Thoughts over prosecuting black and white war criminals

A fascinating case – holding those to account behind the Rwandan genocide is essential to dealing with that catastrophe – that highlights the fundamental flaw in our international system. Western leaders are always exempt from arrest. Is the Western world seriously saying that only black people and a few others are guilty of war crimes? No Americans or Israelis or Palestinians or French or even Australians?

After 12 years living a quiet existence in a suburb near Paris, the widow of the assassinated Rwandan president whose death triggered the largest mass slaughter of the 20th century, was arrested yesterday. She is accused of helping mastermind the 1994 genocide.

The detention of Agathe Habyarimana, dubbed “Lady Genocide” by some, came less than a week after President Nicolas Sarkozy became the first French head of state to visit Rwanda for 25 years. During a brief stopover in the capital Kigali he issued a semi-apology for France’s “serious errors” over the genocide.

The government in Rwanda which is preparing a formal extradition request has long sought the arrest of the widow – an ethnic Hutu like her husband – who was detained at her home in Courcouronnes, south of Paris shortly before 8am. She was later released but forbidden from leaving the country and ordered to report to a French judge once a month. She now faces a fight to avoid being sent back to a country she last saw on 9 April, 1994, three days after her husband’s jet was shot down close to Kigali airport.

Mrs Habyarimana, who claims her influence did not extend beyond the president’s domestic arrangements, escaped the orgy of killing that left 800,000 people dead in 100 days. She was helped to escape across the border into Congo by French forces.

This account is disputed by many inside Rwanda where it is alleged she ran “Clan de Madame”, an elite clique including senior army officers who developed the movement that would become known as “Hutu Power”. Yesterday’s move by the French authorities was warmly welcomed in Kigali. “At long last the long arm of the law is finally taking its course,” said Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

Site by Common