Justice for Rwanda Hinges On French Aid, Now Scarce

TWO years after a genocide in Rwanda that killed up to 1 million people, the investigation to identify and punish the ringleaders is only just beginning.

At the same time, human rights groups say that France must deepen its support for this investigation if questions of guilt and innocence will ever be resolved.

Although Rwanda was never a French colony, France has had the strongest ties there of any Western nation in recent years. It trained many of the groups believed responsible for the genocide and had a strong contingent of military advisers there before and during the genocide.

"We have 24 investigators in [the Rwandan capital of] Kigali to investigate up to a million murders. Put that to prosecutors in any country, and they will say that's ridiculous," said Judge Richard Goldstone during a visit to Paris on Friday.

Mr. Goldstone has led the United Nations tribunal investigating crimes against humanity in both Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. The designation of a joint prosecutor to investigate both genocides of this decade was meant to guarantee consistent treatment, he said.

But some 17 months after the establishment of the Rwandan tribunal, no suspects have faced a courtroom for crimes against humanity in Rwanda. While some 100 investigators are working on cases in the former Yugoslavia, only 29 investigators are investigating Rwanda's genocide.

Rwandan officials and some human rights groups say international support has been stronger for the resolution of Balkan human rights abuses, which killed tens of thousands, than for the abuses in Rwanda, which killed hundreds of thousands.

"The work of the [Rwanda] tribunal is an important part of the political and social reconciliation of Rwanda," said Rwandan Ambassador to France Christophe Mfizi. "If the international community refuses resources for the tribunal to conduct its work, that discourages the good will of the people of Rwanda, and people will feel as abandoned as they did during the genocide."

Relief groups, such as the Paris-based Doctors Without Borders, called in April 1994 on the French government to speak out against the massacre. They argued that French military advisers could have been more effective in restraining the militias that France had trained.

"I'm not prepared to say France was an accomplice to the genocide, but France has a duty of clarity and transparency and truth. Right now, they don't want to discuss it. There is absolute silence on the subject and they get angry if you even raise it," said Ambassador Mfizi.

In contrast to the former Yugoslavia, the ethnic killings in Rwanda are well documented, UN investigators say. All major aid organizations, a UN peacekeeping force, and a network of French intelligence and military advisers were present in Rwanda when the assassination of Rwandan President Habyarimana in April 1994 set off three months of killings by majority Hutu extremists.

For months prior to the genocide, Hutu extremists had called for the extermination of minority Tutsis as well as Hutu moderates. As early as January 1993, human rights groups warned that such a genocide was already under way.

UN peacekeepers already in place scaled down their operations after the murder of 10 Belgian peacekeepers. That decision was later reversed, but a new UN force was not in place until the genocide ended in July 1994.

In the interim, a French-led force helped fleeing refugees, including those believed responsible for much of the genocide. On Friday, the last UN peacekeeper left Rwanda at the request of its government. Some 1.7 million Rwandan refugees are still in camps near the border, and some 610,000 suspects await trial in Rwandan jails.

Goldstone says that his investigators have not had the resources "to get the full picture of what happened in Rwanda."

But he and officials close to the investigation insist that these delays do not reflect any political will to obstruct the investigation. The investigation of crimes against humanity in Yugoslavia took about a year and a half to begin to produce results. Also, the 1994 startup of the Rwanda tribunal coincided with a severe financial crisis in the UN.

Human rights groups in France used Goldstone's visit to push France to cooperate in the investigation. France was the first permanent member of the UN Security Council to pass enabling legislation to allow its prosecutors to work with the former Yugoslavia's tribunal. But comparable legislation to support the Rwandan investigation has been delayed. On Thursday, the French Senate postponed action on such legislation.

"It's hard to imagine that the only reasons for this delay are technical, because there are too many signs of resistance in France to comply with its international obligations," says William Bourdon, a lawyer for the victims of Rwanda's genocide.

France's foreign ministry dismisses such criticisms. "There is no will to delay anything at all," a spokesman says. "If anything, the genocide was the responsibility of the international community, which did not react rapidly enough, not of France."

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