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Hunters of genocidaires also faced with the passage of time

Photo: Hector Mata Archives Agence France-Presse On August 20, 1994, a Rwandan child was crossing the bridge that connects Cyangugu, in the French “security zone” in southwest Rwanda, and Zaire (today Democratic Republic of Congo) with his family.

Fabien Deglise

April 5, 2024

  • Africa

Sunday morning at 10 a.m., the weather will pause its flight over Kigali, Rwanda, to commemorate the genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus that, exactly 30 years ago this year, tipped the country into turmoil. hell. And Alain and Dafroza Gauthier will be there to bear witness to it.

“This April 7 marks an anniversary like we experience one every year, but undoubtedly with a little more solemnity because of the round number,” says Alain at the other end of the videoconference, who for three decades, with his wife, has devoted his time to tracking down and prosecuting Rwandan genocidaires before the courts.

“We will listen to the words of those who have something to say, but above all be in communion with those who are no longer and with those who are still here, who have survived and who continue to fight with their demons,” adds Dafroza , from the capital of Rwanda where Le Devoir joined the couple this week.

Hunters of genocidaires also faced with the passage of time

Photo: Steve Terrill Archives Agence France-Presse Photos of victims hung at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Kigali in April 2012.

30 years after the assassination of Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana, triggering a genocide which killed, in barely 100 days, 800,000 million to 1 million Rwandans in violent death, the wounds are still raw. Even if Alain and Dafroza, nicknamed the “hunters of genocidaires”, have carefully sought since 1994 to heal them by fighting impunity to offer justice to the victims of the ordinary and unspeakable hatred of the other.

“It’s a long job that is not finished,” says Dafroza, taking stock of their years of tracking: 35 complaints filed before the French courts against Rwandans who went to hide in France after having actively participated in the massacres of 1994, 7 genocidaires prosecuted, 6 trials which ended in sentences ranging from 14 years in prison to life… And the impression that there is still much to do.

“We estimate that there are more than a hundred people who could be of interest to the justice system,” adds Alain, specifying that, of this number, some have also found refuge in Canada. He will say no more, only emphasizing that he “does not have the means to pursue genocidaires outside French territory.” “We are in contact informally with the Rwandan community in Canada which is the only one, with the justice system of your country, to be able to investigate these individuals, to document their participation in the genocide and to refer them, if necessary, before the courts,” he adds.

Hunters of genocidaires also faced with the passage of time

Photo: Marco Longari Agence France-Presse A guard stood on September 29, 2002 in front of more than 2,000 prisoners suspected of having participated in the Rwandan genocide, gathered in the Butare stadium, where they had been placed facing the victims of the massacre.

The process is long, complex, tedious, recognizes Alain, but it is necessary to help the Rwandans overcome the trauma of dehumanization and the cold and systematic extermination of the Tutsis and their rare Hutu allies – then described as trafficking by the genocidal attacks — in a mass killing that sparked outrage around the world and changed the trajectory of this country. “It’s the only thing we can offer to the families of the victims, even 30 years later,” summarizes the actively retired former teacher who, in 2001, founded the Collective of Civil Parties for Rwanda, to help bring the perpetrators of this tragedy to justice. These people lost members of their family, to total indifference and during indescribable massacres. The trial of a genocide perpetrator allows the victims to be named and, therefore, their dignity to be restored. »

“The search for justice is also a fight against impunity and oblivion,” adds Dafroza. Without it, we give free rein to the deniers, to those who, even today, have a genocidal ideology anchored in them and who could benefit from a story that is not told right side up, from a story which does not correctly distinguish who did what, which does not identify the executioners and the victims. »

Crimes without consequences

In this quest for truth, with a view to reconciliation, time is now becoming a new threat, underlines Alain. “In the years following the genocide, we fell far behind in hunting down the genocidaires due to the lack of collaboration between Rwanda and France and a judicial framework ill-suited to dealing with it,” he says. And this delay can no longer be caught up,” thus leaving, three decades later, many actors in this surge of hatred still unpunished.

“Among the cases that we have reported to the French justice system, two people have now died,” continues Alain. Another has just died, between her conviction and the appeal she had filed. And other suspected genocidaires may never find themselves before the courts because of their age and senility. »

Hunters of genocidaires also faced with the passage of time

Photo: Yasuyoshi Chiba Archives Agence France-Presse The Memory Garden was inaugurated in April 2019, at the Nyanza Genocide Memorial, where thousands of people were killed after being abandoned by UN peacekeepers.

The distance establishing itself between this genocide and the present is not without risks, estimates Dafroza, particularly in a very young country where nearly 70% of the population has less than 30 years old and therefore did not have direct experience with tragedy. “Hence the importance of commemorating the genocide and educating about its birth [partly constructed by the ethnic divisions imposed by the Belgian colonizer in the early 1930s], to ensure that such a thing does not happen again “, she said.

On the eve of the ceremonies being prepared, in Kigali but also elsewhere in the world, to name the horror in order to move away from it, the thing seems less and less likely, believe the “hunters of genocidaires”. “There is reason to be optimistic,” says Dafroza, “especially when we see how far we have come over the past 30 years. In 1994, society was below zero, the country stank of death. Everything was destroyed. »

Last February, the African Development Bank placed Rwanda among the 20 global economies expected to grow the fastest in 2024. Eleven are on the African continent. A dynamism supported in part by social reforms, the civil status's rejection of ethnic divisions, greater diversity… “The country managed to get through it by getting rid of the colonial defects of its past,” says Alain. Today. There are no more Hutus or Tutsis. We are all Rwandans. »

“But we must remain careful,” adds Dafroza, part of whose family perished during the genocide. Transmitting peace and living well together is more important today than before. Remembering, telling, judging criminals… this is fundamental, but without ever losing sight of the sad truth: even if we must hope for the best, we will always live in a world sick of its violence. »

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116