The exiled and former all-powerful prosecutor general of Rwanda Gerald Gahima has surprisingly come out with a spirited defense of the country’s justice system – a position coming from one of the fiercest critics of government.
Gahima says despite the “shortcomings”, the country’s justice system is not what some critical western authors have tried to portray it. Following the 1994 genocide, government – in which Gahima was prosecutor general, established the Gacaca traditional courts which eventually tried about 2million cases.
However, the country also undertook a reform of the conventional court system to prosecute the top officials involved in the execution of the genocide against Tutsis. Various authors accuse the government of using the law to persecute a selected section of people within Rwandan society, a charge the authorities in Kigali have repeatedly found offensive. Now, it seems, they have an unlikely supporter.
“I don’t agree that the justice processes that Rwanda has undertaken are purely an instrument of persecution of the Hutu people,” said Gahima last night, as he appeared on the online radio station owned by the Rwanda National Congress (RNC). This is a group founded by Gahima, former Rwanda army chief Kayumba Nyamwasa and two other dissidents.
Gahima added: “I take exception to the approach by some of these scholars to think that they alone have a right to discuss Rwanda’s transitional justice from an academic point of view; that we Rwandans cannot discuss these issues from an academic point of view.”
“There are reasons why these processes were necessary – they have shortcomings which I document but I don’t agree [with people who have criticized these systems],” said Gahima.
The former top law enforcement officer was on the radio station, which airs once in a while, to discuss his book published recently. Gahima said the book was originally a PHD thesis from the National University of Ireland, but decided on publishing it.
“I particularly wanted to speak out because I didn’t subscribe or agree with some of the writings that have come out,” said Gahima, currently based in Washington.
Denying the genocide?
Gahima defended the book saying he wanted to clear the air so that “foreigners should not be the lone voice” on the debate about Rwanda’s judicial changes. It is not clear why Gahima, a fierce government critic has suddenly changed his mind. But it could be possible that he had no other option.
As he prepared such an academic document, Gahima may have had trouble convincing his supervisors that his politicized positions were indeed the true reflection of the situation inside Rwanda. Various acclaimed authors have splashed praise on the country’s judiciary for facilitating the development of a harmonious society Rwanda is at the moment. Genocide suspects are being extradited to Rwanda as a result of the judicial changes.
In the two-hour radio interview, Gahima also spoke about the genocide. As expected, he tried to exonerate the Habyarimana government of any responsibility in the planning and execution of the mass slaughter, instead accusing the interim government which took over immediately after Habyarimana’s assassination. It is not surprising Gahima takes this position.
He and RNC colleagues have been trying to woo the Habyarimana family and inner circle – most of who are exiled in Europe. Gahima himself did meet Agather Kanziga, the widow of the ex-Rwandan leader. A Paris court ruled two weeks ago that she must be tried for genocide.
RNC is also in contact with alleged genocide financer Felicien Kabuga, through his daughter Winnie Kabuga and her husband Dr Paulin Murayi. The couple is said to be bankrolling the RNC from their home in Belgium. As for Felicien Kabuga, despite a $5milion bounty from the US government for his arrest, the financier of the RTLM hate radio remains at large.
Gahima makes another contradictory U-TURN?
Last month, Dr Murayi travelled to South Africa where he met with Kayumba and Karegeya. Information documented by the UN tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) shows that Dr Murayi is the one who identified and hired the so called “Genocide journalist” Georges Ruggiu, the Belgo-Italian convicted for his role in the massacres.
In the same interview, Gerald Gahima made another U-TURN about a position he and his dissident colleagues have held on the genocide against Tutsis. In apparent gestures to clear the government at the time, the Gahimas have constantly affirmed that the genocide was a reaction to the death of Habyarimana. But last night seemed to have been time for a U-TURN.
“I don’t subscribe to the view that the genocide was just a spontaneous reaction by the Hutu community because their president was dead,” said Gahima, whose comments seem designed to appeal to genocide survivors, who have vigorously denounced the dissidents.
“There was a government who sat, planned these killings; who sent people at lower levels to organize the killings. It was very systematic.”
However, Gahima says Habyarimana’s government did not in any way plan the genocide. He claims the genocide was planned by the interim government headed by Theodore Sindikubwabo.
What Gahima does not say, and which is the documented fact; is that the genocide targeting Tutsis had been going on in places like Bugesera before the night of April 06, 1994 when the slaughter begun en-mass across the country.
Who is Gahima?
Following the takeover of Kigali by the transitional administration, which had kicked out the genocide government, Gahima held various positions which eventually led him to being Prosecutor General. Using the tools of his office, Gahima developed a clandestine system which his critics at the time said was used to torment unsuspecting victims.
Many of the genocide fugitives in western cities accuse him of witch hunting them. It emerged later after he had been dropped in 2003 that suspects had to pay for their liberty.
Perhaps the biggest scandal was a bank document of Rwf 70million printed at the time on the front page of a tabloid with names of Gahima’s mother. Gahima had used his mother’s names to obtain the loan – which was granted without any guarantee.
An audit found later that several of such fraudulent loans were numerous; and the banks said they had no authority to decline any amount of cash for such a powerful figure.