September 5, 2007

Rwanda: Genocide Inquiry Stumbles on French Connection

With the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda due to wrap up early next year with many genocide suspects still at large, Rwanda is keen to find and prosecute fugitives at home or abroad.

But distance, cost, and international politics make this an unlikely goal.

Along with France and Switzerland, Canada is trying Rwandan genocide suspects who stole across its borders in 1994.

Genocide survivors claim to have seen at least five who are still at large in Canada.

These expatriates criticize the Canadian government of tolerating the fugitives in the same way they refused to intervene during the genocide.

The problem is that Canadian genocide trials are lengthy and expensive.

Rwandan prosecutors would rather see the suspects extradited and tried in regional Gacaca tribunals, the system that has sent more than 100,000 genocide suspects to jail in Rwanda.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame abolished the country’s death penalty in July to encourage other countries to send suspects their way.

Yet there are questions about how much justice the tribunals provide and how safe the jails are — a report by Human Rights Watch said at least 20 people had been killed in custody since November 2006.

And a Gacaca court judge recently confessed to extorting money from several genocide suspects and taking bribes from MP Elise Bisengimana, who was accused of mass killings, in return for an acquittal, according to the New Times of Rwanda.

Many are wondering how fair the French courts can be toward genocide suspects in light of a new report from a Rwandan commission accusing French soldiers of carrying out “widespread rape” of genocide survivors.

The commission, which is investigating France’s role in helping Hutu Interahamwe militants kill Tutsis during the conflict, says it has enough evidence to convince the international community.

Based on eyewitness testimony and official paperwork, the commission says the French soldiers trained and armed the Interahamwe, and raped Tutsi survivors, under the auspices of a U.N. peacekeeping force sent to protect civilians.

France denies any role in the genocide.

Sources:

“War-crimes trials for Rwandans complex and costly”
Canadian Press, September 1, 2007

“Five top genocide suspects are living free in Canada, says Rwanda”
Montreal Gazette, September 1, 2007

“French troops accused of widespread rape”
Independent (U.K.), August 31, 2007

“Rwanda: MP bribed me, judge confesses”
New Times (Rwanda), August 30, 2007

“Rwanda: Kagame encourages other countries to abolish the death penalty”
Hirondelle News Agency, August 31, 2007

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