Rwandan war criminal expelled

The Federal Court is based in Lausanne Keystone

The Federal Court has ordered the expulsion of a Rwandan convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity after rejecting his final appeal in September.

This content was published on November 8, 2006 - 20:27

swissinfo spoke to Philip Grant about the case. Grant is president of the Swiss non-governmental organisation, Trial (Track Impunity Always).

According to Trial, the conviction of the former mayor of the town of Mushubati was the first by a non-Rwandan foreign court.

The former mayor was accused of using his influence to incite the killing of an unknown number of Tutsis during the 1993 genocide. He fled to Switzerland with his family in 1994 and was granted asylum a year later.

He was arrested in 1996 and in 2000 was sentenced by a Swiss military court to 14 years' imprisonment and 15 years' expulsion from Switzerland.

swissinfo: In your opinion, was the Federal Court's decision to uphold the expulsion correct?

Philip Grant: We do not agree that any person should be expelled to a country where there is a real risk of torture or receiving the death penalty.

If the accused can prove that he faces persecution upon his return, then the decision to expel him would be suspended, and he would be able to remain temporarily in Switzerland.

If there is no risk, then the Federal Court's decision is correct since it corresponds to the standard practice in cases involving crimes of this gravity. Often people who have committed serious crimes in Switzerland are expelled if they pose a threat to the public or there is the risk of relapse.

swissinfo: But in this case, the crimes were committed abroad.

P.G.: Yes, but one can argue that the presence of this man in Switzerland poses a threat to public safety, particularly to members of Switzerland's Rwandan community who were victims of the genocide.

And his presence, as the authorities have already claimed, may give the wrong impression that Switzerland tolerates war criminals on its soil.

swissinfo: It was the first time that a non-Rwandan court handed down a sentence connected to the 1993 genocide. And now the expulsion. Does this set a precedent?

P.G.: Other countries will certainly follow suit. There have been convictions in other states since then, such as Belgium, where several people are in prison. Similar questions will be raised there.

But it's worth noting that Switzerland proceeded very differently in connection with another Rwandan case. Félicien Kabuga, one of the principle financial supporters of the genocide, arrived in Switzerland only two or three months before the convicted man.

But instead of having Kabuga arrested and put on trial, he was expelled. Although he has been sought by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda since 1994, he is still on the run.

In the case of the mayor, Switzerland was more consistent and tried him before issuing the expulsion order. That decision was morally as well as legally correct. Switzerland is obliged by the Geneva Conventions to bring such people to justice.

swissinfo: Do you think that Switzerland wanted to make an example of him to show that it will not grant asylum to war criminals?

P.G.: That would seem to be the tendency at the moment. One is aware that there are a certain number of people currently residing in Switzerland who could be prosecuted. I think that the authorities are conscious of this and would like to prevent another criminal proceeding.

That's why they say very clearly that such people should be expelled as quickly as possible, since this could have a preventive effect.

But that is not enough. We don't want to see people like this granted asylum. If they find refuge here however, the authorities should not allow them to escape.

swissinfo: What does Trial expect?

P.G.: The justice authorities must be determined to prosecute these people or to extradite them to countries which will. One cannot simply expel them and pass the buck, not taking the responsibility to do something against impunity.

The Kabuga case is probably the most extreme. Switzerland had this man - probably one of the three or four people most responsible for the Rwandan genocide - and decided to expel him. Twelve years later he is still on the run – at the moment in Kenya. It is not certain whether he will ever stand trial.

What would have happened had it been Ratko Mladic or Radovan Karadzic [former Bosnian-Serb leaders] who were expelled instead of arrested? This was the kind of person Switzerland set free.

swissinfo: Would Switzerland make the same mistake twice?

P.G.: Most agree that the case of the Mushubati mayor was properly and fairly handled and Switzerland has here played an important role internationally in demonstrating that there is no such thing as impunity.

swissinfo, Christian Raaflaub


Trial (Track Impunity Always) is an association under Swiss law founded in 2002.

It aims to fight against impunity for the perpetrators, accomplices and instigators of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of torture.

Trial also defends the interests of the victims of such acts before Swiss courts and the International Criminal Tribunal.

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