“There are no devils left in Hell, they are all in Rwanda”
- A missionary at the time of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide
Husband and wife team Alain and Dafroza Gauthier have spent the last 13 years working hard to hunt down the perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide and bring them to justice. Mrs Gauthier’s mother and dozens of her relatives were murdered during the massacre and she learnt her mother had been shot by a Hutu general who later fled to Cameroon, where he died a free man. After this she promised herself she would seek justice for the hundreds of thousands of Tutsi victims who were killed in the genocide by Hutu extremists.
The Genocide came about as the result of almost a hundred years of high tensions between the two main ethnic groups in Rwanda – the ethnic Hutu majority and the ethnic Tutsi minority. They were thrown into years of rivalry by Belgian colonists who favoured the Tutsi’s, considering them superior to the Hutu’s, and enabling them to enjoy a far greater life. The Tutsi’s received better jobs and education and this built a bitter resentment amongst the Hutu population, but in the late 1950s they overthrew the Tutsi government, treating the minority Tutsi’s poorly for many years to come. In the early 1990s a full-scale civil war erupted and lasted for three years until a cease-fire was brokered after the international community put increasing pressure on the Hutu-led government of Juvenal Habyarimana. But on 6th April 1994, President Habyarimana was assassinated when his plane was shot down over the capital Kigali.
It is still not known to this day who shot the plane down. Hutu’s blamed the Tutsi’s for murdering President Habyarimana but some believe it could have been the Hutu’s themselves who carried it out in order to gain support for their growing plan to murder all of Rwanda’s Tutsi population.
Time Magazine covers the 1994 Rwandan Genocide
After the death of the President, the Interahamwe, a group of Hutu extremists, saw their opportunity to wipe out what they called the ‘cockroaches’ and gained the support of the Hutus in government, the local military and the mass media throughout Rwanda. They used the national radio stations to broadcast violent propaganda against the Tutsi’s and set up checkpoints throughout the country to stop those who tried to escape. With no one to stop them the Interahamwe put their plan into action and began the mass extermination of Tutsi’s and moderate Hutu’s. Over the next 100 days they murdered 800,000 men, women and children – that’s 8,000 people per day – butchering the majority of them to death with machetes.
Mrs. Gauthier, born in 1954, grew up in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, where she met her husband in the early 1970s. He was there to teach French under a foreign aid program and a few years later, they met again in France where they married in 1977.
After settling in the French city of Reims and raising a family, they were living a comfortable life when the Genocide erupted in 1994. That’s when the calls started to come in… “We were glued to the telephone all day,” Mrs. Gauthier recalled. “People would tell us, ‘At X’s home, they’re all dead. They’ve been killed this morning.’ It didn’t mean anything anymore. I can’t express it with words. We were lost, we wondered whether it was true. Once we were there, we realised the magnitude of things when people we knew weren’t there anymore, and even their houses had disappeared.”
“Her life is my life. Her family is my family. It’s also my family that has been assassinated,” said Alain, 64, sitting next to his wife in their small home office where they work on cases. “We very quickly found ourselves looking into who was behind the massacres. This is a battle that has been imposed upon us and we’ll lead it as long as we have the strength to.”
In 2001, they travelled to Brussels for the trial of four Rwandans convicted of committing war crimes during the mass killings. There, the couple met the head of an association that searched for Rwandan fugitives in Belgium. “He told us, ‘Why don’t you do this in France? There are hundreds of them there,’ ” Mr. Gauthier said. “And so we did.”
The couple started visiting Rwanda, talking to survivors and collecting testimonies and set up an association, the Collective of Civil Plaintiffs for Rwanda, to have legal standing to file civil cases against fugitives.
In 2004, the couple unmasked Dominique Ntawukuriryayo, living in Carcassonne, in southern France. Ntawukuriryayo was working in a church there and had founded Future Geniuses, a nongovernmental organisation to help children in Rwanda.
But although Ntawukuriryayo appeared to be a respected member of society, what many people didn’t realise was that he played a major role in the killing of as many as 25,000 Tutsi refugees in April 1994. Thanks to the Gauthier’s he was eventually extradited to Tanzania, where he was convicted on genocide charges in 2010 and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
The couple also tracked down Sosthène Munyemana, another outwardly respected member of society, who worked as a gynecologist living in the southwest of France. He has never been convicted by the French even though in Rwanda, he is often referred to as the “butcher of Tumba” (Tumba is a district south of Butare) and is accused by local authorities and Interpol of murder and being involved in his country’s extermination plan against the Tutsis.
For 13 years the Gauthiers have worked tirelessly for justice, and it seems all their hard work has finally paid off because the French authorities have, for the very first time, brought to trial one of the suspects – Pascal Simbikangwa, a 54 year old former Rwandan Army Chief who is accused of supplying arms and instructions to the ethnic Hutu militia men who manned roadblocks in the capital and killed thousands of Tutsi men, women and children.
“It’s very significant because the genocide suspects will no longer find the safe haven in France that they have today,” Jacques Kabale, Rwanda’s ambassador to France, told Reuters.
Rwanda’s former justice minister Johnston Busingye declared: “This is history in the making.”
The Gauthiers found Simbikangwa, five years ago, at his home in the slums of Kaweni, a city on the island of Mayotte, a French territory in the Indian Ocean.
“The Gauthiers were alone, they fought, and their work is colossal,” said Maria Malagardis, a journalist for the newspaper Libération, who wrote a book, “On the Track of the Rwandan Killers,” about the couple.
The trial, which started on 4th February, will continue for the next 5 weeks.
Alain told the BBC: ‘We are simply citizens with a conscience, as the presence of Rwandan genocide suspects in France is intolerable for the families of victims. So without any [legal] knowledge we started this work and research. Once we discovered a suspect in France, we were obliged to go to Rwanda to find witnesses – in order to make a case. Those witnesses were either survivors or the killers themselves – those freed having served their terms and those who were still in prison gave us the best information.
‘Money has been a problem. In the beginning, we paid for our own travel, then the Collective of Civil Plaintiffs for Rwanda, which has about 150 members, helped us go. We have received some donations – but right now there is no real financial support. To find suspects, we have followed up leads from those who have told us that they suspected people in their area or university may have taken part in the genocide – this information arrived from different sources. Then it was up to us to verify it and if we had the means we’d go to Rwanda to investigate. It was a lot of work. For each case we have to go four or five times, staying often for two to four weeks.
‘I’d go to Rwanda in all my holidays – I was a teacher until I recently retired. It required a lot of translation work, which my wife mostly did, and then we would give the information to our lawyers who would take several months to prepare documents to be accepted by the justice system. Amongst the suspects we have discovered are three doctors, a priest, a former governor – most of them are respected members of society. It’s very difficult to know the true number of genocide suspects currently living in France – but so far we have filed complaints against about 25. Without the work of our organisation, the Collective of Civil Plaintiffs for Rwanda, and others who have helped us there would be no investigation of genocide suspects in France.
‘There has been no help from the government. Then there’s the work of the French justice system, which for a long time has dragged its feet and didn’t have the means to pursue and investigate these people. That changed two years ago… but from the government there has been no help. Trying genocide suspects is an occasion to remember the French government’s role in Rwanda in 1994. We think that there was on the part of that government, a diplomatic, financial and military complicity… so bringing that all up on French soil makes those formerly responsible uncomfortable – and some of them are still quite powerful. So it doesn’t bring pleasure to anyone, and it’s clear that until now we’ve received no support at all from the French political world.
‘Pascal Simbikangwa is the first trial, which has come far too late. We just hope that it acts as a kind of incentive in French justice and that many others will soon be brought to trial. What we do, we do because we believe it is only justice that can give the victims who are no more the dignity that was taken away from them. We aim to do this “without hate or vengeance”, to take the expression of the Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal. What motivates us is essentially giving victims back their dignity’.
To donate to the Collective of Civil Plaintiffs for Rwanda so that the Gauthiers can continue to hunt down the murderers who elude justice, please click here.
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