By Theogene Rudasingwa*
On Monday, 10 August 2015, General Karenzi Karake, the head of Rwanda’s notorious National Security and Intelligence Service, was acquitted by a British court. Rwanda’s spy chief had been arrested at London Heathrow Airport on June 20 2015, on a European arrest warrant, in connection with deaths of Spanish and other European citizens. General Karake, represented by Cherie Blair among others, had been released on bail of UK £1 million pending extradition hearings in October of 2015. The acquittal of General Karenzi Karake by the British Court today is a shameful miscarriage of justice. Here are ten reasons why:
First, it is a demonstration that the nexus of money, power and big interests can override the quest for justice. Only President Paul Kagame, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie Blair are the winners at the expense of Rwandans, Spanish and European citizens who perished at the hands of Rwanda’s brutal regime.
Second, it runs against the fundamental tenets of European Union Law, the basis of which is the sanctity of the lives of European citizens. General Karenzi Karake was arrested on a European arrest warrant, on charges of being implicated in the killings of European citizens. He has now been acquitted on the basis of a simple technicality.
Third, it is against the general thrust of British law. If one assumes that British law seeks to protect British citizens and British institutions, within a larger context of European and international law, there are indeed fewer parallels than Karenzi Karake’s. Not surprisingly, as in the case of General Pinochet, the powerful and monied interests in the British establishment have exploited a clause in British law to get their way.
Fourth, it runs counter to the letter and spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes that: “everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.”
As well, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, which recognizes: “on the one hand, that fundamental human rights stem from the attitudes of human beings, which justifies their international protection and on the other hand that the reality and respect of peoples’ rights should necessarily guarantee human rights.”
Fifth, it fuels the impunity that has characterized the Kagame regime since the genocide days of 1994. Built on a false narrative that since it stopped genocide nobody should question its human rights abuses, the regime thrives on international guilt, as it piles war crimes, crimes against humanity, and even potential acts of genocide. The United Kingdom political establishment has been consistently shielding president Kagame from repeated calls by Rwandans and some in the international community for accountability. General Karake’s acquittal is the latest and most dramatic demonstration that gives President Kagame a nod to continue killing with impunity.
Sixth, it polarizes Rwandan society. The most enduring and yet pernicious dichotomy is the Hutu-Tutsi ethnic divide that has always been manipulated and exploited by the ruling elites. The current situation in Rwanda is characterized by the rule of a tiny armed clique within the minority Tutsi community. None of the members of this clique has been brought to account for the thousands of crimes committed against members of the Hutu community in Rwanda or the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). On the contrary many members of the Hutu community have been charged, convicted and punished in relation to the crime of genocide against the Tutsi. No true reconciliation is possible without truth telling that sheds light on the crimes committed against members of both communities.
Seventh, by rewarding President Kagame’s threats, and narrow considerations of British interests in him as their champion, the acquittal sends the usual message to Kagame that it pays to insult, threaten and throw tantrums. In the current state of affairs in the Great Lakes regions where Kagame has played a perpetual neighborhood bully, the British signal is to go ahead as planned, change the constitution to become life president, and do as you wish in Burundi and DRC. After General Karenzi’s arrest, President Kagame had the most unkind things to say against the British people. Eye to eye, the British establishment has winked. An emboldened Kagame will now move ahead with more internal repression and external aggression towards 2017 and beyond.
Eighth, it is immoral. The action to acquit General Karenzi Karake on a legal technicality without considering the greater interests of society and those who lost their lives shakes the moral foundations of law. British law has been conveniently managed to serve the interests of few against those of the powerless majority.
Ninth, because the British justice system has failed to provide justice to those who demand and deserve it, it is unfair. The famous American scholar John Rawls, in an often quoted idea in his A Theory of Justice reminds us about the requirements of justice as fairness:
“Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought. A theory however elegant and economical must be rejected or revised if it is untrue; likewise laws and institutions no matter how efficient and well-arranged must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust. Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override. For this reason justice denies that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by others. It does not allow that the sacrifices imposed on a few are outweighed by the larger sum of advantages enjoyed by many. Therefore in a just society the liberties of equal citizenship are taken as settled; the rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or to the calculus of social interests.”
The British political class has bargained away justice and handed a political concession to President Kagame.
Tenth, and finally, it fuels conflict in Rwanda and the Great Lakes region. The framers of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were troubled by humankind’s propensity to rebellion and war when, in the preamble, they stated:
“Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.”
British courts have failed to exercise the rule of law fairly to protect the human rights of ordinary Spanish, European, Rwandan and African people. In doing so, they have served war-makers rather than peacemakers. It is an action that will forever be remembered as one of the most shameful miscarriages of justice in the annals of British and international jurisprudence.
* Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa was ambassador of Rwanda to the United States, and former Chief of Staff to President Kagame. He is the author of ‘Healing A Nation’.