News / Africa

Frenchman Leads Drive to Prosecute Perpetrators of Rwandan Genocide

Alain Gauthier has founded an association with a long-standing goal of bringing to justice the perpetrators of Rwanda's 1994 genocide who may be living in France. VOA's Lisa Bryant in Paris looks at the man known in France as the Rwandan genocide hunter.

Earlier this month, French police briefly arrested Agathe Habyarimana, the widow of a former Rwandan president who is suspected of instigating Rwanda's 1994 genocide.  The arrest was made shortly after French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid a groundbreaking trip to Kigali that was widely seen as turning the chapter on bitter French-Rwandan relations.

Rwandan authorities have called on Paris to pursue genocide suspects living in France.  So has 61-year-old French school teacher Alain Gauthier, who founded the French association Le Collectif des Parties Civiles pour le Rwanda nearly a decade ago with his Rwandan wife.

Gauthier has been compared to famed French Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld.

But Gauthier says he is just an ordinary citizen whose life was torn apart by the genocide.  Gauthier's wife lost about 100 members of her family in the massacre that killed about 800,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus. That included Gauthier's mother-in-law, who was gunned down in a  church where she had sought shelter.

A 1977 file photo shows the wife of Juvenal Habyarimana, Agathe, during an official meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris
A 1977 file photo shows the wife of Juvenal Habyarimana, Agathe, during an official meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris

Gauthier's association has filed several complaints in French courts against suspected genocide perpetrators, including one against Agathe Habyarimana.

But Gauthier says not a single genocide suspect has faced trial in France to date, although Paris has deported three Rwandans to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania.  By contrast, several trials linked to the Rwandan genocide have taken place in neighboring Belgium.

Leslie Haskell is Rwanda researcher for Human Rights Watch in Geneva:

"France is actually one of the leading countries where genocide suspects have sought refuge," said Haskell.  "We count about six cases where there have been requests to extradite Rwandans to Rwanda for trial on genocide charges.  And there are another eight cases that are under investigation that would be subject to an extradition request or tried by the French courts," she added.

Haskell notes investigating the cases has been very time consuming and complicated, especially during the period when France and Rwanda broke off diplomatic ties.  But she sees new movement, including France's recent decision to create a special investigative unit to examine genocide and crimes against humanity committed abroad.

These changes have helped energize the Gauthiers' work, and brought Rwanda back into the French media spotlight.  Some French schools have asked Gauthier to give presentations on the Rwandan genocide.

Gauthier says it is critical to keep teaching about the Rwandan genocide, just as it is important never to forget the Nazi-perpetrated Jewish Holocaust.  He says education helps keep the memory of what happened alive, and teaches a new generation to say no to genocide in the future.

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