. Neighbours often do not know that Genocide suspects live near them. When we file a suit, everyone who knows these people is surprised that we are pursuing them. It is us who would pass for the bad guys. It’s only fair for the courts to say the truth.

What challenges have you encountered while working to ensure that Genocide suspects face justice? 

Of course, the work we do is difficult. Preparing a lawsuit requires a lot of work, sometimes several trips to Rwanda, gathering evidence, translating and engaging our lawyers to prepare and file lawsuits/complaints. 

Our work has triggered a lot of articles in which we are attacked. We have received threats. We simply do our duty. It is not us to look down. I remember an extradition hearing at the Court of Appeal of Versailles at the end of which the police demanded that I leave with them to the station, as the tension was high. 

How do you gauge the journey ahead? Do you see all the Genocide suspects in France stripped of the safe haven they currently enjoy?

The work we have undertaken will take long. After 20 years, only one trial has been held, there is certainly going to be an appeal. And then the case will resume in a year or so.. How then will we be able to try the remaining 25 cases? 

How much time will that take? This is a real problem. Time is favouring the suspects. I think the years that we have to live alone will not bring the fight to an end. The question is who will take on the mantle from us? That is the problem.

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