2 Mar 2010

Time for France and Rwanda to bury the machete

The wheels of justice turn slowly, they say. And sometimes they don’t turn at all, until something or someone sends them spinning.

The wheels of justice turn slowly, they say. And sometimes they don’t turn at all, until something or someone sends them spinning.

We’ve had two such incidents in two days: this morning Agathe Habyarimana, the widow of the murdered Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, was arrested in France, while yesterday Ejup Ganic, former vice president of Bosnia-Herzegovina, was taken into custody at Heathrow where he had just landed. Both illustrate how, whatever the proponents of “blind justice” tell us, diplomacy and politics reign supreme.

Agathe Habyarimana was central to a nasty little clique called the “akazu”, meaning “the small house”, which surrounded the Rwandan president before his plane was shot down on 6 April 1994. The akazu – sometimes called “le clan de madame”, because it comprised members of her family – was instrumental in planning the genocide which followed.

But the Habyarimanas had friends in even higher places, which is how come Mrs H and 30 of her nearest and dearest were evacuated from Kigali by the French military within days of the genocide starting.

After a few years bobbing around Africa, in 1997 she settled in a comfortable Parisian suburb. The Rwandan government which took control after the genocide never forgave France for supporting the Hutu Power regime which spearheaded the killings, and France never forgave the new government in Kigali for speaking English.

Until five days ago when President Sarkozy visited the Rwandan capital, and stood next to President Kagame at the Genocide Memorial.

Sarko, it seems, has decided it’s time to bury the machete, and Kagame agrees. Presumably the French government no longer feels it beneficial to shun one of Africa’s most economically successful governments, which, as it happens, is now cooperating with its francophone neighbours. And low and behold, Agathe Habyarimana – whom the Rwandan government wants extradited on suspicion on genocide – is arrested after more than a decade in France.

The case of Ejup Ganic is equally intriguing. On 2 May 1992, at the beginning of the war, Bosnian Muslim militiamen shot at a convoy of retreating Yugoslav Serb soldiers, killing several of them. Journalists who were there at the time tell me the situation that day was chaotic.

The Serbs kidnapped the Bosnian President Alija Iztabegovic. After his release was negotiated, it was agreed that two columns of Serb soldiers should be allowed to leave Sarajevo. Serbs have maintained ever since that Ejup Ganic, then a member of the Bosnian presidency, was responsible for the attacks on the convoy as it withdrew.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia looked at the case but decided there was not enough evidence, but a court in Belgrade – where Ganic is a hate figure amongst Serbs – has charged him with conspiracy to murder.

Which you might think has nothing to do with the British, but both Serbia and the UK are signatories to the 2003 European Convention on Extradition, so when the Serbs requested his extradition Policeman Plod was there at Heathrow with the warrant.

Serbia is trying to get into the EU, and other European countries are trying to tempt it to “improve” by setting benchmarks. Joining such conventions is all part of the political process. But the campaign group Liberty has said that the convention has been signed by countries “with appalling human rights records, whose judiciaries in many cases are neither independent nor impartial”.

The chances of Ejup Ganic getting a fair trial in Serbia, where huge numbers of nationalist Serbs blame him for what they see as their victimisation, is doubtful, to say the least. And, although I certainly think Mrs Habyarimana has questions to answer, I can’t vouch for a trial in Kigali being utterly fair and unbiased either.

But it’s not about justice, is it? It’s politics and diplomacy.