Last week on Monday, May 16, 2016, a Swedish court convicted a man for crimes committed 22 years ago on another continent. The man’s name is Claver Berinkindi, and he participated in the Rwandan genocide of 1994 that killed an estimated 800,000 people over a three-month period. Due to a history of strong ethnic tensions between the Hutus and Tutsis, a coup took place in which both a military and militia made up of Hutus killed Tutsis as well as Hutu sympathisers. Berinkindi is a Swedish citizen and extradition requests from Rwanda were denied, in favour of Sweden’s legal system handling him domestically for foreign crimes.
Post-genocide The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was created and worked from Arusha, Tanzania to pour over countless testimonies and documentation in order to work towards transitional justice objectives. Through this Tribunal, and that of the Former Yugoslavia, sexual violence became a recognised weapon of war and crime against humanity. This tragedy swept the nation and involved huge amounts of the population; logistically speaking not everyone could be tried. Depending on the severity of the crimes people were convicted and imprisoned, although others move freely and some have left the country. Berinkindi, who is now 61, moved to Sweden with his family in 2002. He was living a relatively normal life, owned a small business, and officially became a citizen in 2012. In September 2015, he was charged in Sweden, a country in which citizens can be convicted of crimes committed abroad, for genocide and gross violations under international law.
According to the New York Times coverage, Berinkindi’s conviction was for responsibility “in five massacres between April 18 and May 31, 1994.” This is the second case of a Rwandan genocide perpetrator having been convicted in Sweden. This instance is unique in that in conjunction with a life imprisonment sentence, damages were awarded to the victims’ families in the form of 81 million Rwandan francs, totalling $148,000 US, between 15 individuals. The Rwandan Gacaca court, a transitional justice mechanism that works towards community healing through truth and confession, had already convicted Berinkindi in absentia in 2007. It was through investigative efforts that he was tracked down, and Swedish authorities arrested him on the basis of a wiretap.
In reviewing this case it demonstrates the borderless attitude of the Swedish government. In place of extradition or impunity, the legal system addressed the crime and took it upon itself to sentence a man for his atrocities, despite the geographic location or the time that had passed since it had occurred. Other countries that have convicted crimes relating to the Rwandan mass killings include Canada, Finland, the Netherlands, the United States, Norway, France, and Switzerland. European countries have often refused to send defendants back to Rwanda to face their crimes in order to avoid the possibility of cases not being tried fairly. There are still arrests and cases in process around the world, with over 25 being in France. Two Rwandan ex-mayors are currently on an 8-week trial in France, charged with genocide and crimes against humanity for having participated in the slaughter of 2,000 Tutsis who took refuge in a church.
The role of citizenship seems to play a large part in the way that a case is conducted. For example, Henri Jean-Claude Seyoboka arrived in Canada in 1996, and due to withholding his involvement in the Rwandan military and being accused of genocide, his refugee status has been at risk since 2006. Most recently a Canadian national news network, CBC, released an article on May 21, 2016, detailing a Federal Court Judge’s denial of a pre-removal risk assessment prior to his deportation. The rationale given was that Rwanda’s justice system could provide a “fair trial in his country of origin.” Seyoboka himself has spoken out claiming he is likely to be tortured or killed since he comes from a family that was politically prominent under the Hutu government. Without citizenship, he does not have the same rights and privileges owed to him by the Canadian government.
These cases demonstrate the long and difficult process in working towards justice for crimes of conflict. It has been an international combination involving the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Rwandan national and community courts, and foreign governments policing their naturalised citizens. This means relying on relationships between countries, acquiring numerous court testimonials, and in the process further solidifying international standards of law to symbolise universal justice initiatives. It is unfortunate that it took a post-conflict setting for steadfast cooperation in the pursuit of justice, considering the extremely slow response towards the escalating situation in Rwanda that led to the massive death toll initially. In the circumstances following the 1994 Rwandan genocide, it has been a 22-year long development that is still ongoing globally. That is already 88 times longer than the duration of the three-month mass killings and represents the complexity, horror, and pain associated with the atrocities. The need for truth and closure are pivotal to recognising steps of prevention in the future, as well as culpability for actions.
Wells, S. L. (2005). Gender, Sexual Violence and Prospects for Justice at the Gacaca Courts in Rwanda. Southern California Review of Law and Women’s Studies 14(2), 167- 196.
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