The tide is beginning to turn toward justice. Despite receiving enormous political, diplomatic and economic support from Western governments, Kagame and his Rwandan Patriotic Front-led government have been subjected to increasing scrutiny and pressure for past and current crimes committed on the African continent.
The British arrest of Rwanda’s spy chief on an international warrant issued by Spain is a long awaited and necessary development toward ending impunity for Rwandan government officials accused of war crimes.
The arrest on June 20, 2015, of Emmanuel Karenzi Karake, Rwanda’s director general of National Intelligence and Security Services, also highlights a contrast in foreign policies: Spain’s unbiased pursuit of justice against Rwandans accused of war crimes and the United States’ history of shielding current Rwandan government officials accused of war crimes from prosecution.
The international arrest warrant on which the British courts acted dates back to 2008 when Spanish judge Fernando Andreu Merelles, acting under the principle of universal jurisdiction, indicted 40 Rwandan military officers on several counts of genocide, human rights abuses and terrorism during the 1990s. Gen. Karake was one of those 40 officials indicted.
The indictment also names eight Spanish citizens who died or disappeared during the 1990s in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo and alleges that Karake specifically ordered the killing of three Spanish nationals. The victims in these massacres number millions, with the vast majority being Rwandan Hutu refugees and Congolese citizens.
Predictably, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo responded with outrage and wholesale denial of the charges against Karake. President Kagame is a master at presenting a picture of Rwanda being under attack by the West, while at the same time Rwanda enjoys Western aid and support at American taxpayers’ expense.
Among African leaders, few have better connections with the West and benefit more from judicial protection than Kagame. The US Department of State, then led by Secretary Hillary Clinton, requested a privilege for Kagame that even former President Bill Clinton was unable to obtain as president. The privilege was immunity from a US civil lawsuit on the basis of Kagame occupying the presidency.
American presidents do not have such immunity because of a precedent set in Clinton v. Jones, a contentious 1997 case that established that a sitting president of the United States has no immunity from civil litigation against the president for acts done before taking office and unrelated to the office.
The tide is beginning to turn toward justice. Despite receiving enormous political, diplomatic and economic support from Western governments, Kagame and his Rwandan Patriotic Front-led government, over the last five years, have been subjected to increasing scrutiny and pressure for past and current crimes committed on the African continent.
It appears that with the passing of each year, governments and institutions in the West, along with international bodies, have sought to hold the Kagame regime and its members accountable for the mass crimes and human rights violations they have committed in Rwanda and Congo. Most recently notable was the U.S.-led effort to withhold financial assistance from the Rwandan government in 2012 because of its support of the militia group M23 in the Congo.
The M23 was committing crimes against humanity, destabilizing the Congo and displacing hundreds of thousands of Congolese civilians. The US and a number of European countries withheld tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer aid to the Rwandan government and eventually pressured Kagame to cease his support of the militia group.
The Karake arrest in June provides a view into the crimes that have been committed by the post-genocide regime in Rwanda and the region. A series of reports and studies have been published since the 1994 genocide that clearly document the mass atrocities and crimes against humanity committed by the Kagame regime. Among these reports is the 1994 Gersony report, which documents the following:
• U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ mission leader Robert Gersony reportedly estimated that ‘during the months from April to August the RPF had killed between 25,000 and 45,000 persons, between 5,000 and 10,000 persons each month from April through July and 5,000 for the month of August,’ according to a 1999 Human Rights Watch report.
• Large-scale indiscriminate killings of men, women, children, including the sick and the elderly, were consistently reported. The reported violence includes: ‘-- Mass killings at meetings. Local residents, including entire families, were called to community meetings, invited to receive information about ‘peace,’ ‘security’ or ‘food distribution’ issues. Once a crowd had assembled, it was assaulted through sudden sustained gunfire; or locked in buildings into which hand-grenades were thrown; systematically killed with manual instruments; or killed in large numbers by other means.’
The arrest also is a stark reminder of atrocities such as the Kibeho massacres of an estimated 10,000 innocent civilians.
Other reports with similar findings include the 1997 Garreton report, which revealed the massacres by the RPF’s military wing, also known as the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), in the Congo, and the 2010 UN Mapping Exercise Report, which claimed that if tried in a competent court the RPA could be charged with crimes of genocide in the Congo. The recent BBC documentary titled The Untold Story encapsulates in film many of the crimes documented in hundreds of pages of reports since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
In spite of the abundance of documentation and evidence of the massive crimes committed under the leadership of Paul Kagame, he and his co-conspirators have been able to avoid accountability. Due to the powerful relationships that Kagame has cultivated with influential individuals and institutions in the West, these reports have been blocked, ignored or left to gather dust.
Kagame has benefited tremendously from diplomatic and political cover from both the United States and the United Kingdom. Such benefits include continued aid to the Kagame regime despite mounting evidence of horrific human rights violations, suggestion for immunity from civil lawsuit liability, and strengthened business and economic relationships, as well as opportunities to serve on major international bodies, including the U.N. Security Council.
The Karake case will certainly take many months to go through the legal process in the UK. Karake has been granted bail ahead of a full extradition hearing in October. He was ordered to relinquish his passport and other travel documents and is allowed travel only within the London Metropolitan area.
Because former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is one of Karake’s closest peers and defenders and is a paid adviser to Kagame’s government, to no one’s surprise, none other than Blair’s wife, Cherie Blair, is on Karake’s defense team. Some of Kagame’s sponsors in the West appear willing to stick with him no matter how much evidence is accumulated against him and his officials.
However, the masses of peace-loving and justice-seeking people in Africa and the West will certainly continue the push to hold the West’s ‘friendly tyrant’ accountable until justice is delivered for his millions of victims.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously noted that the arc of history is long but it bends toward justice. We are witnessing the arc of history bend toward justice for the victims of Kagame and his post-genocide regime.
* Claude Gatebuke is a Rwandan war and genocide survivor. He is the executive director and co-founder of the African Great Lakes Action Network. Claude is a human rights advocate who regularly speaks in various parts of the world as well as appear on national and international media. He can be reached at [email protected]
* Kambale Musavuli, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo and one of the leading political and cultural Congolese voices, is a social entrepreneur and an international human rights advocate. He serves as the National Spokesperson for the Friends of the Congo, a group that raises global consciousness about the situation in the Congo and provides support to local institutions. He is featured in the short film ‘Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering the Truth,’ an abbreviated version of the upcoming feature length documentary that explores the role that the United States and its allies, Rwanda and Uganda, have played in triggering the greatest humanitarian crisis at the dawn of the 21st century. He can be reached at [email protected]
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