17 December 2012

Rwanda: France - a Haven for Genocide Fugitives?

Photo: News of Rwanda
Burial for genocide victims (file photo).

France, which maintained close ties with the genocidal regime in Rwanda, has been accused of blocking justice with regard to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

The criticism comes days after a French court ordered a local administrator to grant a permanent residence to Agathe Kanziga, the widow of former president Juvenal Habyarimana.

Kanziga is among several prominent members of the former Rwandan regime who are wanted back home on genocide charges.

The Versailles Court of Appeal ordered the Prefect of Essonne to issue Kanziga with a residence permit after a long legal battle.

Over the past few years, the former First Lady, one of the top Genocide fugitives living in France, has repeatedly been arrested and released by French authorities, under circumstances that have baffled rights groups and French citizens well versed with events of 1994.

Kanziga is suspected of being a key figure in the creation of a clique of extremists, Akazu, which hatched and executed the Genocide plan.

French national Sharon Courtoux, says that: "For France to be home to so many Génocidaires, it is primarily because the French government at the time [1994] had strong ties with the Habyarimana regime. Many former Rwandan officials studied in France and kept in touch. And then, there are the links established by the Catholic Church. Father (Wenceslas) Munyeshyaka was picked up in the Congo in 1994, during a visit there by French bishops."

"Some Genocide suspects were directly "extradited" from Congo by French soldiers and transported to an African country first, from where they could then head to France. And then there are a large number of soldiers who are there too. Their presence, perhaps, may be more political than the others."

In September, 1994, Munyeshyaka escaped from Rwanda, with the help of the French Catholic Church. He had allegedly helped desecrate the Sainte-Famille parish in Kigali where survivors accuse him of torture, rape, and other crimes against humanity, during the Genocide. In 2006, a court in Kigali sentenced him, in absentia, to life imprisonment but he continues to roam free in the southern French village of Bourg-St-Andeol. In 1995, survivors lodged a complaint against him; French authorities arrested him on Genocide charges, but the charges were immediately dropped, and he was released.

Chantal Kabasinga, the President of Avega Agahozo, an association of Genocide widows, is not surprised by the ties France has with the suspects.

"There is no big surprise at all in whatever France is doing today because the role they played in the Genocide is well documented. But as survivors, we are so hurt when people who had a major role in preparing and executing the Genocide are not arrested. This is simply Genocide denial," Kabasinga said.

"It is also as good as killing us, all over again, and discouraging Rwandans who are trying hard enough to unite and reconcile, Kabasinga added.

Alain Gauthier, head of a France-based rights group, Collectif des Parties Civiles pour le Rwanda (CPCR), says, "the recent injunction by French courts will surprise only those who do not know the complacency demonstrated by some judges for many years when it comes to the issue of those suspected of participating in the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda."

Gauthier says no extradition to Rwanda has ever been affected by France, or any real Genocide trial held in France, a situation that has allowed the suspects to roam freely in his country despite numerous complaints by the CPCR, since 2007.

Ms Habyarimana's stay in France is "scandalous enough," Guthier says.

However, he is even more troubled by an ominous possibility that she might be rejoined there, in what he refers to as, "a family reunion", by her brother, Protais Zigiranyirazo, commonly known as Monsieur Zed ("Mr. Z"), another Genocide suspect "scandalously acquitted" by the ICTR in 2009.

French Judges have travelled to Rwanda to investigate Genocide fugitives on French soil, with no tangible impact.

Others include Venuste Nyombayire, the former director of SOS-Gisenyi, a child-centred organisation, and accused of directly participating in the killing of children who were evacuated to the centre.

Hyacinthe Rafiki Nsengiyumva, the former minister of public works, accused of spearheading the Genocide in the former Gisenyi prefecture, western Rwanda, also lives in France.

Another fugitive there is Claver Kamana, a former businessman in the now Southern Province, who allegedly bankrolled Radio Television Libre de Mille Collines, the hate media house of 1994.

Lt. Col. Marcel Bivugabagabo, a former military officer in the then Rwandan Armed Forces (ex-FAR), accused of spearheading killings, especially in the Northern Province, was arrested in France in 2008, but his file is among the many that are still pending in the French Jurisdiction.

For the survivors, the search for justice is a long road and while some countries are following up on suspects within their jurisdiction, a lot is expected of France considering the number of suspects and the role they played in the Genocide.

The new French ambassador to Rwanda, Michel Flesch, last week, presented his credentials pledging to improve bilateral ties. Among his top priorities should be addressing the issue of the suspects. It remains a thorn in the relationship between the two countries.

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