South Africa is holding back the hunt for the last fugitive leaders of the Rwandan genocide as the clock runs down on bringing Africa’s most wanted men to justice, decades after the killings, the United Nations prosecutor leading the search said.
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government is causing “very frustrating and disappointing” delays to finding genocide suspects who may have found refuge in South Africa in recent years, Serge Brammertz, the head of the international body that is investigating the 1994 genocide and the former Yugoslavia wars in the 1990s, told the Financial Times.
The hunt for Rwanda’s genocide fugitives was boosted last year with the French capture of Félicien Kabuga, an alleged financier of the killings, after decades on the run.
But South Africa has still yet to set up a police team to co-ordinate with international prosecutors to track down suspects, despite high-level promises as recently as last month, Brammertz said.
Brammertz, who leads a legacy “mechanism” for pursuing international criminal cases over the genocide, told the UN security council this week that South Africa’s lack of assistance was “among the most severe instances of non-cooperation my office has faced”.
In particular, it has taken years for South Africa to track down Fulgence Kayishema, a suspected genocidaire who is believed to have had refuge in the country in the past, Brammertz said.
The country’s failures have been “even more serious in light of the rapidly-increasing number of leads related to South Africa concerning multiple fugitives” beyond Kayishema, his office added in a report this week. South Africa’s foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment. Relations between South Africa and Rwanda have been strained over the killing of a former Rwandan intelligence chief in Johannesburg in 2014.
The sharp criticism underlines how decades on from the killings, the conclusion of the last international criminal cases for the Rwandan genocide will depend on local law enforcement in the African countries where many remaining fugitives are believed to still be at large.
In total more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in 1994 in 100 blood-soaked days. But when a rebel Tutsi army retook control of the capital in July, many of the most senior ethnic Hutu officials implicated in the massacres slipped away, initially to neighbouring Congo or via Uganda to Kenya, before dispersing further afield.
Kayishema, a former judicial police inspector, took part in the massacre of refugees at a church in 1994, according to international prosecutors. Hand grenades were lobbed into the church before militiamen bulldozed it and killed over 1,500 people. “There is no interest for South Africa to help an individual of this nature to escape the country,” Brammertz said.
By contrast, he said there were “positive signs” that Zimbabwe, South Africa’s neighbour, was stepping up efforts to arrest the mechanism’s most wanted fugitive, Protais Mpiranya, the former commander of Rwanda’s presidential guard.
Mpiranya, who was second on the wanted list until Kabuga’s arrest, is believed to have used military ties to Zimbabwe to hide there. “I think there is no doubt that he has been there in the early 2000s . . . and there is still an important likelihood that he is still there,” Brammertz said.
While “we would definitely like to see more activity on the ground,” the Zimbabwe state has been more engaged on joint investigations with international prosecutors than before, he added.
Local co-operation is needed to find informants and penetrate support networks for fugitives, Brammertz said. “This can only work if we have direct access to operational services,” such as police and immigration, he said.
With Kabuga now on his way to The Hague, Mpiranya would be the last international trial over the Rwandan genocide. Brammertz’s tribunal is also pursuing five other Rwandan fugitives, including Kayishema, but they will be tried in Rwanda if caught.
As the mechanism led by Brammertz is nearing the end of its work, national prosecutors in Rwanda and countries in the former Yugoslavia are drawing on its resources to pursue their own cases, an important but complex shift in the hunt for genocide fugitives.
While the international mechanism is pursuing its last six fugitives, Rwanda’s national prosecutor has about 1,300 cases. More than half of these suspects are believed to still be on the African continent.