Today’s release of Rwandan genocide suspects underscores urgent need for UK law reform
Fifteen years ago this week, the genocide in Rwanda commenced, leading to the death of about 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates. Memorials are being held around the world to commemorate the tragic events. In contrast, in the United Kingdom, the High Court today ordered the release of four Rwandan genocide suspects from custody, in a failed bid by the Rwandan Government to secure their return to Rwanda for trial. The High Court did so despite upholding the lower court’s conclusion that the evidence presented by the Rwandan Government showed that the men had a case to answer for their role in the genocide.
The decision of the High Court is based on fair trial concerns – that the suspects cannot be extradited to Rwanda on fair trial grounds. But, neither will they face trial in the United Kingdom, leaving a serious space for impunity. The UK’s domestic legislation prevents the men from being tried. Although the International Criminal Court Act of 2001 allows UK courts to try genocide crimes perpetrated abroad, the Act is not retrospective and therefore does not apply to the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
“Survivors of the genocide will be horrified that these men will not face justice,” said REDRESS’ director Carla Ferstman. “Genocide is not a crime that can simply go unpunished. There is evidence against all of them and as they are in the UK the obvious place for a trial following today’s decision is here. It is unconscionable that a gap in UK law is a barrier to this.”
REDRESS and African Rights call on the UK Government to urgently amend its law to allow for anyone suspected of genocide to be tried here. The present UK law is out of step with international law which has made genocide an international crime since the end of World War II and therefore open to prosecution in all states, including where suspects are found. Other countries have previously denied extradition of suspects to Rwanda, yet domestic legislation in place in these countries ensures that suspects are held accountable. Such legislation has led to the conviction of perpetrators of the genocide in Switzerland, Belgium and The Netherlands and investigations are currently ongoing against suspects in several other countries, including Canada, Germany, France and Finland.
Rakiya Omaar, Director of African Rights, the organisation that first brought into the public domain much of the evidence on the suspects, reminds that the genocide has left a legacy of suspects around the world and all States must work together to ensure that they do not become safe havens.
“There are other individuals in the UK against whom there are allegations of participation in the genocide. This problem will not just go away. It is important that the UK Government steps up its efforts to have such suspects brought to justice,” she said.
African Rights and REDRESS are working jointly on an initiative to end safe havens for genocide suspects in Europe.
See our recent report on extraditions to Rwanda:
Extraditing Genocide Suspects from Europe to Rwanda – Issues and Challenges [http://www.redress.org/documents/Extradition_Report_Final_Version_Sept_08.pdf]
See the Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry into the adequacy of UK legislation relating to the prosecution of genocide and other international crimes: [http://www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/joint_committee_on_human_rights/jchrpn12_040209.cfm]