Rwanda denies rebels escaped justice over genocide


Rwanda is denying accusations from a human rights group that rebels led by now President Paul Kagame went unpunished for war crimes and revenge killings after the central African nation’s 1994 genocide.

Reuters reports that in a recent letter to the UN-backed International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the court to indict senior officers from the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) as it did to the Hutu masterminds of the genocide.

“The tribunal’s failure to address the war crimes committed by the Rwandan Patriotic Front risks leaving the impression that it is delivering only victor’s justice,” HRW executive director Kenneth Roth said. “That’s a poor legacy for this historic effort at international justice.”

The RPF rebels, led by Kagame, swept to power after routing extremists responsible for the genocide of 800 000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Fifteen years later, justice and reconciliation issues still arouse deep feelings in the nation of 10 million whose economy was shattered by the genocide.

Critics say Kagame has been lenient on ex-RPF fighters, while ensuring genocide perpetrators met justice, and faced survivors, in local village “gacaca” tribunals.

But Rwandan Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama told Reuters, in response to the rights group’s letter, authorities had punished “most severely” soldiers who had violated rules of military engagement and committed war crimes.

“Some abuses did indeed take place but they (soldiers) were arrested, they were arraigned before courts of law, they were judged by the competent court and sentenced,” Karugarama said.

The New York-based rights group cited a 1994 UN report which accused the RPF of perpetrating “serious breaches of international humanitarian law and crimes against humanity.”

The UN refugee agency estimates the RPF killed between 25 000 and 45 000 people from April to August 1994, HRW said in a statement to media accompanying the letter.

Despite the concern that genocide-related cases might face political interference and unfair adjudication, the ICTR last year transferred files of RPF suspects to Rwanda for domestic prosecution, HRW said.

It said trials of those suspects in Rwanda had presented the killings as “spontaneous reactions by soldiers overcome with grief” and were a political whitewash.

“The court heard testimony only from witnesses supporting this version of events, despite evidence you transmitted to Rwanda‘s prosecution service indicating that the killings were part of a planned military operation involving more senior officials,” HRW said in its letter to ICTR chief prosecutor Hassan Jallow.

Karugarama said the alleged numbers killed by RPF were “wild allegations” and lacked evidence.

“It’s on record in the public domain that the RPF never killed people intentionally at all, on the contrary, anybody that did was severely punished,” he said.

“If anybody has other evidence, let them bring it forward.”

Seeking justice for the victims of RPF crimes neither denies the genocide nor equates these crimes with genocide, Roth said.

“It simply asserts that all victims, regardless of the power of the alleged perpetrators, have the right to see justice done,” he said.

Pic: Reuters file photo, cica 1994, showing RPF soldiers with a club used by Hutu militants