French judges lift arrest warrants against Rwandan military officials

Saturday December 18 2010

Presidents Paul Kagame accompanies Nicolas Sarkozy as the latter inspects a guard of honour on his arrival in Kigali on February 25. Diplomatic ties between the two countries have since been restored and relations are noticeably warmer. File Photo

International arrest warrants against nine Rwandan military and government officials that a French judge issued in 2006 have been dropped.

This follows revelations by the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks that judge Jean Louis Bruguiere’s actions were politically motivated when he indicted the officials on charges that they were responsible for downing former president Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane.

Last Thursday, French investigative judges Marc Trevidic and Nathalie Poux, who took over Bruguiere’s case after the latter resigned in 2007 to join politics, lifted the warrants.

There was a palpable sense of vindication in the corridors of Kigali officialdom when the announcement came through.

“Now the world can see for itself what a bunch of baseless accusations Bruguiere levelled against officials of this country,” Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama was quoted as saying in the media.

Kigali has all along maintained that Bruguiere’s indictments and arrest warrants were nothing but political acts calculated to destabilise the government of Paul Kagame by disgruntled members of the French establishment “who have never gotten over the fact that there is a new government in Kigali that drove out a French client regime; a government moreover that not only made it clear long ago it would take no orders or patronage from Paris, but actively steered the country to a new, Anglophone dispensation.”


Enter WikiLeaks and its boss Julian Assange who began to spill every secret known to US diplomats around the world, by releasing classified US State Department cables on its website and to selected media houses in the West.

One of the cables — dated January 26, 2007 — from the US embassy in Paris has Bruguiere saying that he consulted the French government, including president Jacques Chirac who was the head of state at the time, before issuing his warrants.

According to the cable Bruguiere said he “presented his decision to the French government officials because I was convinced of the need to co-ordinate with the government.”

That revelation, says a member of the Kigali diplomatic corps whose names we cannot divulge because he talked to us in his personal capacity, was bound to leave very many red faces in the corridors of power in Paris.

In addition to the feelings of vindication in Kigali, there is relief on the part of the officials on Bruguiere’s list. Their movements have been constrained since late 2006 as they feared arrested.

This happened when German police in Frankfurt arrested Rose Kabuye, a former aide of President Kagame.
That arrest sparked a furore that saw protestors in Kigali nearly invade the German embassy followed by Kigali expelling the ambassador of Germany and recalling its own ambassador to Berlin “for consultation.”

In 2006, after Bruguiere issued his warrants, Kigali severed diplomatic ties with Paris.
Senior Rwandan officials have been saying they have nothing to fear about any investigation if it were “conducted fairly, on the ground, and with an eye to all details.”

What made the people in Kigali uncomfortable with Bruguiere’s indictments was that the judge reached his decisions by interviewing only known opponents of the Kagame government, he himself never having stepped on Rwandan soil or sent investigators.

One of the judge’s star witnesses, the late Lt Abdul Ruzibiza, who was in Norway at the time of the indictments, actually recanted everything he had told judge Bruguiere, asserting he only “said things about Kagame to gain political asylum in Europe and to get ‘means of survival’.”

Judges Trevidic and Poux whose investigations in Bruguiere’s warrants have taken them to Kigali, Bujumbura and back to Paris lifted the warrants, without much explanation.

Relations between Paris and Kigali have for most of the period of the Rwandese Patriotic Front government been characterised by zero-sum games whereby misery inflicted on one seemingly is taken as gain for the other. Kigali seems to have won.

It has successfully lobbied to join the Commonwealth; it has joined another “Anglophone grouping,” the East African Community; it has steadily replaced French with English as the language of official business.

Kigali has given as good as it got in the war of words. It has compiled a couple of damaging reports — one which detailed the alleged complicity of the French army (and therefore the government of France) in the 1994 genocide, and another that cast serious doubts on the ability of the RPA guerrilla army to have brought down Habyarimana’s aircraft.

Both reports were compiled carefully to include testimony gathered from Rwandan, French and Belgian witnesses, as well as topographic and ballistics experts from Britain.

Not long after Kigali made these reports public, both times inviting, among others, members of the international media, the government of French President Nicolas Sarkozy began making overtures to Kigali, with Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner making regular forays into Kigali, culminating in a visit by President Sarkozy to Rwanda early this year.

Diplomatic ties between the two countries have since been restored and relations are noticeably warmer.