The road still long toward the real justice in Rwanda

The Supreme Court in Kigali.

By The Rwandan Analyst

French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Rwanda has highlighted the importance of facing responsibility for past crimes, however long it takes. Those who bear responsibility for atrocities, whether it be genocide or war crimes, should take note.

The visit came after years of strained relations between the two countries. By asking forgiveness, Macron intends to open a new page between France and Rwanda. Last week, Kigali approved France’s choice for its next ambassador to Rwanda – the first to hold the post since 2015.

The origins of these tensions date back to the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Orchestrated by political and military extremists of the Hutu ethnic group and perpetrated mainly against the Tutsi ethnic group, the genocide killed at least half a million people and was exceptional for its brutality, its meticulous organization and the speed at which the massacres were perpetrated. France had supported the former extremist government of Rwanda, and had supported and trained its army and some of the forces that committed the genocide.

France has also been criticized, including by the current Rwandan government, for its reluctance to bring fleeing genocidaires living in France to justice. Emmanuel Macron, alluding to this question, declared in Kigali: “to recognize this past, it is above all also to continue the work of justice”.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame praised his speech, saying: “The truth heals. They are both right. But a selective approach to the truth is likely to catch up with them one day or another.

n Rwanda, not everyone is allowed to talk about the abuses suffered by themselves or those close to them during one of the darkest chapters in the country’s history. On May 31, Aimable Karasira, an academic, genocide survivor and government critic, was arrested on charges of denying and justifying the genocide, instigating division, and fraud. For several months, he has been harassed and regularly summoned by the Rwandan Bureau of Investigation for posting videos on YouTube critical of his family’s history and the genocide.

Coming from the Tutsi ethnicity, Aimable Karasira claims that soldiers from the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) killed several members of his family following the genocide. Talking about the crimes committed by the RPF, which has ruled the country since 1994, represents a red line that most Rwandans dare not cross. While the crimes committed by the RPF in Rwanda do not equal the genocide in scope and scale, they remain atrocious war crimes for which no one has had to answer.

In March, a commission established by Emmanuel Macron to investigate France’s role in the 1994 massacres published a 1,200-page report which concluded that France has responsibilities described as “heavy and overwhelming”, including its blindness over the preparation of the genocide and its slowness to break with the government which orchestrated it. In April, a report commissioned by the Rwandan government concluded that the French government “bears a heavy responsibility for making possible a predictable genocide”.

While the Rwandan authorities hail France’s efforts to address its role in the atrocities, they continue to ignore international crimes committed by Rwandan soldiers in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. While in Paris for a summit on post-pandemic financing for the African continent, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, in interviews, brushed aside questions about the terrible crimes committed in DR Congo in the aftermath of the genocide. Once again, he rejected the UN investigation into these crimes, the “Mapping Report” published in 2010, and called it “controversial”, “politicized” and “highly contested”.

The Mapping Report provides a detailed account of the investigation carried out by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in the Congo, documenting serious crimes committed between March 1993 and June 2003. It concludes that the majority of these crimes can be characterized as crimes against humanity and war crimes, including massacres, sexual violence and attacks against children, as well as other abuses.

UN investigators have described the role of all of the main Congolese and foreign parties responsible, including Rwandan soldiers and the Congolese rebels they supported, who are accused of some of the most serious crimes documented in this report. The lack of justice for these crimes is shocking, and Paul Kagame’s remarks make it clear that the Rwandan government has no intention of holding Rwandan perpetrators to account for the crimes and abuses committed.

Impunity for crimes perpetrated by Rwandan state actors continues. During the same interview in Paris, Paul Kagame dismissed out of hand the concerns about the mediated illegal extradition of Paul Rusesabagina last August and the particularly suspicious murder in custody of the very popular singer and committed to peace, Kizito Mihigo, in February 2020. Paul Kagame is apparently not very concerned by the recognition by his own Minister of Justice, during a recorded video call, of the role of the government in enforced disappearance, illegal transfer and violations of rights to a fair trial of Paul Rusesabagina. His terrorism trial opened on February 17.

More than a year after Kizito Mihigo’s death, Paul Kagame vaguely alluded to a puppet investigation, a smokescreen tactic common in Rwanda. “Everything is settled through the investigation and the tribunal,” he said. This is clearly wrong. A truly independent investigation is needed. Given the number of killings of political opponents inside and outside Rwanda, it is not surprising that such an investigation has yet to be carried out.

France is facing its responsibilities for past atrocities, but it should go further and ensure that the perpetrators of the genocide are brought to justice. Rwanda’s leaders should recognize their own role in past and current crimes. In the meantime, Emmanuel Macron should be careful not to adhere to rhetoric rewriting the past and truncated presentations of the present, and commit to defending human rights at home and abroad.

More than a year after Kizito Mihigo’s death, Paul Kagame vaguely alluded to a puppet investigation, a smokescreen tactic common in Rwanda. “Everything is settled through the investigation and the tribunal,” he said. This is clearly wrong. A truly independent investigation is needed. Given the number of killings of political opponents inside and outside Rwanda, it is not surprising that such an investigation has yet to be carried out.

France is facing its responsibilities for past atrocities, but it should go further and ensure that the perpetrators of the genocide are brought to justice. Rwanda’s leaders should recognize their own role in past and current crimes. In the meantime, Emmanuel Macron should be careful not to adhere to rhetoric rewriting the past and truncated presentations of the present, and commit to defending human rights at home and abroad.

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