When Emmanuel Karenzi Karake, the head of Rwanda’s intelligence services, was brought into the dock of a London court on Thursday, he clasped his hands above his head in a two-fisted salute to the public gallery. Dozens cheered; others looked on in silence. For some, Karenzi Karake is a hero, a key member of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) which ended the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. But for others, he is responsible for many killings and other abuses in the post-genocide era.
Karenzi Karake was in court following his arrest on June 20 in London. He is fighting an extradition request from Spain over allegations of serious crimes, including crimes against humanity, between 1990 and 2002 in Rwanda and in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
The 1994 genocide in Rwanda in which more than half-a-million people were systematically slaughtered was a cataclysmic event. The vast majority of the victims were Tutsi, targeted solely because of their ethnicity. The RPF overthrew the interim government and its army who had perpetrated the genocide, and is rightly hailed by many Rwandans for ending the genocide. But the story does not end there.
In the weeks and months after the genocide, RPF troops killed thousands of unarmed Hutu civilians who they believed had participated in the genocide. These killings by the RPF were systematic and widespread, and commanding officers, including Karenzi Karake, must at least have been aware of them.
In the years that followed, under the new government formed by the RPF, soldiers of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) killed many more civilians, particularly during a counterinsurgency operation in northwestern Rwanda in 1997 and 1998. When the RPA invaded Congo in 1996, its soldiers went a step further, indiscriminately massacring not only Rwandan Hutu refugees but also Congolese Hutu civilians who had nothing to do with the genocide.
The extent of the crimes committed in Congo was revealed in a detailed 2010 United Nations report, which found that the Rwandan army and its Congolese rebel allies had “carried out a relentless pursuit and mass killing of Hutu refugees” in 1996 and 1997; the majority of victims were women, children, the elderly, or the sick. The report concluded that the attacks constituted crimes against humanity.
Throughout this period, Karenzi Karake held senior positions in the military and intelligence services.
Justice for these atrocities has been elusive. The Rwandan government and the RPF, which remains the ruling party in Rwanda, have repeatedly used diplomatic, political, and moral pressure, and sometimes threats, to block any attempt to hold their senior officials to account, whether at home or abroad. For the victims of these crimes, Karenzi Karake’s arrest therefore represents a rare and historic moment.
Rwandan government officials and their supporters, such as the United Kingdom’s former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell, have called Karenzi Karake’s arrest scandalous. But they have nothing to say about justice for the many victims of RPF crimes. Justice must be done for all the victims. Our collective horror in response to the genocide should not be used to deny victims justice, nor shelter those responsible for other crimes. Helping to end genocide can never provide impunity for the murder of others.