As we approach the 20th anniversary of the Genocide in Rwanda questions surrounding justice, commemorating the victims, and lessons learned take center stage. With regards to justice, events in Germany and in France in the past two months demonstrate that persistence and international cooperation often work to ensure justice is served to those affected by genocide and mass violence. Two trials have just ended in these two countries that will certainly put Hutu fugitives living in Europe on edge.
Last month, a German court sentenced a former Rwandan mayor to a 14-year jail term. Onesphore Rwabukombe stood trial for organizing, ordering and monitoring a church massacre in Kiziguro. The church massacre led to the death of 1200 people seeking shelter. He was found guilty of not only ordering the attack but also organizing the collection and dumping of dead Tutsis.
The case was the first of its kind in Germany; no other German court had brought charges against a Rwandan perpetrator living in Germany. Two other cities, Dusseldorf and Stuttgart, are now trying Hutu extremists and their supporters.
This month a French court sentenced Pascal Simbikangwa to a 25-year jail term for his role in the genocide. Pascal, an intelligence officer and cousin to president Habyarimana, was considered a ruthless operative during the genocide. He is credited with supervising the notorious roadblocks in which Hutu perpetrators demanded to see the identity cards of all that went through them. He was also accused of having taken part in organizing the genocide and distributing weapons to the Interahamwe (Hutu paramilitaries). What makes Pascal’s case even more fascinating is that both his mother and wife were Tutsi, a fact he brought up during his defense.
France and Germany join Belgium, Sweden and Norway in prosecuting Hutu perpetrators living within their jurisdiction. The trials point to a widening of prosecutorial reach and reduce the number of countries where genocidaires can seek refuge. The international policing organization (Interpol) has also issued a red alert for approximately 100 Rwandans in Europe who may have been involved in the genocide.
These events mark the beginnings of the first of hopefully many steps in the pursuit of justice for the approximately 800,000 dead. It should not be lost in the euphoria that these two powerful players in the genocide received a combined total of 39 years in jail; significantly less than what the respective prosecutors were asking for, as well as far less than what most of those tried in Rwanda and at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) received for comparatively similar charges. While 14 and 25-year sentences are considerably long prison terms and better than none, this is neither sufficient nor is it a strong enough signal to other perpetrators residing in Europe.
Wahutu Siguru is the 2013 Badzin Fellow in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and PhD candidate in the Sociology department at the University of Minnesota. Siguru’s research interests are in the Sociology of Media, Genocide, Mass Violence and Atrocities (specifically on issues of representation of conflicts in Africa such as Darfur and Rwanda), Collective Memory, and perhaps somewhat tangentially Democracy and Development in Africa.