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Rwanda: Genocide Archives Released

30 Years On, Accelerate Justice Efforts



(Nairobi)Human Rights Watch announced today that it is releasing a series of archives highlighting the extraordinary efforts of human rights defenders in Rwanda and abroad, to warn about the planned 1994 genocide and attempt to stop the killings. The documents painfully illustrate leading international actors’ refusal to acknowledge the slaughter of more than half a million people and act to end it.


A significant number of individuals responsible for the genocide, including former high-level government officials and other key figures behind the massacres, have since been brought to justice, and more than a dozen prosecutions of genocide suspects are being conducted in domestic courts across Europe under the principle of universal jurisdiction. And yet, in recent years, several high-level alleged genocide masterminds have died, or, in the case of one alleged planner, been declared unfit to stand trial, highlighting the urgent need to continue the quest to deliver justice.


“The genocide in Rwanda remains a stain on our collective conscience and, 30 years later, lessons can still be drawn from the actions – or lack thereof – of world leaders in the face of ongoing atrocities,” said Tirana Hassan, executive director at Human Rights Watch. “There is an urgent need to expedite the pursuit of justice to ensure that the remaining architects of the genocide are held to account before it is too late.”


On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down over the Rwandan capital, Kigali. The crash marked the beginning of three months of ethnic killings across Rwanda on an unprecedented scale.


Hutu political and military extremists orchestrated the killing of approximately three quarters of Rwanda’s Tutsi population, leaving more than half a million people dead. Many Hutu who attempted to hide or protect Tutsi, as well as those who opposed the genocide, were also killed.


In mid-July 1994, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a predominantly Tutsi rebel group based in Uganda that had been fighting to overthrow the Rwandan government since 1990, took over the country and ended the genocide. Its troops killed thousands of predominantly Hutu civilians, though the scale and nature of these killings were not comparable to the genocide.


Human Rights Watch documented the genocide and the RPF’s 1994 crimes in detail. Alison Des Forges, senior adviser to the Africa division at Human Rights Watch for almost two decades, published the authoritative account of the Rwandan genocide, “Leave None to Tell the Story,” and documented the international community’s indifference and failure to act.


Despite repeated warnings by Rwandan and international human rights organizations, diplomats, United Nations staff, and others that a genocide was being planned in the period leading up to April 1994, governments and intergovernmental bodies, including the UN and the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union), failed to act to prevent the genocide as it unfolded. The UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda withdrew most of its troops at the height of the massacres, leaving the Rwandan civilian population defenseless.


Thirty years later, Human Rights Watch is releasing part of its archives from March 1993 to December 1994. The documents and a chronology of actions during this period illustrate the organization and its allies’ extensive advocacy efforts, led by Alison Des Forges, first to try to prevent, and then to stop, the killings. The chronology does not purport to be a comprehensive compilation of all actions undertaken by civil society organizations and others in 1993 and 1994. The contents are rather some of what remained in Human Rights Watch’s possession from a pre-internet period after the unexpected death of Des Forges in 2009 in a plane crash in the US, and which the organization considers to be of public interest.


Stopping the leaders and the killers in Rwanda would have required military force, but in the early stages, a relatively small one. A rapid and efficient international intervention could have succeeded in halting the genocide and preventing some of the worst killings. The archives illustrate how international leaders not only rejected this course, but also declined for weeks to use their political and moral authority to challenge the legitimacy of the genocidal government. Strategy documents, statements, and letters show that international leaders at the time refused to declare that a government that was exterminating its citizens would never receive international assistance and did nothing to silence radio programs that incited Rwandans to slaughter. Such simple measures could have sapped the strength of the authorities bent on mass murder and encouraged Rwandan resistance to the extermination campaign.


On May 10, 1994, Des Forges wrote a letter to then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights José Ayala Lasso, informing him that the regime committing genocide was cognizant of how it was perceived internationally and that, the day before his planned visit to Rwanda, “the national committee of the Interahamwe militia […] broadcast a communique calling on their members to stop killing Tutsi and members of the political opposition. They also asked them to help stop killings by those who were not members of their groups.”


The documents shed light on the vital role played by human rights defenders in preventing atrocities. From the outset, Human Rights Watch and several others expressed alarm at the targeting of human rights activists in Rwanda.


In the months and years that followed, as the horror of the genocide sank in, “never again” became a common refrain. A number of world leaders acknowledged, and some apologized for, their failure to halt the genocide. It was also one of the triggers of the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine, which governments adopted in 2005 to protect people facing mass atrocities.


Overwhelming guilt at their individual and collective failure to stop the genocide has been a defining factor in many governments’ foreign policy toward Rwanda since that time. It continues to color international perceptions of and reactions to events in Rwanda and in the Great Lakes region, especially in relation to Rwanda’s human rights record in the 30 years since the genocide and its repeated incursions into the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rwanda has supported Congolese armed groups responsible for killings of civilians, rape, and other grave human rights violations.


The majority of genocide related prosecutions have taken place in Rwandan courts. Others have occurred before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) or domestic courts across Europe and North America.


Rwanda's community-based gacaca courts completed their work in 2012; the ICTR formally closed in 2015, handing over a number of functions to a residual mechanism. After years of delays, since 2001, scores of genocide suspects have been investigated, arrested, or prosecuted under the principle of universal jurisdiction in France, Belgium, Germany, the United Kingdom, and other European and North American countries.


The 30th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide provides an opportune and urgent moment to take stock of progress, both at national and international levels, in holding to account suspects who planned, ordered, and carried out these horrific crimes. It is all the more urgent to do so, and to accelerate efforts to prosecute remaining genocide suspects, as several high-profile planners and masterminds of the genocide have already died and one – Félicien Kabuga – was declared unfit to stand trial.


“An enduring lesson from the genocide is the international community’s failure to take heed of the clear signs that preparations for mass atrocities were underway – including warnings from human rights defenders who put their lives on the line to sound the alarm,” Hassan said. “Despite the passage of time, victims deserve to see those responsible for genocide and other crimes arrested and prosecuted in fair and credible trials.”


For an update on justice efforts after the genocide since 2019, please see below.


Justice Since the Genocide


The genocide in Rwanda, together with the wars in the Balkans, marked a turning point in international commitment to including accountability and criminal trials as part of responses to grave crimes under international law. The creation of the ICTR in 1994, and of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) the year before, paved the way for international justice. One important legacy of the genocide in Rwanda is the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 1998.


The ICC is the first permanent international criminal court whose mandate is not limited to a specific situation, but that has a potential global reach, with jurisdiction over the crime of aggression, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The ICC currently has 124 states parties, and has opened 17 investigations into grave international crimes, spanning all regions of the world. It acts as a court of last resort, stepping in only when national authorities do not carry out genuine investigations and, as appropriate, prosecutions. The court anchors a broader system of justice for serious international crimes rooted in the national courts of its member countries.


International Justice for the Rwandan Genocide (2019-2024)


The United Nations Security Council created the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in 1994 in response to the genocide. The tribunal indicted 93 people, convicted and sentenced 62, and acquitted 14. The remaining defendants had their cases transferred to national jurisdictions, while other suspects died before being presented before a judge or remain fugitives. The tribunal made significant contributions to establishing the truth about the organization of the genocide and providing justice to victims. Des Forges appeared as an expert witness in 11 genocide trials at the tribunal.


However, the ICTR ultimately prosecuted only a limited number of cases and was unwilling to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF). The tribunal formally closed on December 31, 2015.


As it wound down its work between 2011 and 2015, the ICTR transferred several genocide cases to Rwandan courts. To provide for the transfer of those cases, as well as extraditions of genocide suspects from other countries, the Rwandan government undertook reforms to the justice system aimed at meeting international fair trial standards. But the technical and formal improvements in laws and administrative structure have not been matched by gains in judicial independence and respect for the right to a fair trial.


Several people convicted by the ICTR have since died or served their sentences. On September 25, 2021, Malian officials announced the death of Théoneste Bagosora, a former Rwandan army colonel convicted of masterminding killings during the 1994 genocide. Bagosora, 80, was serving a 35-year sentence in Mali after the tribunal found him guilty of crimes against humanity. 


When the ICTR closed, the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT), created in 2010, was tasked with arresting and prosecuting the nine remaining tribunal-indicted fugitives. It retained jurisdiction over Augustin BizimanaFélicien Kabuga, and Protais Mpiranya, while referring the six remaining cases to Rwandan authorities (Fulgence Kayishema, Charles Sikubwabo, Aloys Ndimbati, Charles Ryandikayo, Phénéas Munyarugarama, and Ladislas Ntaganzwa).


In May 2023, Kayishema was arrested in South Africa, after evading justice since 2001. He is alleged to have planned the killings of more than 2,000 men, women, and children on April 15, 1994, at a church in western Rwanda.


Kabuga, an alleged mastermind behind the genocide, was arrested in France in May 2020. His trial started in September 2022 before the IRMCT, but was suspended in March 2023 while judges considered whether he was mentally fit to stand trial. In August 2023, IRMCT Appeals Chamber’s judges ordered the trial indefinitely suspended, confirming in part a June trial chamber decision finding Kabuga unfit to stand trial.


Just days after Kabuga’s arrest in 2020, the Residual Mechanism announced that the remains of Bizimana – the defense minister at the time of the genocide – had been identified in a grave in the Republic of Congo. In May 2022, Mpiranya – the commander of the army’s presidential guard at the time of the genocide – was confirmed dead. Des Forges had documented Mpiranya’s involvement in leading militia members and civilians in carrying out the killings. In May 2022, the IRMCT prosecutor also confirmed the death of another fugitive, Munyarugarama, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002.


As a result of these deaths, survivors have been robbed of their chance to see some of those allegedly responsible for the genocide face the accusations against them in a court of law.


Rwanda’s Public Prosecution Authority was quoted in media reports saying that Kayishema is expected to be transferred first to the Residual Mechanism in Arusha, Tanzania, and then to Rwanda for trial. Kayishema is challenging his transfer to Rwanda in the South African court system, South African judicial authorities told Human Rights Watch.


The prosecution of international crimes such as genocide and crimes against humanity in the country where they were committed, close to the victims and the affected population, can have a number of advantages over prosecutions in international courts, provided fair trials can be guaranteed. However, in Rwanda, the justice system lacks independence, and the government can influence the outcome of trials, especially in politically sensitive cases. This risks undermining the rights of the accused, as well as those of the victims to receive meaningful justice.


Ntaganzwa, whose case was also transferred to the Rwandan authorities, was arrested in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2015 and, in March 2016, was extradited to Rwanda where he faced trial. He was convicted in May 2020 and his conviction and life sentence were upheld on appeal in March 2023. However, fair trial concerns have been raised, including about the length of the trial.


In its monitoring report for November 2018, the IRMCT reported that Ntaganzwa had told the court he was held in solitary confinement for 25 days, and that prison authorities had harassed him, and threatened to beat him up. In a meeting with monitors in December, he said that his defense lawyers had not been allowed to see him during his time in solitary confinement, that the authorities had confiscated his laptop for a day, and that he was concerned that they had gone through his defense documents.


In March 2019, one of Ntaganzwa’s defense lawyers expressed concern that sharing the defense witness list early in the proceedings could lead to witness tampering. Ntaganzwa repeated his concerns regarding the prison authorities’ attempts to monitor his communications and laptop on several occasions.


Trials Under Universal Jurisdiction


Much of the information below draws on TRIAL International’s database on universal jurisdiction, which provides an overview of major criminal cases related to universal jurisdiction worldwide.


Typically, national authorities are only able to investigate a crime if there is a link between their country and the crime. However, under the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” national judicial systems can investigate and prosecute certain of the most serious crimes under international law no matter where they were committed, and regardless of the nationality of the suspects or their victims. Cases brought under this principle are an increasingly important part of international efforts to hold those responsible for atrocities accountable, provide justice to victims who have nowhere else to turn, deter future crimes, and help ensure that countries do not become safe havens for human rights abusers.


Some countries have created specialized war crimes units within their law enforcement and prosecution services focused on addressing grave international crimes committed abroad, including genocide.


In some of these countries, many years elapsed before trials of Rwandan suspects began. But, since 2001, several countries have tried Rwandan genocide suspects, including Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. For some, these were the first cases of genocide tried in their domestic courts. Criminal investigations are still ongoing against other Rwandan genocide suspects in several countries, including France and Belgium.


France


In France, a country to which a number of known genocide suspects had fled after the genocide, judicial authorities have finally redoubled efforts to secure the delivery of justice for the genocide after decades of delays and lengthy judicial processes. It was not until 20 years after the genocide, in February 2014, that France’s newly created war crimes unit tried the first suspect, Pascal Simbikangwa, a former intelligence chief under the Habyarimana government. It was a significant moment, as France had backed the former government of Rwanda and supported and trained some of the forces that carried out the genocide. On March 14, 2014, a Paris court found Simbikangwa guilty of genocide and complicity in crimes against humanity, and sentenced him to 25 years in prison. His conviction was upheld on appeal in May 2018.


In 2021, after decades of tense relations between France and Rwanda, a commission established by President Emmanuel Macron to investigate France’s role in the 1994 genocide published a 1,200-page report concluding that France has responsibilities it characterized as “serious and overwhelming,” including for being blind to the preparation of the genocide and being slow to withdraw support from the government orchestrating it.


During a visit to Rwanda in May 2021, Macron committed to ensuring that nobody suspected of crimes of genocide escapes justice. Since then, the French and Rwandan governments have increased cooperation and efforts to arrest and try genocide suspects in France.


Laurent Bucyibaruta, the Gikongoro prefect at the time of the genocide, fled to France in 1997. He was indicted by the ICTR on June 16, 2005, for incitement to genocide, genocide, and complicity in genocide, as well as crimes against humanity including extermination, murder, and rape. The ICTR referred the case to the French authorities, and he was arrested on September 5, 2007, and placed under judicial surveillance. Over 10 years later, on December 24, 2018, investigative judges referred the case to the Paris Criminal Court for complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity.


On January 21, 2021, the Court of Appeals confirmed the referral and changed the charges from complicity to direct perpetration of genocide for certain criminal facts and added charges that the judge had previously rejected. During his trial, which took place from May 9 to July 1, 2022, Bucyibaruta was acquitted of the charge of directly perpetrating genocide and crimes against humanity, but he was found guilty of complicity in those crimes for abetting several massacres. He was sentenced to 20 years and imprisoned at the end of the trial. Bucyibaruta died on December 6, 2023.


Sosthene Munyemana, a well-known doctor in Butare, was indicted in Paris for genocide and crimes against humanity on December 14, 2011, and placed under judicial supervision. Twelve years later, in December 2023, he was found guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity, and participation in a group formed for the purpose of preparing for complicity in these crimes, though he was acquitted of complicity, and sentenced to 24 years in prison. He was accused of inciting Hutu to exterminate the Tutsi community of Tumba in a public speech on April 17, 1994; of taking part in several massacres of Tutsi in and around Tumba; of distributing ammunition; of compiling lists of Tutsis to be eliminated; of leading night patrols; and of giving directions for abductions. His defense team announced Munyemana would appeal.


Eugene Rwamucyo, a doctor and the head of the Center of Public Health of the University of Butare at the time of the genocide, was indicted and placed under judicial surveillance in 2013. In April 2020, the prosecution asked to try him on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. In October 2020, the case was referred to the Paris Criminal Court. Rwamucyo appealed and, in September 2022, the Paris Court of Appeals confirmed the referral to the Assize Court. In January 2023, the Court of Cassation rejected his appeal and confirmed the referral of his case for the last time. He is detained and awaiting trial.


Philippe Hategekimana, a former gendarme, was convicted by a French court and sentenced to life in prison in June 2023 for genocide and crimes against humanity. He was found guilty of all charges against him for his participation in mass murders in Nyanza, and the murder of a nun and a mayor. Hategekimana fled to France in 1999, where he obtained refugee status, and later became a French citizen in 2005. After an investigation was opened in France, following a complaint filed by the Collective of Civil Parties for Rwanda (Collectif des parties civiles pour le Rwanda, CPCR), Hategekimana fled to Cameroon in 2017. In 2019, he was extradited to France, indicted, and his trial started on May 10, 2023. He has appealed the conviction.


In February 2014, French authorities rejected an extradition request from Rwandan authorities for Claude Muhayimana, who obtained French citizenship in 2010, but arrested him two months later following a 2013 complaint by the CPCR. In November 2017, a judge referred his case to the Paris Criminal Court for complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity. The trial took place between November and December 2021. Muhayimana was found guilty of complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity for transporting militiamen to killing sites during the genocide and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. On December 21, 2022, the Court of Appeals released Muhayimana pending his appeal.


Other cases are ongoing. Marcel Hitayezu, a former priest in Mubuga parish, is under judicial surveillance in France, charged with genocide and complicity in crimes against humanity in April 2021. Isaac Kamali, a former official of the Ministry of Public Works and Energy, was indicted in September 2021 and placed under judicial surveillance for his alleged involvement in genocide and crimes against humanity, according to TRIAL International. He was first arrested in Paris in June 2007. French authorities denied an extradition request by Rwanda in 2008.


Laurent Serubuga was a high-ranking officer in the Rwandan army, the deputy chief of staff until 1992, and allegedly associated with the Akazu, an informal organization of Hutu extremists. A memo issued by the French intelligence services from September 1994 and leaked to the media in 2019, describes him as one of the key suspects in the April 6, 1994 attack on Habyarimana’s plane. Several nongovernmental groups filed a complaint against him before the investigating judges of the Paris High Court and, in 2002, an investigation was opened against him for genocide and complicity in crimes against humanity. Rwanda issued an arrest warrant and extradition order to France in 2013, and while he was arrested that same year, France denied the extradition request and he was released. In 2017, the investigation was completed. The prosecutor’s office has yet to issue its final submissions stating its position on next steps, according to TRIAL International.


Pierre Kayondo, a former prefect of Kibuye and reportedly a shareholder of Radio-Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), which had broadcast incitements to genocide before April 6 and communicated the orders for implementing the killings after that date, was arrested in September 2023, and charged with complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity. The French judiciary had opened an investigation in October 2021 against Kayondo for his involvement in massacres, following a complaint from the CPCR.


Belgium


In Belgium, Pierre Basabose, a retired member of the Rwandan army and shareholder of RTLM, and Seraphin Twahirwa, a relative of Habyarimana accused of leading the Interahamwe, were put on trial for genocide and war crimes in October 2023. Both were first arrested in September 2020 but later released under investigation. In December 2023, Twahirwa was found guilty of participating in or overseeing atrocities; while Basabose was found guilty of funding the militia, but was not sentenced to a prison term due to health reasons. The court also established that Twahirwa had raped or overseen the rape of multiple women, and he was sentenced to life in prison. Both have appealed their conviction, according to TRIAL International.


Ernest Gakwaya and Emmanuel Nkunduwimye were arrested in March 2011 in Brussels. Gakwaya is facing charges for murdering and raping Tutsi and moderate Hutu, and Nkunduwimye allegedly committed murder, attempted murder, and rape. Both are alleged former Interahamwe members. In October 2019, the Belgian judiciary separated their cases from a case against Fabien Neretse. The scheduled hearings were postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic and no date has yet been set for the opening of their trial, according to TRIAL International.


After Belgian and French authorities issued arrest warrants against him, in 2011, Neretse was arrested in France and eventually handed over to Belgium, where his trial for genocide and the war crime of murder took place in 2019. The Brussels Criminal Court found him guilty of genocide and war crimes, and sentenced him to 25 years in prison. The court based Neretse’s conviction on his role as a founder of an Interahamwe militia, providing them with weapons and money; and on his role planning massacres. He was also found guilty of several murders, including of a Belgian national, Claire Beckers, her Rwandan Tutsi husband, Isaïe Bucyana, and their daughter.


Christophe Ndangali, the Ministry of Education’s chief of staff at the time of the genocide, was charged with genocide and war crimes, and arrested in September 2020 in Belgium for allegedly participating in the exclusion of Tutsi from the school system and calling for their extermination. The investigation is ongoing.


Several other cases are ongoing in Belgium, although trials have been slow to materialize. Across Europe, investigations and prosecutions have continued with a new sense of urgency.


Other Cases in Europe


Pierre-Claver Karangwa, a former Rwandan military official suspected of having played a key role in the genocide, was arrested in the Netherlands in October 2023. His arrest came after the Dutch Supreme Court ruled in June 2023 that he could not be extradited to Rwanda because of the risk of an unfair trial. The Netherlands has extradited several other genocide suspects in the past.


In December 2015, a United Kingdom district judge, after assessing the trials of previously extradited suspects and the updated legal framework in Rwanda, rejected an extradition request for five Rwandan genocide suspects due to risks they would not get a fair trial in Rwanda. Vincent Brown, also known as Vincent Bajinya; Charles Munyaneza; Emmanuel Nteziryayo; Célestin Ugirashebuja; and Célestin Mutabaruka were held in the UK in 2013 after an extradition request from the Rwandan government. The investigation was reopened in 2018 at the request of Rwandan prosecutors, and British police confirmed investigations are ongoing in April 2019.


In January 2024, a 69-year-old Rwandan man was arrested in Gateshead, in the north of England, by police investigating genocide and crimes against humanity. He was released on bail.


In 2017, Theodore Tabaro was charged in Sweden with murder, attempted murder, rape, kidnapping, and of having organized, recruited, incited, and executed killings against Tutsi. In 2018, he was sentenced to life in prison for genocide through murder, attempted murder, and abduction, but was acquitted of rape charges. The Appeals Chamber upheld the verdict and sentence in April 2019.


In Norway, Jean Chrysostome Budengeri was arrested by the National Criminal Investigation Service (known as “Kripos”) in June 2018 on suspicion of participating in killings during the genocide. His defense lawyer requested an independent review of Kripos’ investigation by the attorney-general in May 2019, citing discrepancies in witness interviews and their translations. The attorney-general rejected his request. Budengeri was released from pretrial detention in September 2019 but ordered to report to the police twice a week.


Trials in Rwanda


In Rwanda, the task of delivering justice was made more difficult by the fact that many judges, lawyers, and other judicial staff were killed during the genocide, and much of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed. Despite these challenges, the Rwandan government embarked on an ambitious and unprecedented approach to delivering justice, using both conventional domestic courts and community-based gacaca courts.


The gacaca left a mixed legacy. Its positive achievements included the courts’ swift work in processing a huge number of cases; the participation of local communities; and the opportunity for some genocide survivors to learn what had happened to their relatives. Gacaca might also have helped some survivors find a way of living peacefully alongside perpetrators. However, many gacaca hearings resulted in unfair trials. There were limitations on the ability of the accused to effectively defend themselves; numerous instances of intimidation and corruption of defence witnesses, judges, and other parties; and flawed decision-making due to inadequate training for lay judges who were expected to handle complex cases.


In March 2024, human rights defender François-Xavier Byuma was released from prison after serving a 17-year sentence following a gacaca trial marred by grave procedural errors. The trial judge was known to have a prior conflict with Byuma but had refused to recuse himself, as law required and Byuma requested. Byuma, who was then the head of an association for the defense of childrens' rights, had previously investigated allegations that the judge had raped a minor. The judge also failed to accord Byuma the right to defend himself fully.


Compared with most other countries emerging from mass violence, Rwanda's determination to see justice done and its progress in trying so many alleged perpetrators has been impressive. But the lack of safeguards against abusive prosecutions in a weak judicial system heightened the risk of unfair trials.


Extraditions to Rwanda


Until the first ICTR transfer decision, most countries denied Rwanda’s extradition requests. Under international human rights law, the sending country could be held responsible for foreseeable human rights violations of the suspects in Rwanda.


A European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling in October 2011 that the extradition of Sylvere Ahorugeze, a Rwandan genocide suspect arrested in Sweden, would not violate Sweden’s obligations to protect against torture or inhuman treatment, or to avoid complicity in fair trial violations, emboldened governments seeking to extradite suspects to face trial in Rwanda. Prosecutors and judges in extradition cases in various countries cited the ICTR and ECHR decisions as precedents when arguing for extradition. Although many countries have extradited genocide suspects to face trial in Rwanda, some still refuse to do so.


The Rwandan authorities have improved several aspects of the delivery of justice in the last 30 years, a noteworthy achievement given the challenges faced after the genocide. There have also been significant improvements in the functioning of the justice system and in prison conditions. But while the laws have changed considerably, the underlying politicization of the judiciary remains, hindering the full realization of the reforms, and there is still no guarantee of a fair trial in Rwandan courts, especially in politically-sensitive cases.


Rwanda has passed a number of laws that may have been intended to prevent and punish hate speech of the kind that led to the 1994 genocide, but they have led to serious violations of freedom of expression by imposing strict limits on how people can talk about the genocide and other events in and after 1994. Accusations and charges of genocide ideology have been used to silence prominent critics of the government. The government has also manipulated genocide accusations to discredit and target critics and dissidents.


Some countries have extradited suspects to Rwanda despite these concerns. Since the ICTR first transferred a case to Rwanda in 2011, Canada, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United States all have extradited suspects.


Leopold Munyakazi was deported from the US to Rwanda in 2016 on the basis of an international arrest warrant charging him with genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, and genocide denial. Yet, a leaked 2015 Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) report stated that the investigation was “almost certainly” compromised by a Rwandan intelligence agent and cast doubt on the allegations against Munyakazi. A lower court in Rwanda convicted him for direct involvement in the genocide and sentenced him to life in prison in 2017.


Rwanda’s Chamber for International Crimes overturned Munyakazi’s life sentence in July 2018, but upheld a nine-year sentence for genocide denial. On February 18, 2021, the Nyanza High Court Chamber of International and Cross-Border Crimes convicted Munyakazi of new charges of genocide denial, and added another five years to his sentence. The conviction is based on statements he made ahead of the genocide commemorations in April 2017, in Muhanga prison. According to the verdict, Munyakazi said that the genocide was a consequence of the RPF’s attempted invasion of Rwanda in October 1990, and that if President Habyarimana’s plane had not crashed, there would not have been a genocide.


In January 2024, Wenceslas Twagirayezu, a Rwandan with Danish citizenship who was extradited to Rwanda in December 2018, was acquitted of genocide and crimes against humanity during the 1994 genocide. The charges were linked to his suspected role in attacks on Tutsi in the former Gisenyi prefecture in the north. The acquittal of Twagirayezu followed contradictory witness statements and evidence demonstrating he was not in Rwanda at the time of the events he was accused of having been involved in. The prosecution has appealed the acquittal.


In April 2021, Beatrice Munyenyezi was deported to Rwanda by the US after serving a prison term for lying on her naturalization application, and arrested upon arrival in Rwanda. She faces seven charges related to the 1994 genocide, including rape. Her trial is ongoing.



 

(c) Human Rights Watch 2024



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