The film Hotel Rwanda was a powerful portrayal of the vicious genocide that decimated the people of Rwanda during the 1990s, and was sparked off by the killing of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana. The film has come to be known as the African Schindler’s List. Readers will recall Don Cheadle playing the manager driving in the foggy night to get supplies for his hotel. For some reason the road seems bumpy. But when he gets out, he see corpses littered on the road, as far as the eye can see.
The genocide was possibly one of the worst international crimes in recent history. The world closed its eyes to Rwanda as ethnic Hutus hacked around a million Tutsis to death, mostly with machetes, in a span of a 100 days. No one really wanted to know about it.
In the film Cheadle warns a Hutu general that the world will sit in judgment over the events in Rwanda.
Ironically, one of the men considered by a French court to be involved in the assassination and subsequents genocides and wars, roams free here in India, enjoying the immunity from arrest and prosecution that is due to a diplomat.
The Rwandan Ambassador, Lt. General Kayumba Nyamwasa has been indicted for genocide, crimes against humanity and arrest warrants have been issued against him by courts in France and Spain.
In 2006, French Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere issued warrants for the arrest of several Rwandan leaders including the current Rwandan President Kagame as well as Ambassador Nyamwasa to be tried for alleged complicity in the killing of the ethnic Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana which sparked off the genocide of ethnic Tutsis in Rwanda in the 1990s.
But again in February this year, in a case reminiscent of the Pinochet case, a Spanish court indicted 40 Rwandans including Ambassador Nyamwasa for several counts of genocide, human rights abuses and terrorism in the 1990s. Under Spanish law, a court can prosecute human rights crimes even if the alleged offences took place abroad. A slowly growing number of countries like Belgium and Canada have enacted such laws assuming universal jurisdiction, i.e., jurisdiction to try serious offences like genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity that take place anywhere in the world.
The Rwandan Embassy website has Ambassador Nyamwasa inviting visitors to his country. The Ambassador was part of the Tutsi-dominated rebel Rwandan Patriotic Army which is widely credited with carrying out the assassination of former President Juvenal Habyarimana, sparking of the genocide of ethnic Tutsis by the Hutu dominated government. The RPA later took over the country and reportedly carried out counter-atrocities of their own against the Hutus. Predictably, this website blames the Habyarimana for planning and carrying out the genocide. But there are questions as to how it was sparked off after his own assassination.
The Rwandan army invaded Congo in 1996 to continue its attacks on Hutus, further leading to two wars in Congo. The BBC in 1998, referring to the attacks conducted by the RPA against Hutu militias, quoted Nyamwasa, the then military chief of staff, as saying, “We have the means. We have the will. We will kill until they (the Hutu militias) lose their appetite for war.”
The crimes Nyamwasa is charged with came to light during the Spanish court’s investigation of the brutal killing of eight Spaniards in Rwanda in 1997. The majority of these crimes were against ethnic Hutu Rwandan refugess in the Congo and ethnic Hutu Congolese civilians. The French court indicted him and others as a result of the investigation into the air crash which killed President Habyarimana as well as the then President of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira, as the plane they were on carried a French crew which was also killed. French investigating magistrate, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, well known for his activist style of functioning, was also responsible for the capture of international terrorist, Carlos the Jackal. He has since left the judiciary and entered politics.
While the Indian government did not choose Nyamwasa to be Rwanda’s envoy to this country, questions can be raised at the propriety of the Indian government dealing on equal terms with a person of such peculiar credentials as to be indicted for genocide. While neither France nor Spain has asked for the arrest and extradition of Nyamwasa, even if such a request were made, the diplomatic immunity held by the Rwandan ambassador would bar the Government of India from acceding to such a request.
“He enjoys diplomatic immunity so the Indian government has to take a political decision as to whether to ask the Rwandan government to recall him, since these are serious charges. If the court notice comes, the Indian government can ask the Rwandan government to respond to the charges. Or it could just leave to Rwanda to settle it with France and Spain,” says G. Parthasarthy former Indian envoy to Pakistan, Australia and Myanmar.
But the problem there would be the Rwandan President Paul Kagame was also implicated by the two courts of involvement in these crimes. He, however, escaped an indictment because his status as head of state gave him sovereign immunity.
The Rwandan Parliament has reportedly, recently debated and dismissed these indictments as Senate President Vincent Biruta, in his opening remarks explained that, “the indictment was done in an inappropriate manner that does not respect international law.”
Rwanda also thinks the extending of universal jurisdiction over Rwanda by states like Spain and France amounts to arrogance. The Rwandan embassy reacted by saying, “there is no basis to support these allegations.” In a written response, they say, “It is absurd that a foreign judge could issue an indictment against officials of a sovereign state without going either through diplomatic channels or judicial institutions of that state.”
The embassy says the Spanish judge never investigated the case properly and issued indictments on the basis of the ‘falsehoods’ of the ‘well-known detractors of Rwanda’. It also claims Spain has given assurances of having been ‘no party to this misuse of universal jurisdiction.”
The Rwandan mission also said the government of Rwanda has called upon Interpol to ‘ignore these warrants’ and all UN member states to refuse to give effect to these ‘bogus and ridiculous’ indictments.
Canada is also currently trying a Rwandan on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.