Rwanda’s efforts to bring genocide fugitives to justice faces its toughest test close to home, with its neighbours being the most sluggish to deport or extradite identified suspects.
The East African Community and the Great Lakes region harbour the largest number of fugitives.
There are 317 known genocide suspects in the EAC, representing about 35 per cent of the total 911 fugitive indictments issued across the world.
Although a lot of emphasis has been placed on fugitives roaming Western capitals in France, Belgium and USA, little progress has been made in arresting the hundreds of fugitives wandering within East Africa.
Statistics from the Genocide Fugitives Tracking Unit show that of the 15 suspects who have so far been extradited or deported to Rwanda from various parts of the world, only three were from East Africa, and specifically Uganda.
Rwanda’s Prosecutor General Jean Bosco Mutangana told The EastAfrican that some of the neighbouring countries just lack the resources to conduct investigations and track the genocide suspects on their soil.
“I don’t think a country can harbour genocide fugitives for 24 years willingly. I spoke to many colleagues in our neighbouring countries and they cite the lack of resources,” he said.
He added that the fugitives are mainly known by false names and some are in business in the neighbouring economies.
Political and diplomatic hostilities have not helped the situation, especially between Rwanda and neighbours like Burundi and DRC, who have for long expressed a lack of desire to co-operate with Kigali on several fronts.
“There is lack of political will to either prosecute or extradite genocide suspects by some countries,” said John Bosco Siboyintore, head of the Genocide Fugitive Tracking Unit, which is part of the National Public Prosecution Authority.
“It is also very difficult to extradite fugitives who acquired host country’s citizenship, because of the principle against extraditing own citizens within laws of the host countries.”
Mr Siboyintore added that suspects in the region continuously change their names and addresses to avoid being tracked.
Suspects in the EAC
DRC hosts the largest number of known genocide fugitives with 303 indictments while France, with 42, has the highest outside Africa.
Uganda hosts the largest number of genocide suspects in the EAC, with 242 indictments issued as of April 2018.
Fugitives Augustine Nkundabazungu and Jean Pierre Kwitonda were deported from Uganda in 2010, and Jean Paul Birindabagabo in 2015. They were sentenced to life in prison, but Mr Kwitonda and Mr Birindabagabo have pending appeals.
Tanzania, which hosts the second largest number of suspected genocide fugitives in the EAC with 31 indictments has not initiated a single deportation.
Kenya and Burundi each have 30 and 14 known suspects respectively.
Kenya is reported to be home to one of the top three genocide fugitives Felicien Kabuga but has denied it.
“We currently cannot put a finger on where fugitives like Kabuga are hiding because they keep changing locations and identities. But efforts are ongoing to bring them to justice and we have put together a team to realise this goal,” Serge Brammertz, Chief Prosecutor of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, said in February during his visit to Rwanda.
But Rwanda is confident that the tide will soon change in its favour, after law enforcers and prosecutors from the region signed an agreement in February to curb national and transnational crimes.
“We met in Nairobi as directors of prosecution and crime investigators and signed an agreement that will enhance co-operation against national and transnational crimes. I am optimistic that this level of partnership will be shared at the highest political level,” Mr Mutangana said.
According to officials, the genocide suspects have proved elusive, altering their names and acquiring new travel documents to avoid being arrested.
Last week, Philippe Hategekimana, one of the most wanted genocide fugitives, was arrested in Yaoundé, Cameroon. He had altered his name to Philippe Manier and obtained French citizenship, thereby eluding arrest for 24 years.
An international arrest warrant had been issued last year after Rwandan authorities got wind that he was alive and in hiding. Mr Hategekimana, whose fate is yet to be determined, whether he will be sent to France or Rwanda, is wanted for genocide crimes and crimes against humanity.
A former police officer, previously known as Gendermerie, Mr Hategekimana is reported to have mounted road blocks and ordered killings in Ntyazo, Nyabisindu and Rusatira formerly in Butare Prefecture in the current southern province. Rwanda has called for him to be extradited.
In other cases, Kigali says some countries are not responsive while others lack the goodwill to try or extradite.
Rwanda has been pushing the UK to try or extradite wanted genocide suspects including Vincent Bajinya, Celestin Mutabaruka, Celestin Ugirashebuja, Charles Munyaneza and Emmanuel Nteziryayo to no avail.
Other suspects believed to be in the region are:
Kanamugire Callixte Supa aka Kanani John,
Rukundo Alexis Fisto,
Gatera Jean Bosco aka Rutambi Nkubana Jerome, Mwumvaneza Jeremie all suspected to be in Uganda, Rusanganwa Gaspard,
Bakiye Jean Berchmans,
Ndayambaje Sixbert Alias Soso,
Muragizi Gabriel, believed to be in the DRC;
Rudakubana Martin suspected to be in Central Africa Republic,
Hitimana Pancras believed to be in Kenya;
Uwimana Isaie aka Gacumba suspected to be in Burundi. Others include Félicien Kabuga, Protais Mpiranya, Augustin Bizimana, Fulgence Kayishema, Charles Sikubwabo, Aloys Ndimbati, Charles Ryandikayo, Phénéas Munyarugarama, Innocent Bagabo, Esperance Karwera Mutwe, Jean Marie Vianney Kagemana, Thadee Kwitonda, Emmanuel Kayihura, Landouald Karamage, Enock Kayondo, Callixte Kanamugire, Dr Vincent Bajinya, Célestin Ugarishebuja