Karenzi Karake at a Rwandan military training school in 2010
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Arrested Rwandan spy chief Karenzi Karake is due to reappear in court in Britain on Thursday, where prosecutors have asked for his extradition to Spain. Karake was detained by police at Heathrow airport on Saturday on a Spanish arrest warrant issued as part of an investigation into alleged crimes during the Rwanda conflict. Authorities in Kigali have expressed “outrage”.

Phil Clark is a lecturer in African Politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, and a specialist on the Great Lakes region of Africa. Interview for This arrest seems to have taken a lot of people by surprise. Were you surprised?

Phil Clark: I was surprised in that Spain first put the indictment for 40 Rwandan officials together in 2008 and I think many Rwanda watchers thought that no arrest would ever come out of that. So it’s very surprising in that regard. It’s also surprising given that General Karake comes backwards and forwards to the UK quite regularly and it’s been said that he’s been in London at least four or five times in the last year, so this has come as a great surprise. So why do you think he has been arrested now?

PC: I think there are two main developments in the background. The first is that the Spanish issued an official European arrest warrant about ten days ago for General Karake’s arrest and that’s put pressure on the UK and other European states where he’s regularly been travelling. And then the second thing that’s happened is that a range of Hutu-dominated opposition groups in the diaspora have also been putting pressure on the Spanish and the UK to move on General Karake and other Rwandan government officials, including in the last week one particular opposition civil society group here in London in fact tipped the Metropolitan Police off to the fact that General Karake was here, and they seem to have played a very active role in encouraging the authorities to act in this case. What do you think will happen now?

PC: He’s due in Westminster Magistrate’s Court tomorrow (Thursday June 25), which will involve looking at the prima facie case against him, and typically the UK insists on quite a high evidentiary threshold before they extradite suspects, even if it’s to other European states. There will be quite close scrutiny of his case. It’s been reported that it’s almost a fait accompli that he’ll be sent to Spain, but I expect it will be more complicated than that. An extradition hearing here in the UK can take many months, so this could be a drawn out process. The other element in this case is that various human rights groups like Human Rights Watch that have typically been hostile to the Rwandan government have pointed to the fact that, while the Spanish indictment has some merit, it also contains various unsubstantiated claims and is sloppy in some key respects, including getting dates of well-known massacres in Rwanda completely wrong. My own view is that the indictment is quite flimsy and contains highly politicised language about the Rwandan government as a whole. Can you remind us exactly what the Spanish are accusing Karake of?

PC: The Spanish are accusing 39 Rwandan government officials of quite a wide range of crimes, and these relate to revenge massacres that were allegedly carried out by the Rwandan Patriotic Front after the genocide in 1994. So the indictment relates to a series of large scale killings in the period between the middle of 1994 and the end of 1997, and General Karake is personally accused of orchestrating and being heavily involved in the planning of several of those massacres. And in two different instances there were killings that involved Spanish nationals, one in 1995 and one in 1997, so that’s why Spain has such a direct interest in this particular case. This reminds us of Germany’s arrest of former Rwandan Patriotic Front Lieutenant-Colonel Rose Kabuye on a French arrest warrant in 2008, but the charges against her were dropped in 2009. Do you think this case will be any different?

PC: I think the early signs are that there may be a similar result in this case. In fact, looking at the French indictment and the Spanish indictment side by side, I would have to say that the French case looked much stronger than the Spanish one, and so given that the charges were dropped against Kabuye in the French case I think there are serious questions about whether the Spanish case will result in much in the courtroom. And in fact it could arguably be in the Rwandan government’s interest for General Karake to go to Spain and face these charges directly as Rose Kabuye did in France in 2008 and 2009. That said, General Karake is clearly a much higher profile figure in Rwanda. The government may be reluctant to put him up for any kind of legal scrutiny, and I think that’s why we’re seeing the Rwandan government dig its heels in in the last couple of days and absolutely defend him to the hilt. They simply don’t want to face any kind of embarrassment in a Spanish courtroom. How do you think this is affecting or is likely to affect relations between Rwanda and the UK?

PC: It’s quite a delicate time in relations between Rwanda and the UK because there have been some important tensions in that relationship even before this situation with General Karake. If we go back three years, the UK was one of many donor countries that temporarily suspended their aid packages to Rwanda because of Rwanda’s involvement with the M23 rebel group in eastern Congo. More recently the Rwandan government banned the BBC Kinyarwanda service in Rwanda, off the back of a BBC documentary which the Rwandan government believes was an act of genocide denial and genocide revisionism. So the Rwandan government has caused a lot of headaches for the UK government in the last couple of years. And so the General Karake case comes on the back of that. The Rwandan Foreign Minister flew to London over the weekend, almost as soon as the news broke about General Karake’s arrest, and so there’s been very high level negotiating between Rwandan and British authorities in the last few days. It’s quite a delicate moment in their relations, I would say.