Rwanda wants the French government to act on 20 genocide suspects living on its territory, according to the Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga.
Rwanda has been urging the French government to put on trial the indicted genocide fugitives or send them to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) based in Arusha, Tanzania or extradite them to Rwanda for trial.
The French government responded with opening a special chamber in early 2012 headed by two judges Claude Choquet and David de Pas to handle crimes against humanity including genocide, crimes of war, and acts of torture but there has been reluctance to open the genocide cases.
Prosecutor General Ngoga says other alternatives are being sought to bring justice to the genocide victims 18 years after over one million innocent lives were brutally murdered in as few as 100 days.
“For the last 18 years, we thought it was a case of indifference, inefficiency or not attaching due weight to these cases by a western nation but we kept hope and optimism that it would change but it looks like France is not interested in pursuing justice,” Ngoga told The Independent.
He said that although the Rwandan government has not considered the option to take a legal action against France, his office may challenge it to consider options that would help to pursue justice.
“My office in its attribution to deal with fugitives is considering giving government some options on what to do with a country which does not take seriously individuals indicted of heinous crimes on its territory,” Ngoga said.
France has become one of the safest havens for the genocide fugitives and harbours at least 20, according to the Rwandan prosecution. They have all been indicted but they still live freely. The suspects include Laurent Bucyibaruta, former prefect of the former Gikongoro prefecture, and Father Wenceslas Muyeshyaka, a former Catholic priest at St Famille parish in Kigali.
Others are Dr. Sosthene Munyemana and Dr. Eugene Rwamucyo, former lecturers at the National University of Rwanda (NUR); Lt. Col. Marcel Bivugabagabo, former director of operations in the Ministry of Defence; and Felicien Barigira, who headed the communal development fund.
The list also includes Claver Kamana, a former businessman and president of the then ruling party National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development (MRND) in the former Gitarama prefecture; Pierre Tegera, who worked with the National Programme for Potato Improvement (PNAP) in Kinigi and served as an honorary president of the Interahamwe genocide militia in Kibilira commune; Alphonse Ntilivamunda, formerly a director in the Ministry of Public Service; and Enoch Kanyondo alias Pheneas Gakumba, who was a football referee and an active member of MRND.
They also include Callixte Mbarushimana, a former employee of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Kigali, who currently serves as the Secretary General of the Congo-based Forces for Liberation of Rwanda(FDLR) militia; Stanislas Mbonampeka, a lawyer; and Isaac Kamali, who was the director in the Ministry of Public Service in charge of Kigali City.
French Embassy tight lipped
The newly accredited French ambassador to Kigali, Michel Flesch, declined to comment on the issue of genocide suspects.
In an email, the Embassy’s Press Attaché, Béatrice Nyirahategekimana, wrote: “About an official declaration from the prosecutor General of Rwanda, it doesn’t belong to the Ambassador of France to comment on it nor even to express himself on this subject. As you know, France is committed to respect, like Rwanda, the constitutional principle of separation of powers.”
When Rwanda was going through painful 100 days of genocide, the international community was watching and it failed to stop the massacres which claimed over one million lives leaving the country shattered with a burden to care for a large number of orphans and widows. But some countries which felt touched by the failure to help prevent the killings, have come out openly and apologised.
Belgium, Rwanda’s former colonial master, The Netherlands, U.S.A, Finland and Sweden have all acknowledged their failure to stop the killings. They have also put on trial genocide fugitives on their territory or sent them for trial at ICTR or extradited them to Rwanda.
But France, which Rwanda accused of a direct role in the genocide, has remained unapologetic. It is only in February 2010 that the former French president Nicholas Sarkozy acknowledged mistakes by the international community including France in failure to prevent the genocide during his visit to Kigali, which was the first French president’s visit in two decades.
As many were expecting Sarkozy’s acknowledgment for errors to be followed by action against genocide fugitives currently residing in France, nearly three years after his visit, the French government remains reluctant to show commitment to cooperate with Rwanda to try the suspects.
Despite the change of president which saw Sarkozy losing to François Hollande last year, there is no hope that the 20 genocide fugitives will ever appear before a judge.
Diogene Bideri, a legal adviser in the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide said part of the reason for France’s indifference to cooperate could be its own culpability in the genocide.
“It is general knowledge that some French officials played a role in the genocide and that the French government was present and had full knowledge of what was happening. So they may be afraid of what those officials indicted could say about them,” Bideri said.
Ngoga agrees that France supported the genocidal regime, and that they have the means to deal with the genocide fugitives.
“France is not financially constrained and those people who are indicted are the ones being given sanctuary, so it is only logical to link the two,” Ngoga says, adding that Rwanda even wants to prosecute French citizens who played direct role in the genocide.
“We have been consumed in our cases for a long time but I can assure you that French citizens who took part in the genocide will face justice.”
A French court was criticised last year by IBUKA, a genocide survivors’ organisation for granting permanent residence to Agathe Kanziga Habyarimana, the wife of former president Juvenal Habyarimana.
The 70-year old was the subject of an international arrest warrant issued in October 2009 over genocide and crimes against humanity. Mrs. Habyarimana is often presented as one of the leaders of the `Akazu’, the first circle of Hutu power unit which, according to her accusers, planned and implemented the genocide.
Despite the French government’s slow move in dealing with genocide fugitives, French activist organisations have been at the forefront of campaigning against their country’s harboring of genocide criminals.
Alain Gauthier, the President of Collectif des Parties Civiles Pour le Rwanda (CPCR) told Rwandan media last year that his country has become a haven for genocide criminals, who have become so influential, because of their financial power that the government and the public no longer mind about them and their activities.
Gauthier, who was in Kigali seeking for testimonies from witnesses and victims on particular genocide suspects in France also reiterated what most observers think by adding that the French government’s position in 1994 may be the cause of its reluctance to pursue genocide fugitives, adding that France should move on from the past.
“In 1994 the French government supported Habyarimana’s government against the RPF (Rwanda Patriotic Front—current ruling party); but when the war was lost and the genocide stopped, many government officials who aided the genocide fled to France. As it is now, the French government finds it very difficult to pursue some former allies,” Gauthier said at the time.
History of thorny relations
France and Rwanda broke off diplomatic ties in 2006 after French Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere accused eight Rwandan government top officials mostly in the army and President Kagame of complicity in the death of former President Juvenal Habyarimana.
The plane carrying Habyarimana was shot down in April 1994 as it approached Kigali International Airport when he was returning from peace talks with RPF in Arusha, Tanzania.
Bruguiere issued arrest warrants against the indicted officials; a move that Kigali believed was politically supported by the French government to undermine its role in the genocide.
However both countries restored diplomatic relations three years later, appointing ambassadors for their respective nations, a move that was further cemented by former French President Nicholas Sarkozy visiting Rwanda in February 2010, a visit that was also returned by his Rwandan counter-part president Paul Kagame in September 2011.
Whereas Kagame’s visit to France was seen as a symbol and the desire for Kigali to restore ties with the French government, Paris’s slow move to deal with the genocide fugitives is again undermining the efforts for the two countries to forget the past and look to the future.