Rwanda – Justice: 20 years later, an uncompleted job

Twenty years after the genocide, justice has been done but not entirely. Some of the planners are still free. Arms traders, politicians or bankers who made it possible have not been prosecuted. And crimes committed by the victorious army have not been punished.

Twenty years after the genocide of one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus, the machinery of justice has worked but the job is uncompleted and far from perfect. As says, Eric Gillet, a former co-president of the Paris-based Fèdèration internationale des droits de líhomme (FIDH), the challenge was difficult. Impunity had to be avoided and at the same time, there was a need to avoid holding an entire ethnic group, the Hutus, as guilty.


In November 1994, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was created. Its mission was to judge those who were responsible for acts of genocide and other serious human rights violations committed in Rwanda or by Rwandan citizens in neighbouring countries between the 1st January and the 31 December 1994. As initially scheduled, the tribunal completed investigations in 2010. All verdicts were made before end 2012 and appeal decisions should be known before end 2015. One of the historical moments of the ICTR was the trial of Jean Kambanda, the Prime minister of the so-called interim government formed on the 9 April 1994 after the fatal attempt against the late President Juvenal Habyarimanaís aircraft. Kambanda got a life sentence on the 4 September 1998, after having admitted to have distributed arms and ammunitions in Butare and Gitarama, knowing they would be used to perpetrate the genocide. During sever years, from 2000 to 2007, took place the trial of the ´†hatred media†ª which ended up with a 30 years sentence against Ferdinand Nahimana, one of the founding fathers of the dreaded Radio Tèlèvision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM). A total of 47 people were condemned by the ICTR and 12 were acquittted . Colonel ThÈoneste Bagosora, considered as one of the masterminders of the negocide received a life sentence in 2008.
Yet, the human justice has been far from perfect. Survivors are outraged that after a first instance guilty verdict, Protais Zigiranyirazo, aka ´†Mister Z†ª the former prefect of Ruhengeri and Habyarimanaís brother in law, who was exposed in 1992 as head of the death squads, was acquitted in 2009 in an appeal trial during which his lawyers pleaded that there has no evidence of his involvement in planning the genocide. That was one of the cases where the Anglo-Saxon justice based on evidence clashed with the Rwandan culture where murder can be suggested through euphemisms such as ‘work’ for ‘kill’. Besides, 9 genocide planners are still on the run including one of the main financiers of the genocide, the businessman Felicien Kabuga who was seen for the last time in Kenya, two decades ago.


Gacaca Community Courts
The second pillar of justice was Rwanda, where the mass of perpetrators faced trial, except for a few organizers, such as Froduald Karamira, who launched the Hutu Power slogan and ideology and was recognized as having planned the massacre of hundreds of Tutsis, who was executed with 21 other persons at the Nyamirambo stadium in Kigali. The vast majority of the accused was judged by the ìgacacaî community courts between 2002 and 2012. Some 160 000 ´†Inyangamugayo†ª (honest) elected judges dealt during this period with 1.9 million cases. About 30 percent of the accused persons were acquitted. One on ten received a life sentence and most of the 5 to 25 years prison sentences commuted to works of public interest, if the criminals had confessed their crimes.


According to the authorities, the gacaca courts were a success in terms of justice and national reconciliation. They also claimed that popular justice was the only realistic answer to the massive challenge. Many claim that the gacacaís biggest advantage was to reduce substantially the number of detainees in Rwandaís prison, which decreased from a record 140,000 in 2003 to some 58,000 in 2013. According the Rwandaís prison administration, two thirds of the detainees have been sentenced for their involvement in the genocide. However, Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticized the gacaca, arguing that their judges lack the sufficient legal training, that the accused were not defended by professional lawyers and that in the Rwanda tradition, gacaca were not dealing with assassination issues. The former executive secretary of the gacacas, Domitille Mukantaganzwa, now speaker of the national assembly deplores however that about 6% of the sentenced persons did not serve their sentence, either because they did not attend their trial or were on the run when it took place. One of the concerns of survivors is also that the Rwandan justice did not compensate them. At the same time, one can argue that since the genocide was a State Crime, the new administration of a destroyed state could have hardly coped with the needs.

Finally, a number of trials took place in third countries where the domestic justice received universal jurisdictions to deal with genocide crimes. One of the last trials has taken place in Germany, where a court in Frankfurt sentenced former mayor, Onesphore Rwabukombe, to 14 years for having overseen and assisted in the massacre of more than 450 men, women and children at the Kiziguro church compound in East Rwanda. In Belgium, two nuns, one academic and a businessman were sentenced by a Brussels court to several years prison for their participation to the 1994 massacres. Other trials took place in Switzerland and Canada where the government decided the extradition to Rwanda in 2012 of LÈon Mugesera, a former leader of Habyarimanaís MRND party in the Ruhengeri prefecture to answers charges of planification and incitation to genocide.


In some countries however, the justice was very slow if not reluctant to deal with the genocide issues, even if they had declared that their courts were competent. In France, it took almost 20 years, before the start of the first trial on the last 4 February 2014 in Paris, that of Captain Pascal Simbikangwa, who is accused for its involvement in the massacre of 1,400 Tutsis at Kesho, in the Ruhengeri prefecture. This lack of enthusiasm is attributed to the attitude of the French authorities which are embarrassed because testimonies could remind public opinion of the support to the Hutu regime of the French administration during the genocide. Some Interhamwe militias were trained by French officers beforehand and while massacres were ongoing, France was the only state in the world to have received representatives of Rwandaís genocide government on the 27 April 1994.

Some like former Oxfam-Belgiumís former secretary general, Pierre Galand have highlighted the responsibilities of bankers, arms traders and even donors in financing the genocide. In an interview with Radio France Internationale, Galand stressed that despite the UN arms embargo, international creditors continued to execute payment orders from the Banque nationale du Rwanda even after the fall of the Hutu extremist regime in 1994 to purchase weapons. Accordingly, World Bank funds were are also ìsystematicallyî used to purchase military equipments during the 1990-1994 period. Finally, beside the genocide, the crimes perpetrated by the Rwanda Patriotic Army, including the massacre of 4,000 people at Kibeho in April 1995 were unpunished, which makes reconciliation more difficult.

FranÁois Misser


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