Published in Rwanda Newsline (Rwanda)

October 30 - November 5, 2000

Posted at willum.com

 

 

ICTR Prosecutor Rejects Allegations of Kagame Arrest Warrent

 

 

 

By Bjørn Willum

 

 

 

The Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Friday rejected allegations that a French judge is planning to call for an international arrest warrant against Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

Since 1998, the prominent anti-terrorist judge Jean-Louis Brugière has been heading an inquiry into the shooting down of an aircraft carrying among others former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana on April 6th, 1994.

According to the October issue of a French magazine, Mr. Brugière has gathered evidence linking Paul Kagame to the murder and is likely to ask for an international arrest warrant against Mr. Kagame within the next six months.

 "I know nothing about that," ICTR Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte told Rwanda Newsline on Friday. Confronted with media reports mentioning the possible action of Mr. Brugière, Ms. Del Ponde commented that "it is not judge Brugiere saying this," while at the same time waving an issue of last weeks Rwanda Newsline.

 Mr. Brugière has "very many elements" linking both Mr. Kagame and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to the downing of the plane, last weeks issue of Rwanda Newsline quoted 'Le Vrai Papier Journal'.

 In order to consider whether the UN Tribunal should look into the matter of the plane crash, Ms. Del Ponte has for long been in contact with Brugière, who has been appointed "Examining Magistrate" by a French court.

"Which Examining Magistrate," asked a smiling Del Ponte, is saying "I want to arrest such and such? I don't believe that."

The identity of the murderers has for long been a controversial issue, since not only were a dozen high-ranking government officials killed in the plane crash. The event is also widely considered to have sparked the genocide of up to a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

But the controversy peaked during February this year when the Canadian newspaper the 'National Post' published extracts of a confidential UN memorandum suggesting that the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) might have been behind the assassination.

Until then it was assumed that Hutu extremists downed the plane to take advantage of the ensuing chaos to seize power.

This was also the common assumption when a secret investigation team at the ICTR in 1996 started to give the circumstances of the plane crash a thorough going-over.

But at some point around New Year 1997 the evidence started to point in a different direction, after three informants from the current Rwandan government claimed they had been part of a secret commando-operation team, which had shot down the plane.

When the investigators were facing the decisive breakthrough in the investigation they contacted Carla Del Ponte's predecessor Louise Arbour at the Tribunal's head office in The Hague. Ms. Arbour was very interested in this information, several investigators has told Rwanda Newsline.

But when an investigator flew to The Hague to personally hand over a note about the case, she made a U-turn and closed the investigation.

Ms. Arbour, now a Canadian Supreme Court judge, has rejected commenting on the case, while Carla Del Ponte said she had no knowledge of the UN memorandum or of any investigation into the plane crash.  "I read about it for the first time in the Canadian press," Del Ponte told the Danish newspaper 'Aktuelt' in April.

 Meanwhile, Ms. Del Ponte has been been sent a copy of the memorandum by UN headquarters in New York. But, she complained, it is just one Tribunal investigator who made a report based on "his own thinking and supposition. That is not evidence for me."

Though several investigators have confirmed the Tribunal investigation to Rwanda Newsline, Ms. Del Ponte says she has found no files in the offices of the Tribunal about the investigation.

"Yes, yes, sure, it is strange," admitted the tiny Swiss Prosecutor. Asked if she had spoken to the former investigators who dealt with the case, she replied "no, I didn't talk to them. Let Brugière do that."

Standing next to her during the interview, Rwandan Prosecutor-General Gerald Gahima said he was "suspicious" about the allegations against the RPF, "since the French were here right at the airport" when the plane was downed.

Mr. Gahima thus backed up the official line of the Rwandan government, which maintains that French soldiers seized the cockpit voice-recorder of the Presidential Falcon 50 jet in question.

An issue the French government has so far kept quiet about.

To accomplish the task of identifying the perpetrators, Mr. Brugière should rather 'look closer to where he is" Mr. Kagame recently told a press conference.

Asked whether she considered it of importance to the ICTR trials to establish the masterminds behind the plane crash, Ms. Del Ponte reiterated that she only had jurisdiction over cases concerning crimes against humanity, such as genocide, and not murders as such.

To open an enquiry, she stressed, she needs to determine whether the downing of the plane was related to the subsequent massacres.

"Let us wait and see," said a determined Carla Del Ponte, adding that she planned to meet Mr. Brugière in Paris "as soon as possible" to see the results of his enquiry.