A Brief History: Five Rwandan Genocide Suspects Living in the UK

›Rwanda Justice 4 Genocide

A history of the case against five Rwandan genocide suspects living in the UK

It must be clear that these are charges of the most serious kind. It is highly desirable that trial in such cases should take place in the country concerned. Anyone against whom there is apparently credible evidence of involvement in genocide should face trial and, subject to the requirements of law any such trials should place take place in Rwanda. It is highly undesirable that Britain should become a haven for genocidaire fleeing trial or seeking impunity.

UK High Court, press summary of judgement, 28 July 2017 

Top (left to right)
‘bishop’ Celestin Mutabaruka, Celestin Ugirashebuja, Charles Munyaneza, Vincent Bajinya/Brown, Emmanuel Nteziryayo.

Genocide and war crimes. Perhaps the two most serious crimes known to humanity. They involve the murder of hundreds/thousands of women, men and children – and the lifelong impact on tens of thousands of dependents and family members who survive. It may be assumed, even taken for granted, that a country which prides itself on a very long history of judicial excellence would be swiftly moved into action when it comes to dealing with individuals suspected of such terrible crimes. It could be also assumed that these most serious of crimes would get the quickest, most rigorous, most serious attention when it comes to determining the guilt or innocence of those suspected of carrying them out.

So how to understand when the exact opposite is true? When the state decides to invert this natural-seeming assumption. So now the most serious of crimes is treated to the slowest, most relaxed mandate, to a point of total inaction against those accused.

It is true that genocide is highly complex, and investigations into the crime are similarly difficult, especially when the country where the crime took place is thousands of miles away in Central Africa. But then one would think a state that is mindful it does not wish to become a haven for such perpetrators seeking impunity from their crimes, would put in place sufficient financial and human resources to carry out these investigations, to prosecute cases in court, and to prioritise court time to do so.

As the UK High Court justices noted in 2017, with more than a degree of typical British understatement: ‘it is ‘highly undesirable that Britain should become a haven for genocidaire fleeing trial or seeking impunity.’

‘Highly undesirable’. Strong language indeed from High Court Justices Irwin and Foskett. After all, who wants to live next door to mass murderers simply because the state cannot summon the will and resources to put them on trial to prove their guilt or innocence. Justices Irwin and Foskett certainly do not and they assume, rightly, that others in the UK do not either.

Case History

The five accused men – Celestin Mutabaruka, Celestin Ugirashebuja, Charles Munyaneza, Vincent Bajinya/Brown and Emmanuel Nteziryayo – all chose to flee Rwanda with their families after the genocidal interim regime was toppled from power in July 1994. In the coming few years each decided to move to the UK to start new lives. All had been living very comfortable lives in Rwanda under the authoritarian regime of Juvenal Habyarimana, whose death in a plane crash on 6 April 1994 was to mark the start of the planned and organised genocide against the Tutsi minority, as well as Hutu opponents of the regime which had been been carrying out state organised massacres of thousands of Tutsi since October 1990.

In Rwanda in 1994, a country then rated near the bottom of every global index for education, health, infant mortality, education and freedom of expression, the five men each commanded very good jobs. These were not ordinary peasants who made up more than 90% of the poverty-stricken population. They were near the top of society in terms of education, money and power. Three were mayors, one a doctor and one in charge of a State forestry commission.

Juvenal Habyarimana: seized power in a bloody coup in 1973

Under Habyarimana’s regime from 1973, when the army general seized power in a coup, murdering the former president and hundreds of his political and military supporters, decent employment was almost totally reliant on the ethnic and geographical background of the applicant. Access to secondary education, university and foreign travel/educational courses was reserved for those Hutu with links to individuals at the heart of the regime – the Akazu or ‘Little House’. This mafia-like network, surrounding the family of Habyarimana’s wife Agathe, channelled its corrupt power down through every stratum of society. No section of the state was untouched – indeed the Akazu in essence ran a parallel state alongside the ‘official’ one. Employment in medicine, in business or the army, banking services or conservation, administration or the media required Akazu’s ‘blessing’ – which of course came at a cost in terms of money or support for its power network. Even senior positions in the church – Roman Catholic and protestant – were at the behest of Akazu’s ‘benefaction’. The archbishops of Roman Catholic, Anglican and Evangelical churches were all paid up members of the network – and all would be complicit in the genocide against the Tutsi.

An opposition journal cartoon in 1993 shows Habyarimana and the Akazu or ‘Little House’ of his wife Agathe (sat third left), close family and top members of the network. They meet surrounded by the skulls of Tutsis – with the President noting ‘I have done all I can!!!’

Each of the five men were in state employment pre-1994. Vincent Bajinya was born within a few kilometres of the president and his wife Agathe in the Bushiru region of north west Rwanda. It was from Bushiru that Akazu recruited its most loyal and trusted men. Celestin Mutabaruka was born in the neighbouring prefecture of Kibuye, and like Bajinya, had a very good education – a sign of regime support and trust. Under 1% of Rwandans – carefully selected by the authorities – were able to attend university inside the country; so the fact that Bajinya (Belgium), Mutabaruka (Kenya) and Charles Munyaneza (Uganda) were chosen to benefit from sponsorship to travel abroad for further education, marked them out as being seen as individuals of very high worth to the regime and worthy of patronage by the network around the president who were in effect running the country.

Bajinya, who later worked as a doctor and with the state family planning/population agency ONAPO, and Mutabaruka, who ran a state forest management company, enjoyed very significant and desirable regime backing, as well as good salaries in a country where the vast majority would earn less than one dollar a day.

The other three men, Charles Munyaneza, Emmanuel Nteziryayo and Celestin Ugirashebuja are notable for holding very important positions as bourgmeisters (mayors) of local communes (administrative districts) within their larger ‘county’ or prefecture. There were 143 mayors in 10 prefectures. In 1974 Habyarimana decided they were to be appointed directly by him, not by the local community, and for an indefinite term of office. Bourgmeisters played a vital role in assuring state control over the lives of every Rwandan; they enforced local laws and regulations, collected taxes, ensured ‘security’ and law and order, and were able to distribute ‘slush funds’ to help nurture their own loyalists within their communes. Being able to appoint the local police and to imprison individuals in the communal lockup gave the mayor near presidential powers in the neighbourhood. With Rwanda being a predominantly rural country where travel was restricted to the occasional trip to market a few kilometres away, for most peasants living in subsistence farming homesteads the authority of the bourgmeister was the only real power they ever experienced. Their authority, in a country where authority was rarely questioned, was wide-ranging, comprehensive and unchallenged.

Unsurprisingly, all Mayors tended to be Hutu, and before the start of ‘multi party’ politics in 1991, all were members of MRND – the single state party of Habyarimana. Charles Munyaneza, formerly a teacher, was appointed bourgmeister in November 1991, just as multi-party politics began, and he remained loyal to the presidential MRND party. He was appointed to run his birth commune of Kinyamakara, in the central-south rural prefecture of Gikongoro. A few kilometres away Emmanuel Nteziryayo, also a teacher, had been made bourgmeister of his birth commune of Mudasomwa a few months earlier in June 1991. However, in keeping with the region, Nteziryayo had thrown his allegiance behind the newly reformed MDR party, a party particularly strong in the centre and south of the country where it had been the dominant force under Habyarimana’s predecessor President Gregoire Kayibanda until his murder.

Perhaps the most interesting story of the three mayors is that of Celestin Ugirashebuja. At the very early age of 25, with little or nothing to recommend him in terms of educational or employment achievements, he found himself made a Bourgmeister by Habyarimana in 1978 – only 5 years after the coup that brought the President to power. Habyarimana, from the north west, was attempting to gain support and loyalty in the centre and south of the country, where former President Kayibanda had had his heartlands. Why Ugirashebuja was plucked from obscurity for this key post is not clear – though rumours alleged personal connections between his wife-to-be and Habyarimana. After 14 years of running of the commune, Ugirashebuja suddenly switched political allegiance at the end of 1992 to the PSD party – believed to be due to threats by the youth militia group of that party against him. Whether his allegiance to MRND and Habyarimana, who had given him power, a healthy salary and a hugely important administrative position, ever really changed however is not known.

Interahamwe militia inside the refugee camps in Zaire (DRC) in December 1994 – training for a invasion to finish the ‘work’ of the genocide – to make Rwanda ‘Tutsi-free’.

Habyarimana was killed when his plane was shot down as it came in to land in Kigali on 6 April 1994, triggering the planned genocide against the Tutsi minority and Hutu moderates. More than one million were brutally murdered by regime forces. At the same time, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), made up of mainly Tutsi refugees, relaunched their attack on the genocidal regime. By early July 1994 its army and militia faced certain defeat in their battle with resurgent RPF forces and they fled across the border into Zaire, (now DRC), Tanzania and Burundi. In Zaire the genocidal forces were welcomed by Habyarimana’s good friend President Mobutu, and the defeated army/militia were allowed to set up military camps alongside and inside the vast borderland refugee camps that housed hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees. Those former regime officials with money, influence and standing quickly decided to move on from living in camps where disease, internal fighting and poverty were rife. Akazu figures such as Agathe, Z, Bizimungu, Simbikangwa and Felicien Kabuga set up new lives in expensive housing estates in Nairobi and Mombassa, while others such as Pasteur Musabe and Col. Theoneste Bagosora travelled to Yaounde in Cameroon.

Each of the five UK accused genocidaire fled first to Zaire and then swiftly moved on to a more pleasant, safe new life in neighbouring African countries. Bajinya and Ugirashebuja went on to Kenya, where Mutabaruka also ended up after a stay in his wife’s home country of Tanzania. Munyaneza and Nteziryayo were less inclined to wait around in a neighbouring country. Munyaneza moved to Malawi, then Mozambique and finally South Africa, where he travelled from Durban to Jo’burg. Nteziryayo moved on from Zaire to Zambia. By the late 1990s four of the five men and their families had already made their way to the UK seeking a new life. Staying in Rwanda where a new RPF-led government was now in control and arrests of those held responsible for the genocide were underway, was clearly not an option they wished to countenance.

Ugirashebuja arrived first in the UK in 1997 and swiftly obtained funding to start an IT course in Colchester. One year later Mutabaruka came to the UK, settling first in Oxfordshire before later moving to Kent. Munyaneza arrived in 1999, claiming asylum under the false name ‘Charles Munyenza’. Bajinya, who sent his wife and two children ahead of him in 1998, arrived in the UK for his ‘family reunion’ in 2000, shortly after his name appeared on an International Criminal Tribunal (ICTR) list of genocide suspects. The last of the five to arrive was Nteziryayo who presented himself and his wife and five children in the UK in 2003, using a false name of ‘Emmanuel Nidikumana’ from Burundi to claim asylum. In 2004 Bajinya changed his name to Brown.

For the next several years the five men lived untroubled lives, with no questions from UK authorities about their asylum claims, backgrounds or ‘red flags’ about their former histories in Rwanda, which either UK authorities did not know about or deemed to be of no bar to their status in the UK. Nteziryayo lived on benefits with his family at a housing association property in Benchill, Wythenshawe, south Manchester. Mutabaruka had been able to get a very generous grant to study, along with wife Rose, at Wye College in Kent. Bajinya/Brown, based in Islington, London volunteered for a refugee charity called ‘Praxis’ while Munyaneza was joined by his wife and two children when he received a work permit and indefinite leave to remain in 2002. Ugirashebuja had moved on from Colchester to enjoy life by the Essex Coast in the very pleasant seaside town of Walton-on-the-Naze, attending the local church and volunteering at a nursing home.

All changed in 2006. Four of the five men found their quiet UK retirement worlds shattered after a number of media reports about their past put pressure on UK authorities to take action. The BBC (Bajinya/Brown and Nteziryayo), Sunday Times (Munyaneza) and Independent (Ugirashebuja) uncovered allegations by survivors and witnesses who accused them of complicity in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. All four protested their innocence.

In December 2006, the four were arrested by police and taken into custody where they remained while the first extradition case was brought against them as Rwandan authorities sought to have them sent back to Kigali to stand trial. The case was heard at Westminster Magistrates Court before District Judge Anthony Evans and finally began on 23 September 2007.

The charges were the same against all four men: genocide; conspiracy to commit genocide; complicity in genocide; crimes against humanity; premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit murder; formation, membership, leadership and participation in an association of a criminal gang, whose purpose and existence is to do harm to people all their property; inciting, adding or abetting public disorder; participation in acts of devastation, massacres and looting.

Paul Rusesabagina:  his ‘expert’ defence evidence at the extradition hearing was dismissed as ‘worthless’

One notable ‘expert’ the defence called to testify in favour of the extradition case being denied was Paul Rusesabagina, the self-proclaimed ‘hero’ of the film Hotel Rwanda. In his judgement, Judge Nigel Evans noted Rusesabagina’s claims that ‘human rights agencies support the RPF; that the roadblocks were manned by RPF and that there was no systematic government-led genocide are so contrary to all evidence and facts placed before this court as to be worthless… I have spent a great deal of time looking at this evidence… the evidence was not that of an independent expert, but rather that of a man with a background strongly aligned to the extremist Hutu faction, and as such cannot be considered as independent and reasoned.’ In dismissing Rusesabagina’s evidence as worthless, he also noted that the hotel manager ‘was well acquainted with leading members of the MRND and government ministers and also with a number of Dr Bajinya’s witnesses. On his own evidence he was able to call on senior genocidaires for favours.

In his judgement on 6 June 2008, Judge Evans gave the green light for the extradition to proceed. The case was passed to the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith for her final decision, which resulted in her approval. However, the extradition was put on hold while lawyers for the four men launched an appeal in December 2007. In its judgement 16 months later on 8 April 2009, Justices Law and Sullivan, sitting at the High Court, concluded that were the four men returned to face trial in Rwanda, there was a risk they would ‘suffer a flagrant denial of justice.’ They were immediately released from custody.

Bajinya/Brown: appeared on BBC Newsnight with his lawyer to deny all charges of genocide.

Shortly afterwards, Bajinya/Brown appeared on BBC Newsnight,  sitting rather uncomfortably alongside his lawyer Frank Brazell, to deny all the charges against him and protest his innocence. He was questioned by journalist Emily Maitlis about changes to the law proposed by Justice Minister Jack Straw that were shortly to take place to close a loophole whereby him and his co-defendants could not, at present be prosecuted for genocide in UK courts  because the alleged crimes took place before 2001.

The UK government of Gordon Brown was certainly under pressure after the lengthy extradition case had failed, not least because it showed up two glaring issues with UK law regarding genocide and war criminal suspects living in the UK: what happened when they could not be extradited because they came from countries that the UK legal system did not accept could provide a fair trial; and what happened to those already in the system whose alleged crimes took place before 2001 and so were currently immune from prosecution. It also focused attention on the inadequacy of the asylum process. Before 2004 the screening process for war criminals and genocidaire that was clearly unfit for purpose. The UK was legally unable before 2009 to put on trial those whose crimes had taken place pre-2001. This was not an issue if the UK government chose not concern itself with stopping such individuals settling in the country, or prosecuting them. This had been the default option until 2009 when the Rwandan case suddenly focused the media and Human Rights groups, and as a result the government on this deeply troubling state of affairs.

In an angry debate on 30 June 2009 in the House of Lords,  Lord Hamilton asked Lord Brett, acting for the government, ‘how many suspected war criminals and persons convicted of genocide are living in the United Kingdom; and against how many of those action has been taken?’ In response, Lord Brett noted 2,869 cases had been considered between 2004-2008, with 30 referred to the Met Police, but remarkably there were no known statistics for before 2004 when screening, it seemed, was less than adequate, so there were no accurate figures available at all. This was the period when Bajinya/Brown and the other Rwandan accused had arrived in the UK.

Lord Anderson of Swansea noted that while Lord Brett ‘mentioned the problem of those who are known to be war criminals, but what about those who come in clandestinely or when we do not know their background of potential war crimes? How does he respond to the dilemma that most of those accused of war crimes by definition come from countries where we have doubts about their legal system? Is there not a danger that this judgment [of the 4 Rwandan suspects] will give a signal to those guilty or suspected of war crimes that they have only to come to this country, clandestinely or otherwise, to find safe haven?’

A campaign by Holocaust education organisation the Aegis Trust added to the pressure for immediate reform. The Coroners and Justice Act, passed in late 2009, finally closed the loophole in the law allowing for the crime of genocide committed between 1991 and 2001 to be heard in UK courts.

2009 – UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw: ‘Whilst the UK alone cannot be the “world’s policeman”, these new laws will make it clear that Britain will not be a safe haven for those accused of war crimes. If it is not possible for foreign nationals resident in the UK to face trial where their crimes took place we will, for crimes committed since 1991, be able to prosecute them under UK law.’

Meanwhile the four accused genocidaire continued their peaceful lives in their local communities in Walton on the Naze (Essex), Wythenshawe (Manchester), Bedford and Islington, (London). In Europe, the UN and USA the justice system was slowly but surely taking action against those Rwandan residents who were suspected of complicity in the genocide. (link to timeline) Belgium and Finland held national court proceedings that resulted in convictions for Rwandan genocide suspects and the USA deported a suspect back to Rwanda to stand trial. In a landmark judgement in October 2011, the European Court of Human Rights decided in favour of the extradition to Rwanda of suspect Sylvere Ahorugeze, who had been arrested in Sweden, ruling he would get a fair trial. The following year the Hutu extremist firebrand Leon Mugesera was extradited from Canada after years of legal fighting was finally exhausted. In April 2012 there was another landmark ruling as the UN too accepted that Rwanda’s judicial reforms made it possible to send back to Kigali suspects held by the ICTR in Arusha, given the International Tribunal was feted to close its doors within a short time-frame (December 2015).

Perhaps emboldened by the ECHR, UN and other European countries deciding that extradition to Rwanda could take place, on 29 May 2013, the lives of the four UK Rwandan suspects were shattered as police raided their homes and took them into custody for the start of new extradition proceedings. They were joined now by a fifth suspect living in Ashford, Kent – Celestin Mutabaruka, the former forestry official turned politician turned cleric. Having arrived in the UK with wife Rose in 1998, the couple had managed to get sponsorship to undertake degree courses at Wye college. In 2008, Mutabaruka turned from agriculture to God, by founding the Fountain (Pentecostal) Church in Willesborough, Ashford, as part of his company ‘Belles of Revival (worldwide) ministries. In 2012 Mutabaruka had founded his second political party – his first in 1993 had been an offshoot of Habyarimana’s MRND. This one, named rather happily ‘Rwanda Rise and Shine’ seemed to have almost no members. It has no internet presence and is difficult to find any information about. However, it gave Mutabaruka the excuse after his arrest that he was being targeted for ‘political reasons’ not because of the horrific genocidal crimes with which he was accused.

This time the now five accused were released shortly after their arrests, with the UK government noting the long-time scale of any extradition case and that imprisonment on remand was an expensive option. The case at Westminster Magistrates Court took two and a half years before District Court Judge Emma Arbuthnot gave her judgement  on 22 December 2015. Extradition was again refused, with Arbuthnot citing concerns about the accused getting a fair trial in Rwanda. She noted however that all 5 men had prima facie cases that should be answered in a trial in the UK if no extradition was possible. Within weeks the Rwandan government announced it would appeal to the High Court, ushering in another year and a half of legal decision-making. On 28 July 2017 the High Court in London, in what turned out to be the final judgement after ten years of highly expensive legal wrangling, upheld the earlier decision to bar extradition of the five genocide suspects.

Certainly, the experienced and skilled defence legal teams – the case costing more than £3 million so far – proved to be more than a match for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Barristers such as Diane Ellis QC, who represented Nteziryayo, was a veteran of the ICTR where she had defended a number of the most prominent genocidaire including the creator and director of Hutu hate radio RTLM, Ferdinand Nahimana and Augustin Ngirabatware, Kabuga’s son-in-law. Top international extradition case barristers such as Alun Jones QC (for Bajinya/Brown), Edward Fitzgerald QC (for Ugirashebuja), and Tim Moloney QC and Iain Edwards (for Munyaneza) were on display at the High Court appeal case to represent their clients. Current Labour party leader Kier Starmer, when previously a private lawyer and before becoming head of the CPS, also represented Ugirashebuja.

Some of the law firms and individuals who represented the accused genocidaire between 2006 and 2017 – they include Labour Party leader Sir Kier Starmer – then a senior barrister.

The conclusion of the extradition cases meant the accused could now walk away knowing any prosecution by the UK justice system was likely, if it took place at all, to take many, many years.

The one, most significant, voice missing from all the legal wrangling, the political rhetoric and posturing, the police investigations and cries of innocence from the alleged genocide perpetrators was that of the survivors and their families. Each time there was a development in the story – the start of extradition proceedings or judgements – local and national news reporters trooped to Ashford, Bedford and Islington, Walton on the Naze and Wythenshawe to knock on the door of the accused and hear their protests of not guilty. Or they spoke to members of the local community and hear how the men were so good helping out in church, were wonderful husbands and fathers, were kind to an animals and that such allegations could not possibly be true. No one bothered to talk to survivors of the genocide, many of whom live in the UK. They live with their pain in silence and anonymity. No media come to their doors to ask how they manage to continue their lives when suffering from the loss of some/all of their close family, or having suffered multiple rape or disfigurement. A very rare interview with a genocide survivor was carried out by the New Internationalist magazine in 2010 . Sadly, the survivor, Jean-Baptiste Kayigamba, died in 2023, but he leaves an important written legacy to the truth. As with the debate over Nazi perpetrators in the UK in the 1980s and 90s, the lives of those who suffered, and would suffer every day of the lives from the emotional anguish of what had happened, were ignored.

In January 2018, the Met Police’s counter-terrorism unit, S.O.15 received a referral from Rwandan authorities relating to the five suspects and, with an initial estimate of a mammoth 10 years to complete their task, the British authorities finally actioned the task of gathering evidence.

In a debate in the House of Commons on 9 April 2019 resulting from an urgent question to Ben Wallace, Minister for Security and Economic Crime, Parliamentarians from all sides noted their dismay that the UK lack of action was making the country more appealing to foreign perpetrators seeking refuge. Dame Margaret Hodge noted, for example: ‘Were we talking about people who were allegedly involved in the Nazi holocaust, there would be a much stronger sense of urgency on the action that needs to be taken. In that context, I believe the Minister [Wallace] is defending the indefensible. During the extradition proceedings, there have been 10 years in which I assume information has been gathered by the authorities. To say that it will take a further three to five years, or probably closer to 10 years, to bring the matter to trial is just unbelievable. Complexity and thoroughness do not justify this level of delay, and I urge him to listen to the unanimous voices on both sides of the House and do all in his power—it is not about resources but about a will to act—to ensure that the police pursue this and that these people are brought to justice much more swiftly.’

Mohammad Yasin MP: an alleged genocide perpetrator and traumatised genocide survivor both live only streets away from each other in Bedford

Mohammad Yasin, MP for Bedford, told Wallace: ‘Not long after my election, I met a constituent who had seen their family members brutally killed during the Rwandan genocide. Her story was heart-breaking. It is unbearable for her that one of the alleged perpetrators of those horrific acts of violence now lives in her town and is free to continue with his family life without fear of extradition. She is asking when she will see justice for her brothers.’

Mary Creagh MP was equally blunt: ‘10 years ago, when we were joint vice-chairs of the all-party parliamentary group on genocide prevention, sitting in a meeting with Jack Straw on closing the impunity gap in the law and making sure that alleged war criminals could be prosecuted in this country. People will look at us today and say that our judicial system and our asylum system are supposed to give sanctuary to those fleeing human rights oppressors and atrocities, and that they should not be abused by the alleged perpetrators of war crimes. There is no time limit on justice, so why did the police not investigate these crimes in parallel with the extradition process? Will the Minister report to this House on a six-monthly basis so that we are not here still demanding justice for the survivors on the 30th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide?’

Wallace replied that while the police had put a 10-year timescale on the investigation, he hoped it would be completed in 3-5 years. And that while he did not like alleged war criminals ‘roming free’ – and being taxpayer funded – in the UK, it was the courts, not the government that had stopped the extradition and so now it was just a case of waiting for the police to investigate and gather evidence for a trial.

It took another 18 months before, in September 2020, UK police finally questioned four of the five Rwandan suspects about their alleged involvement in the genocide. The one exception was Charles Munyaneza who had suffered a stroke and was therefore not called in to answer for his alleged role. UK government ministers have continued, since Wallace’s statement in 2019, to insist that the matter is now in the hands of the anti-terrorism unit S.O.15 and that it is fully resourced to fully carry out its remit. They will not answer questions on how, or if, the investigation is actually happening, or any timescale for results to happen, citing the fact it is a ‘live’ case and therefore they cannot comment because of any impact on a free and fair trial should one ever take place.

In January and May 2023 S.O.15 officers returned again to Rwanda to carry out more interviews and speak to witnesses. Five years after the UK started the investigation it would seem they still are nowhere near concluding their work. Minister Wallace’s 3-5 year timescale has already passed.

For survivors, the trauma, sadness and guilt of what they went through never leaves them; what does disappear is the hope of finding justice, of gaining some small sense of right from wrong for their loved ones. For seeing impunity and denial ended. They watch and see other European and North American countries acting to extradite or put on trial. And wonder why the UK has become a world-leader in impunity.

In summer 2022 France finally put on trial – after a 16 year delay – the prefect of Gikongoro, Luarent Bucyibaruta, the ‘boss’ of two of the UK accused, the mayors Charles Munyaneza and Emmanuel Nteziryayo. Munyaneza refused to travel to France to speak for the defence of the accused. After a month-long trial, Bucyibaruta was convicted However due to his age and frailness he was almost immediately released from his sentence and allowed to go home. The French authorities decided that prison would not see to the medical needs of the genocidaire therefore he was better living back at home. A similar outcome happened in one of only two UK war crimes cases with the trial being abandoned after the defendant was deemed medically unfit. The fact is that most French accused genocidaire will also escape justice for the same reason. Many are in their 70s or 80s. In April 2023 the trial of 87 year-old Felicien Kabuga at the international court in the Hague has been abandoned mid way through because of his age and medical condition.  And it is not just the alleged perpetrators who are getting old. sick and dying before being able to testify. Survivors and witnesses too are aging and, as Holocaust trials showed, can have their evidence more easily dismissed by defence lawyers who rubbish it as inaccurate due to time passed or for details are forgotten. Three witnesses died during the proceedings in France against the former gendarme Philip Hategekimana. With witness testimony central to these cases as there is so little documentary evidence, time passing inevitably brings impunity.

Time passed only ever favours perpetrators, not their victims. It inevitably leads to justice passed.

An editorial in the Daily Telegraph on 4 March 1987 noted, in regard to the UK taking action to bring in legislation to prosecute 17 suspected Nazi Holocaust perpetrators that:

‘Nazi hunting has become a frankly distasteful bloodsport. It is no reflection of antisemitism, or of indifference to past atrocities to feel an overwhelming revulsion against the notion of further war crimes trials almost half a century after the alleged horrors took place. There is a futility, a sterility, to continuing a search for vengeance beyond certain limits of time and space.’

Leaving aside the quite remarkable phrase ‘alleged horrors’ – clearly the Telegraph writer was sceptical about whether the genocide of six million Jews even took place – this editorial stance speaks for many at the top of the UK government not just then but now. Is it futile to seek justice decades after the crime? Why prosecute old men for crimes that took place, however awful, in other countries hundreds of miles away?

The same argument is used of the Rwandan suspects who have been allowed to grow old in their UK retirement by the failure of justice. And it has failed not just Rwandan genocide survivors but also Syrian, Afghan, Sudanese, Iraqi etc… survivors who see suspected perpetrators living untouched in the UK. Justice is not about vengeance as the Telegraph editorial ignorantly notes. Justice is about finding the truth, uncovering right from wrong, and acting with fairness. UK citizens expect when a crime is committed against them that there will be justice. So why is it so different when that crime has been committed not in the UK or not by a then UK resident. Murder is murder – genocide is genocide – humans are humans. The alternative is a world where there is no moral concept of good or evil. Where crimes that lead to mass death or suffering go without comment or redress and merely encourage further such crimes and denial. Where universal jurisdiction – the ability for national courts to hold to account crimes committed abroad – is just a legal anomaly, a public relations sham that in reality is never used.

As an article by the lawyer Simon Foreman notes ‘is often considered that the obligation to ensure prosecution of perpetrators of international crimes is an unwritten obligation, based on international custom. It is based on the principle aut dedere, aut judicare — either extradite, or prosecute – or in other words, either acquire universal jurisdiction to prosecute suspects oneself, or hand them over to a State or international tribunal to do so. The MLA Convention – which States will be asked to sign in The Hague in 2024 – now formally lays down this obligation. French and British diplomats have tried in vain to have it amended and make prosecution optional. But the text adopted on May 26 stipulates that States are obliged to exercise jurisdiction over the perpetrator of an international crime whenever he or she is present on their territory. France and the UK have only obtained the right to formulate a reservation on this point, for a renewable period of three years.’

The history of these five Rwandan genocide suspects in the UK is a history of missed opportunity; of an intrinsic failure not just of justice but of an understanding by authorities at the highest level that humanity is equal and should be judged equally. A crime that takes life in Rwanda, or Darfur, in Syria or Myanmar, is still a crime that shatters human worlds and leaves a trial of universal destruction.

To walk away from justice is to walk away from humanity itself.