Rwandan perpetrators living in Europe scot-free

Two women pass by a mass grave of victims of the 1994 genocide.

By Koert Lindijer and Dick Wittenberg

Several perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide have found refuge from prosecution in Europe. Evidence against one Dutch national is now mounting.

Nobody knows how many there are. There could be hundreds or even thousands of Rwandans with blood on their hands who have found refuge in Europe. They got away after the genocide in their country, just like many Nazis who fled to Latin America after the Second World War.

Rakiya Omaar, the director of African Rights, a London-based human rights organisation, told NRC Handelsblad there are "a substantial number of genocide suspects" in the Netherlands alone. Omaar, who has been compared to the Austrian Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, believes the Dutch are not doing enough to prosecute these people. "The Netherlands is an important political and ideological base for Rwandan mass murderers."

20,000 killed in Mugani bloodbath

Omaar's organisation has brought one particular case to the attention of the Dutch authorities. In 2007, the Dutch public prosecutor's office was informed of the accusations against major Pierre-Claver K. Next week, African Rights will publish a 50-page report on his involvement in the brutal murder of at least 20,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus around the Catholic parish in Mugina. K., who has since obtained Dutch citizenship, denied the accusations in the report, titled Commanding Genocide in Rwanda, Living in The Netherlands, and said he believes the accusations are politically motivated.

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The report will be published as part of the commemoration of the Mugani massacre, which took place between April 21 and April 26 1994. Dozens of survivors, some of whom were only children when the bloodbath took place, told African Rights what happened during those days. "The whole church was awash with blood and bodies were lying everywhere," a witness named Euphrasie recalled. "I couldn’t imagine the priests ever daring to say mass there again."

The killing spree in Mugani was part of the Rwandan genocide that left 800,000 people dead. The mass killing was no act of primitive tribalism, but a systematic attempt to exterminate the Tutsi population. The Hutu majority, incited by a radical elite that spread ideas of Hutu supremacy, almost succeeded in its mission. Three out of every four Tutsis, ten percent of the Rwandan population, were killed between April and July of 1994. According to African Rights, K. was part of the radical elite responsible.

Stayed amongst the corpses

In the report, a woman named Claudette recalled how her children were murdered in the massacre. After 5-year-old David, 3-year-old Rebecca and 1-year-old Nyiranteziryayo were killed. Claudette herself was hit on the head with a massue, a club studded with nails, and fainted. "The day after the massacre, the killers came to finish off those who they had not quite managed to kill," she is quoted as saying. "They picked up the bodies of people whom they suspected were still alive. They tried to make them stand to see whether they could stand on their own or whether the bodies would fall like trees. (...) When they came over to me, I pretended that I was dead. They picked me up and I fell down as if I was dead. They went away thinking that I was just another corpse. We stayed amongst the corpses for two days."

The African Rights' report basically tells the story of a hero and a mass murderer. The hero was Mugina's mayor, bourgmestre Callixte Ndagijimana, who tried to prevent the bloodshed and protected Tutsis. He had violent members of a Hutu militia arrested and arranged food supplies consisting of maize, rice and beans for refugees from the surrounding region who poured into Mugani when they heard the mayor was able to stave off the genocide.

Imagine themselves safe from prosecution

The villain was Pierre-Claver K., a Mugina native and a special government envoy at the time. He initially gave the refugees' reassurances about their safety, but testimonies in the report reveal he was two-faced. He forced Ndagijimana to release the arrested militias, which he had armed, and he was personally involved in the murder of the bourgmestre. After the assassination of the refugees' guardian, the killers had free reign.

In the genocide's aftermath, Hutu foot soldiers flocked to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Many members of the elite moved west, to France and Belgium especially, where they blended in with local Rwandan communities. Some chose other countries in Europe or North America, often under a false name. Sometimes, Tutsis survivors who had fled the country later encountered their tormentors, who had also moved abroad. In 2001, Janvier Gasasira bumped into the man who had murdered his family on a Brussels' metro. He reported him to the police and the killer was sentenced to 12 years in prison as a result.

But for years, many perpetrators abroad imagined themselves safe from prosecution. Rwanda was busy enough with the hundreds of thousands of suspects still in the country. The legal system of the small African nation had been destroyed in the genocide and had to be rebuilt from scratch. Its judges were either killed or themselves involved in the bloodshed.

One man convicted

The United Nations set up a special tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania, to prosecute the ringleaders of the genocide. Western countries initially did little to bring to justice those who got away.

But suspects such as major K. now have reason to be concerned. In 2005, a special unit was set up by the Rwandan justice department to track suspects abroad. The unit also offers assistance to countries who want to investigate cases in Rwanda. It has thus far given the Dutch prosecutors information regarding 16 Rwandan suspects living in the Netherlands. A number of them are on the list of 93 most wanted perpetrators that Rwanda compiled in 2006. The Netherlands does not extradite to Rwanda, but it has handed over one suspect to the tribunal in Arusha. In 2008, a Rwandan man was convicted of torture in a Dutch court.

But the number of convictions in Europe is marginal compared to the thousands of suspects still at large, said Rakiya Omaar. She said she found it "incomprehensible" K. had not yet been arrested in the Netherlands. She recalled a statement made by the Dutch justice minister, Ernst Hirsch Ballin, two years ago: "The Netherlands can't be a safe haven for war criminals." Asked to comment, the prosecutor's office in the Netherlands said that statement still stands. It refused to respond to the accusations in the African Rights report, or other individual cases, as a policy "in the interest of the investigation and privacy".

Tell the world what happened

Meanwhile, some Rwandan genocide suspects continue to destabilise their home country. They are supporting the armed opposition, financially or through websites, and they downplay the genocide, they same way fugitive Nazis tried to belittle the Holocaust.

Omaar, herself from Somalia, was working for African Rights in London when news of the Rwandan genocide got out in 1994. She travelled there immediately to investigate the massacre. She recalled visiting a hospital where even the incubators were riddled by bullets. Right there, she made it her mission to ensure the victims of the genocide would not be forgotten.

According to Omaar, the survivors in Mugina have lost all hope Pierre-Claver K. will ever by prosecuted. They feel abandoned by the international community for a second time. Then, the West did nothing to stop the genocide that could have been prevented. Today, it is offering a refuge to murderers. "The survivors want the world to at least know who the perpetrators were and what happened," Omaar said.

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