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Rwandans Welcome Army Officers’ Arrest Over War Crimes

Some Rwandans have reportedly welcomed as a step in the right direction the arrests of four army officers accused of war crimes. But critics of President Paul Kagame’s government say the arrests are long overdue. They said Kagame’s government failed to arrest and prosecute alleged war criminals until international pressure was brought to bear on his administration. But supporters of the government say the indictment of over 40 Rwandan army officers sends a strong signal that those who commit crimes would not go unpunished.

Jean Bosco Gasasira is the editor-in-chief of Umuvugiza, an independent newspaper in Rwanda. From the capital, Kigali he tells reporter Peter Clottey that Rwandans are expecting more army officers to be arrested.

“Rwandans have reacted in two ways. There is a first section that reacted with a lot of panic. Two months ago 41 RDF (Rwandan Defense Forces) officers were indicted for war crimes. So, whereby these four RDF officers who have been arrested over the accusation has caused panic for the remaining other officers who are not yet arrested. On the other side, other Rwandans are happy because they just take it as one sign that the Rwandan government has at least admitted to taking its officers into justice,” Gasasira noted.

He said some Rwandans questioned the timing of the arrests.

“They are saying this has been a long overdue case, which they have been asking themselves why didn’t these people go to justice before. But some are happy others have panicked with their relatives,” he said.

Gasasira said although the government has not officially announced further arrests, Rwandans are expecting some more arrests in the coming days.

“The government has not come out to say that there are more arrests, but according to the information we have here in Kigali, it indicates that maybe there could be more arrests because the people who were arrested by that time were young officers being instructed by their heads. So, there is some fear that maybe some heads of those army officers who have been arrested during the prosecution or the court procedures, some bosses could appear in court. There is some fear that maybe they could again be arrested on the same case,” Gasasira pointed out.

He said the army officers arrested over war crimes would soon be prosecuted although the prosecutor general is yet to comment on when prosecution would begin.

“The prosecutor general hasn’t come out to say that, but the government newspaper in Rwanda quoted the RDF spokesperson saying that they have arrested those officers and those officers could immediately go to prosecution. If you are arrested here we wait for 48 hours in order for the prosecution to hand over those accused to the court. But because those accused did those tings when they were in the army, they are supposed to appear in a military court. So, we are waiting the military prosecution to take them to the military court,” he said.

Gasasira said by the arrests of the army officers the government is sending a strong signal about crime and punishment.

“Yes, this is true. This could be a signal that at least after the arrests have been long overdue when the Rwandan government was not taking its officers to justice, after international pressure wants these officers to be taken to justice and for those who are guilty to be punished, and those who are not guilty also to be acquitted instead of the whole army to be taken as genocidaires or war criminals,” Gasasira noted.