, he claimed.
“By the force of things, many witnesses disappeared or were killed”, he explained. “Among the survivors, some can have difficulties testifying, because to testify means to them to relive horrible acts. They prefer thus not to work with justice, especially if they have been able to build a new life. And then there is the memory which can become blurry”, he said.
The word, generally parsimonious, of the defendants cannot mitigate this difficult research for witnesses: “We admit more easily to crimes of ordinary law. What explains that there are relatively few confessions, or they are partial. Rare are those who admit to having taken part in the inexpressible acts of a genocide.”
For other witnesses, it is the perception of a biased justice which would make them hesitate: “Some consider that, for the acts relating to the genocide, justice is only interested in the crimes committed by only one side. This problem is particularly important at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). But it should not be forgotten that international justice has said that it is necessary to take care of the most serious acts first”, he reminds. “That does not mean that war crimes, whose authors benefit from impunity, were not committed”, he adds.
In connection with the threats which weigh on the defence witnesses, Philippe Meire replied that “this rhetoric annoys him”. “The opposite also exists”, he affirms. “People in Rwanda have had threats or criticisms because they came to testify for the prosecution. It should not be forgotten, inter alia, because of the release of prisoners, that genocidaires live in the hills of Rwanda next to survivors.”
According to him, during the three trials already held in Belgium in connection with the genocide, “the crushing majority of defence witnesses came”. There is the “particular case” of ten witnesses who, at the time of the 2005 trial, did not want to return to Rwanda and filed requests for asylum which are still being investigated. “But there are among them as many witnesses for the prosecution as for the defence, and, if some speak about threats to support their requests, it can be tricky to disentangle what really is going on”. During the Ntuyahaga trial of 2007, two Rwandan gendarmes, who had mentioned fears for their safety, fled from their lodging so as not to have to return to their country at the end of their defence testimonies- considered not to be very credible.
“In matters of international justice, the protection of witnesses, which is sometimes necessary, is set up in a system that is too rigid”, he adds. He recalled that, before the Assize Court of Brussels, “people openly testified”. “Systematic anonymity appears to me to create a problem of credibility for testimonies”, he judges. And to stress that anonymity before the ICTR is “quite relative, since identity is generally known by all the people in the case”.
These delicate investigations are carried out in Belgium by specialists, that of which few European countries have. Whereas France, in particular, considered only recently the creation of a “unit” to investigate crimes against humanity, Philippe Meire pointed out that such a unit, “was created gradually” since a certain number of years in Belgium.
“After the investigations following the first complaints, in 1995, and the return to the daily routine, it was necessary that a team of federal criminal investigation police saw itself allotted these missions, in addition to the rest. And now, four or five people have worked exclusively, for approximately two years, on these " Belgian” cases; that is to say within the framework of international judicial cooperation - for example with the ICTR”, he explained. But this specialization is not found on the side of the investigation judge, “what poses obvious problems of availability”, he regretted.
Foreign investigators and magistrates benefit from this experience, by the means of the “network of contact points of the EU, and by more abstract networks” the people implicated who developed these last years, according to him. During a conference of specialists held at the beginning of July at the Belgian Parliament, a French magistrate working with penal cooperation at the ministry of justice affirmed that his country was “thirsty and needed” exchanges on the matter.
In addition, the investigators are trained to prevent ethnocentric reflexes or possible misinterpretations. “We always proceed, as the first work of the investigation, with historical research so that the investigators impregnate themselves, as much as possible, with the context in which will proceed their investigation. It is the same principle which is at work when expert witnesses parade in the trials to enlighten the jury”. However, “nothing replaces field work”, he concluded