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.

RWANDA WAR1101940801_400

                                                                                                                                                                                                       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.

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Angelina Jolie and William Hague visit survivors of sexual violence in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo

angelinajolie

Angelina Jolie and William Hague in the Democratic Republic of Congo yesterday ©AFP

Angelina Jolie and British Foreign Secretary William Hague visited the Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday to meet survivors of sexual violence as part of their campaign to tackle rape in war zones.

The number of women, girls, men and boys who have been subjected to rape in conflict zones numbers in the hundreds of thousands. 50,000 were raped in Bosnia, 64,000 in Sierra Leone, 200,000 in Congo and 400,000 in Rwanda. The UN has estimated that only 30 convictions have resulted from the Bosnian War.

Jolie and Hague spent time at the Nzolo Internally Displaced Persons camp, north of Goma and the Lac Vert camp on the edge of Goma. Their next stop is Rwanda.

The aim of the trip is to force the Group of Eight world powers to address the issue more seriously and the Foreign Secretary has said he will make the issue his priority when he hosts the annual meeting of G8 foreign ministers next month in London.

Hague has already put in place a 70-strong specialist team of police, lawyers, psychologists, doctors and forensic experts to help survivors and witnesses and has also contributed £1 million this financial year to support the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Angelina Joile and William Hague in the DRC ©Telegraph

Angelina Joile and William Hague in the DRC ©Telegraph

“More often than not the international community looks away, the perpetrators of these brutal crimes walk free and the cycle of injustice and conflict is repeated. We have to shatter this culture of impunity,” Hague said. “It is time for real, meaningful action by the governments of the world to say that the use of rape as a weapon of war is unacceptable, to bring perpetrators to justice and to lift the stigma from survivors. This is my personal priority for the meeting of G8 foreign ministers.”

Jolie said on the trip: “This visit is about hearing first hand from people who have endured rape and sexual violence during the conflict in the eastern DRC. We want to learn the lessons that their experience holds for how the world can protect thousands of women, men and children at risk of rape in many other conflict zones. And we want to persuade governments around the world to give this issue the attention it deserves. Unless the world acts, we will always be reacting to atrocities, treating survivors rather than preventing rape in the first place.”

“It’s often that we speak about the drama and the pain and the horrors of the Congo but it’s also a wonderful place with extraordinary people. The big message is that this initiative started by the Foreign Secretary is extraordinary, but what we’re here to do is to try to scale it up and make this a worldwide focus. It’s been going on in every war, every crisis and it’s often an afterthought – and it’s due time to end this, and put an end to impunity, and they deserve it.”

Celebrating heroes: A real-life Cool Hand Luke

Hero: Mbaye Diagne

Hero: Mbaye Diagne

Through magazines, newspapers and television we’re bombarded with an abundance of ‘celebrities’ on a daily basis, people who become ‘role models’ because they’re all we ever see and hear about. People ‘papped’ for falling out of clubs, shopping, getting into trouble… basically famous for being famous. But the real celebrities, those who deserve to be famous and lauded for all that they do are the heroes who are trying to make other people’s lives better, the people who are rarely considered news worthy as what they do isn’t glamorous enough or worth gossiping about.

Take Dr Denis Mukwege, who I wrote about back in August. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize the same year Barack Obama won and is a living hero. He puts his neck on the line every single day to save the women of the DR Congo, but he barely makes the news headlines. You might see him somewhere in the Africa section of the BBC News website now and then, like when there was an attempt made on his life recently, but it’s not enough.

There are many more people like Dr Mukwege who deserve recognition for what they do and have done. One of those people is a man described by those who knew him as “The bravest of the brave,” “The greatest man I have ever known,” “A real-life Cool Hand Luke…”

These are just a few of the words used to describe Senegalese UN soldier Mbaye Diagne.

The story starts a long time before Mbaye Diagne landed in Rwanda as an unarmed UN military observer as part of the UN Peacekeeping forces during the lead up to the country’s genocide in 1994.

For almost a hundred years tensions were high 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.

Président Juvénal Habyarimana.© Nouvel Observateur

Président Juvénal Habyarimana.
© Nouvel Observateur

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.

The plane carrying Rwanda President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundi President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down on April 6, 1994, their assassination sparked the Rwandan Genocide ©Jean Marc Boujou, AP

The plane carrying Rwanda President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundi President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down on April 6, 1994, their assassination sparked the Rwandan Genocide ©Jean Marc Boujou, AP

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. An American military adviser at the time suggested that the US could use jamming equipment to take the radio stations off the air to stop the spread of violent propaganda and hatred but a lawyer from the Pentagon made the argument that that would be contrary to the US constitutional protection of freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

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.

Scenes like this were seen far and wide across the country

Scenes like this were seen far and wide across the country

What were the UN and the rest of the world doing about it you ask? Good question. Seven weeks into the genocide Bill Clinton gave a speech outlining the United States’ position on the state of Rwanda, advising that they would only intervene in a humanitarian crisis and only if it was in America’s national interest “…whether we get involved in any of the worlds ethnic conflicts in the end must depend on the cumulative weight of the American interest at stake…” By this point almost half a million people had already been murdered by the Hutu’s and soon the UN started to pull their peacekeeping troops out of the country.

When Belgian UN peacekeepers abandoned the Don Bosco Technical School, where they had been protecting 2,000 refugees, Hutu militants who had been waiting outside, drinking beer and chanting “Hutu Power”,  saw their chance and entered the compound, massacring every single person inside, including hundreds of children.

Tutsi's massacred by the Interahamwe

Tutsi’s massacred by the Interahamwe

After the Holocaust the world said ‘Never Again’ and adopted a UN convention requiring that future genocides be stopped. When genocide happened in Rwanda, the United States along with other governments simply avoided using the word but yet again they were full of apologies after the event.

During the genocide there were several heroes who, with no thought for their own safety, helped save the lives of thousands of Tutsi’s. The most famous story is of course that of Paul Rusesabagina, subject of the film, Hotel Rwanda.

Rusesabagina, a Hutu, was married to Tatiana, a Tusti when the genocide began. He worked as the Manager of the Hotel des Milles Collines and brought his family there for safety. It became a haven for refugees during the genocide and Rusesabagina managed to keep the Hutu militia at bay with bribes. By the end of the genocide his acts had saved the lives of 1,268 men, women and children.  Another lesser known story of heroism during the genocide comes in the form of Mbaye Diagne.

Mbaye Diagne

Mbaye Diagne

Mbaye, a devout Muslim, from Dakar in Senegal was the first person out of his family to go to university. He joined the army after graduating from the University of Dakar and worked his way up, eventually being sent out to Rwanda as an unarmed UN military observer.

On the morning of the 7th April, the day after President Habyarimana was assassinated, Rwanda’s first and only female Prime Minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, a moderate Hutu, was assassinated by the Hutu presidential guard at her home along with her husband and ten Belgian peacekeepers.

Captain Mbaye Diagne heard about Agathe and the peacekeepers from civilians arriving at the Hotel des Milles Collines and immediately made his way to her house, unarmed. He found out that Agathe and her husband surrendered to the Presidential Guard in order to save her children who were hiding inside the compound. Fortunately the troops hadn’t searched the house and when Cpt Diagne got there he found the four children hiding behind clothes and furniture in a corner. He was promised by the UN that extra troops and an armoured personnel carrier would be along shortly to take them to safety but they never showed up. Mbaye knew that the children were a target and would be killed unless they were taken out of the country so he hid them in his car and smuggled them across town to the airport.

Seeing the rapid deterioration of the situation in the country, Mbaye knew he couldn’t just stand by and watch as thousands of people were murdered. He drove out to Nyamirambo, a Kigali neighbourhood that was particularly dangerous, where he found a group of 25 Tusti’s in a house. He took them in groups of 5 to the UN headquarters, each time passing through 23 Hutu checkpoints, somehow managing to convince the militia to let them live using his charm, cigarettes and money.

Mbaye’s colleagues were soon noticing more and more refugees appearing at the Amahoro Hotel in Kigali before being shipped out to safety elsewhere. They knew it was Mbaye who was bringing them there and that it was against his orders of being a UN ‘observer’ but even his boss General Dallaire refused to stop him.

On one occasion his charm managed to save the life of BBC journalist Mark Doyle:

“… I remember once I was very grateful I was in Mbaye’s car. We were going to see an orphanage. We got stopped by the government militia, and the militia man leaned through the window with one of these Chinese stick grenades which look a bit like sink plungers, but they’re not sink plungers — they explode and kill you if they go off. And he started waving it under my nose, because he thought I was Belgian — because at the time the Belgians were perceived by the government to be pro-rebel — and so this militia man thought because I’m white and driving around — and most of the white people who lived in Kigali at the time, the majority were Belgian — he thought I was Belgian. So he said to Mbaye, “Who’s this guy? Is he Belgian?” and if Mbaye had said the wrong thing at that point, then I’ve no doubt that we’d have all been killed.

And what he did was he just joked. He said, “No, no — I’m the Belgian. I’m the Belgian here, look — black Belgian.” And he broke the tension of the moment, and once the tension of the moment had been broken, he said, “No, no — in fact, look, this guy is the BBC. Here’s his badge. He’s a BBC journalist, he’s British, and he’s got nothing to do with Belgian.” And this kind of put the military man off guard a bit and he no longer wanted to kill us. And I just wonder if a Canadian soldier or a French soldier would have been able to do that, to joke with this guy and potentially save my life and the life of all the other people around who would have been killed by this stick grenade. …”

On 31st May, Cpt Mbaye was driving back to the UN headquarters alone and in preparation for moving more people when a mortar landed next to his car at one of the checkpoints. He was killed instantly.

It’s estimated that he saved as many as 1000 people during the genocide – ferrying between 3 – 5 at a time through 23 checkpoints on a daily basis meaning that during the genocide he potentially passed through 4,600 checkpoints, risking his life each time.

Mbaye’s friend Gregory Alex commented on the aftermath of his death:

“People are talking about going and getting his dress uniform. They’re calling around for a body bag. But there’s no body bag. Not a body bag in the whole U.N. The ICRC (Red Cross) doesn’t have any body bags that they can spare. And at this time we’re starting to put together and we’re saying, you know, here’s a guy who gave his ultimate, did everything, and we don’t even have a body bag to show him some respect.

We had some UNICEF plastic sheeting, and we had some tape and Mbaye’s body comes. And he’s a big man, tall, big feet. And he’s on a stretcher now. Nobody knows exactly what to do, but we’re gonna make a body bag. … And you wanna do it right. You want to … zip it, [but] you got this UN light-blue body bag, and we’re going to make and fold the edges over. And we’re folding them up, and the creases aren’t right, because his feet are so damn big. … And you don’t want that for him. You want it to be like, you know, just laid out perfectly. So that when people look at him, they know that he was something great.”

UN soldiers surrounding the body of Mbaye Diagne

UN soldiers surrounding the body of Mbaye Diagne

The UN Force HQ held a minute of silence in his honor and a small parade at the airport on 1 June. Mark Doyle said:

“Can you imagine the blanket media coverage that a dead British or American peacekeeper of Mbaye’s bravery and stature would have received?….. He got almost none.”

Gregory Alex added:

“He was a hero. He was the guy that, in every movie that’s ever made you have the guy that is the tragic hero. … But this one’s real. This man was a hero to people he didn’t know and people he did know, to people who didn’t have a clue and didn’t understand why he was doing it. …”

Mbaye Diagne was single-handedly responsible for saving the lives of up to 1,000 people during the genocide, a feat that no other nation even attempted. His bravery knew no limits and for that reason he is a true hero.