The Genocide Hunters

Alain and Dafroza Gauthier ©francetv

Alain and Dafroza Gauthier ©francetv

“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.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                       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.

A victim of the genocide © James Nachtwey

A victim of the genocide © James Nachtwey

Scenes like this were seen far and wide across the country

Scenes like this were seen far and wide across the country

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.”

Aftermath of the Genocide

Aftermath of the Genocide

1994, Goma, Zaire --- A young Rwandan boy cries and clings to his dead father, who died moments before of cholera. The two had fled the Hutu-Tutsi violence in Rwanda and come to Zaire for safety. --- Image by © David Turnley/CORBIS

1994, Goma, Zaire — A young Rwandan boy cries and clings to his dead father, who died moments before of cholera. The two had fled the Hutu-Tutsi violence in Rwanda and come to Zaire for safety. — Image by © David Turnley/CORBIS

“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.

Dominique Ntawukuriryayo

Dominique Ntawukuriryayo

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.

Sosthène Munyemana ©AFP

Sosthène Munyemana ©AFP

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.”

Pascal Simbikangwa ©AFP

Pascal Simbikangwa ©AFP

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.

Alain Gauthier, center, a French school teacher and creator of the Collective of Civil Plaintiffs for Rwanda, and his wife Dafroza Gauthier, right, arrive at Paris law court for the trial of Pascal Simbikangwa, a 54-year-old former Hutu intelligence chief, who faces charges of complicity in genocide and complicity in war crimes, at Paris law court, Tuesday Feb. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)

Alain Gauthier, center, a French school teacher and creator of the Collective of Civil Plaintiffs for Rwanda, and his wife Dafroza Gauthier, right, arrive at Paris law court for the trial of Pascal Simbikangwa, a 54-year-old former Hutu intelligence chief, who faces charges of complicity in genocide and complicity in war crimes, at Paris law court, Tuesday Feb. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)

‘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.

To find out more about Collective of Civil Plaintiffs for Rwanda, click here.

How you can help

You can choose to help the Gauthier’s in many ways:

Gerard Butler serves meals to children in Liberia for charity Mary’s Meals

Gerard Butler in Liberia ©Chris Watt

Gerard Butler in Liberia ©Chris Watt

This week Hollywood star Gerard Butler visited Liberia, the second poorest country in the world, to volunteer for charity Mary’s Meals. He spent four days preparing and serving food to children, dancing with local villagers, playing football with the kids, taking a maths class of orphans, loading trucks with sacks of rice and planting pepper seeds and pineapples at a school garden.

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©Chris Watt

The charity Mary’s Meals started in 1992 when two brothers Magnus and Fergus MacFarlane-Barrow, watched the Bosnian Conflict on the news with increasing horror. They were so moved that they decided to organise an appeal for food and blankets. Since then, Mary’s Meal has expanded and now feeds over 822,000 children worldwide.

©Chris Watt

©Chris Watt

The charity provides one meal a day in a place of learning to attract children to school so that they can receive an education whilst also being fed with what can sometimes be the only food the child will receive that day.

The costs involved? Well it costs just £10.70 to feed a child for a whole year… £10.70! That’s what struck me the most when finding out about Butler’s journey to Liberia and I know people are probably extremely hard up with it being Christmas time but by donating just £10.70 we can provide the very basics to a child and most likely make their year.

Mary’s Meals keeps their running costs down by purchasing locally produced food for use in the meals they serve which in turn supports the local economy (it respects local culture and food preferences) and it avoids incurring extra transport costs. They also do this by employing volunteers into every aspect of the organisation and by not wasting money on anything that is not absolutely necessary and because of this, 93p of every £1 you donate is spent directly on charitable activities.

©Chris Watt

©Chris Watt

On his visit to Liberia, Butler said: “Since 2010, I have come to know Mary’s Meals but had no idea of what that really meant. I have been struck by the strength of peoples’ dignity and what I love about Mary’s Meals is that it is all about retaining this.

They don’t operate a free system where people are just taking; instead it is all about respecting and promoting the lives of people, their culture, and what they are capable of.”

He added: “Every meal is a piece of charity and a little piece of love, and goes into the hearts of the children, feeding and nourishing them. That all passes down into the families and gives them a sense of hope and that is the difference between a kid saying, ‘I want to survive tomorrow’ and ‘I want to be a doctor’.

©Chris Watt

©Chris Watt

Over a decade since the war, I see communities full of resilience, integrity, warmth, love and hope. Mary’s Meals is like a little switch that helps flick it on.”

He added: “I wish people could spend one second that I’ve had here in these schools, with these families, as I do think anyone who has had that experience would get way more involved. There is such a direct link between a donation and a nutritious meal for a kid.

Mary’s Meals is helping kids get a great education, and in turn, a better education system can help lift a nation out of poverty.”

If you’d like to donate to Mary’s Meals please click here. Remember, just £10.70 can feed a hungry child for one whole year. It’s Christmas time so let’s remember those who need our help.

Thanks for reading.

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Angelique Namaika: The humanitarian nun who dedicates her life to helping women in need

Angelique Namaika: The humanitarian nun who dedicates her life to helping women in need

When Angelique Namaika was a child she became so sick that she almost didn’t survive, but what followed was a happy childhood, one in which she was very close to her parents, giving her a good foundation for helping those … Continue reading

A volunteer’s view

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I recently spent a day volunteering at MAG HQ in Manchester, after which they asked me to write an article about my experience for their MAG Dispatches blog.

I found out about MAG whilst doing research on the effect of landmines and discarded bombs from the Vietnam War. I came across an article about an all female demining group in Laos and what I found fascinating about the story was how MAG train and employ women from local farming communities to demine the fields. This raises the status of women in a country where the literacy rate among the female population is currently 54 per cent, compared with 77 per cent for men. Working for MAG means they receive valuable training as a technician or medic and gives them skills they can pass on to their daughters.

 Female demining group in Laos
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MAG Laos Deputy Team Leader Souk Savan carefully places a corroded 60mm mortar bomb, close to the ancient stupas in Khoun. This is a popular tourist site and, like the Plain of Jars, it is important the area is made safe. [Photo: Sean Sutton / MAG]

This inspired me to write to MAG to ask if there were any volunteering opportunities available at their HQ in Manchester and they were kind enough to let me come in for the day to help the fundraising team with donor mailing. When I arrived, Jen Birch and Jess Carver gave me an introduction to MAG and how their fundraising activities work. It was interesting to learn that MAG is known primarily as a humanitarian organisation with a long-term focus on finding ways to reduce the risk of injury or death by educating local communities and creating jobs (more than 90% of MAG’s employees are local workers). Rather than focusing on how many landmines have been destroyed or how big an area has been cleared, their aim as a humanitarian organisation is to enable countries to rebuild socially and economically.

My day at  MAG HQ involved sending thank you letters to all their donors and also a copy of their bi-annual publication called Impact, which helps keep supporters up to date with MAG’s work. It is a very informative booklet giving an insight into everything from Lebanon’s female bomb searchers to an update on how the public’s contributions during the Laos Appeal helped people living in dangerous areas.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at MAG, the staff were fantastic and made me feel incredibly welcome. Their passion for the organisation really shines through and I came away with an even greater understanding of the amazing work they do.

The original article can be found here on the MAG Dispatches blog

• Please check the MAG website for volunteer opportunities at MAG HQ: www.maginternational.org/jobs.

A plea from the Treasure Fairy

©treasureboxes

©treasureboxes

I was browsing facebook this morning when I came across a really important message from the Treasure Fairy. Back in June I wrote a blog post about the Treasure Fairy, an eight year old girl who makes bracelets to raise money for women and children living in a women’s refuge, a deed she started at the age of six. She is currently trying to register with the Charity Commission – it is hoped that she can reach more women’s refuges around the country with her work.

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Please spare a couple of minutes to read this important message from the Treasure Fairy and her family.

“I have spent a lot of time planning over the summer and once the school holidays are over I am going to be spending more time developing this into something that can reach out to far more children. This is going to mean some personal sacrifices, which I am more than happy to face, but I need your help and it need not cost you a penny.

Currently we cannot be registered with the Charity Commission as I have to prove to them that we can generate at least £5000 a year (check out their website for more details on this). The sooner that we can submit our accounts to show that this amount is achievable, the sooner we can start the registration process. Registration will enable us to access new avenues of funding and support.

Although it would be wonderful for a secret millionaire to read this and make a large donation, I know that this is not likely to happen. We also believe that you should get something in return for your donation – along with the satisfaction of knowing that you have supported a group of children that society seems to overlook.”

A note from The Treasure Fairy ©treasureboxes

A note from The Treasure Fairy ©treasureboxes

“All I am asking is that you make a donation in return for a bracelet, bag charm, keyring, pendant or fairy adoption. If every one of our Facebook and Twitter followers did this we would smash the £5000 target and it would start us on the journey to something truly amazing.

Help the Treasure Fairy to realise her dream of being able to support every single child who spends time in a women’s refuge. If you can’t donate, please just share. Your Facebook share might just lead us to our secret millionaire!”

To share this page on facebook please follow this link: http://www.facebook.com/helptreasureboxes

Follow on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/Treasure_Boxes

Donate to Treasure Boxes here – http://www.treasureboxes.org.uk/content/order

Find out more here: http://www.treasureboxes.org.uk/home

A Very British Appeal: 50 years of the Disasters Emergency Committee

Tonight at 10:35pm ITV will screen a documentary about how the British public, for the last 50 years, has responded with a huge amount of generosity to appeals made by the Disasters Emergency Committee.

DEC_logo_mainEvery time there’s a natural or conflict driven disaster anywhere in the world, 14 of Britain’s biggest aid agencies, including Save the Children, Christian Aid and the British Red Cross to name a few, come together as one under the banner of the DEC who then organise the emotional celebrity led appeals that we see on our TV screens, or hear on the radio. In the 50 years since this British charity began, they have raised over £1billion to help relieve hunger and suffering around the globe, from Ethiopia and Rwanda to Somalia and Syria.

The documentary tonight follows the charity through the last 50 years and 62 DEC appeals. Aid workers talk about lessons learnt from dealing with some of the worlds biggest humanitarian disasters and the presenter Rageh Omaar travels to Haiti where three years ago 220,000 people died during the most deadly earthquake in modern times. He gets to see for himself exactly how the £107 Million you gave to the DEC’s Haiti Appeal has been spent including a visit to a school rebuilt with DEC money.

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Rageh Omaar

The documentary also goes behind the scenes to follow the story of the DEC’s most recent appeal – Syria. From concept to launch, the DEC team attempt to raise the vital funds to ease the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of refugees currently fleeing the crisis over the border to Jordan.

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Traditionally conflicts never raise as much money for the DEC as natural disasters, but over the years the British have been very quick off the mark to donate their money especially during the Kosovo and Darfur crises and the 1984 Ethiopian famine.

If you’d like to watch the documentary it will be screened from 10:35pm until 11:35pm this evening on ITV.

If you would like to donate to the Syria Appeal you can do so by clicking here – http://www.dec.org.uk/appeals/syria-crisis-appeal

You can follow the DEC on Twitter here – https://twitter.com/decappeal

And on Facebook here – https://www.facebook.com/DisastersEmergencyCommittee

Pakistan Expenditure per Sector