Genocide in Rwanda: 30 years of seeking justice

Genocide in Rwanda: 30 years of seeking justice

Rwanda will on April 7, 2024 commemorate the 30th anniversary of the genocide during which Hutu extremists targeting the Tutsi minority slaughtered around 800,000 people in a massacre lasting 100 days. (Photo by ALEXIS HUGUET / AFP)

Tens of thousands of Rwandans have been convicted over the slaughter of an estimated 800,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis, during the genocide 30 years ago.

Hundreds more suspects are still at large, several dozen of whom are living in Europe, mainly in France or in former colonial power Belgium.

AFP looks at the global push to ensure those responsible for the mass killings are brought to justice:

- International tribunal -

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was set up by the United Nations in 1994 in the Tanzanian city of Arusha just months after the April-July genocide.

In September 1998, it became the first international tribunal to hand down a conviction for genocide. The court convicted 62 people, including former planning minister Augustin Ngirabatware who was arrested in Germany and extradited to Arusha, before closing in late 2015.

Its work has since been taken over by the UN's International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (MICT) in Arusha and in the Dutch city of The Hague.

In September 2022, one of Rwanda's richest men, Ngirabatware's father-in-law Felicien Kabuga, went on trial in The Hague, accused of setting up a hate broadcaster that urged members of the Hutu majority to kill Tutsis with machetes.

Kabuga, who was arrested in 2020 near Paris, was later declared unfit for trial but has not yet been released.

- Rwandan justice -

Rwanda started trying genocide suspects in 1996, two years after the genocide.

On a single day in April 1998, 22 convicted killers were executed by firing squad.

Rwanda abolished the death penalty in 2007, lifting the main obstacle for the ICTR to extradite genocide suspects to Rwanda for trial.

Nearly two million people passed through Rwandan village "gacaca" courts, in which attackers faced their victims. To help foster reconciliation, those who confessed were often allowed to return home without further penalty or with orders to carry out community service.

- Europe and North America -

The first case in Europe was held in Belgium, where two nuns were convicted in 2001 of complicity in the massacre of up to 6,000 Tutsis who had taken shelter at their convent.

Several senior figures from the Hutu regime behind the slaughter were also put on trial.

They included a former Rwandan army major who was convicted over the murders of 10 Belgian peacekeepers, a former bank manager dubbed the "genocide banker" who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for murders and rapes, and a former senior government official who was the first person ever to be convicted of the crime of genocide in Belgium in 2019.

In December 2023, a Belgian court sentenced former militia leader Seraphin Twarhirwa, 66, to life in jail for dozens of murders and rapes committed during the genocide.

A second defendant Pierre Basabose, a one-time close associate of former president Juvenal Habyarimana, was also found guilty of "genocide" and "war crimes" for funding the militia.

In France, which was for years accused of shielding Rwandan genocide suspects, the first trial only took place in 2014 when a former spy chief, Pascal Simbikangwa, was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Two years later, the former mayors of two Rwandan villages were sentenced to life imprisonment over killings in their localities.

The highest-ranking person to be convicted was Laurent Bucyibaruta, a former governor of Gikongoro province who was given a 20-year jail sentence in 2022 for complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity.

He died in December 2023 aged 79 before his appeal could be heard.

A dozen or so convictions have also been handed down in Sweden, Finland, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, the United States and Canada.

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