By Greg Hall
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
STRASBOURG, France – Sweden has approved the extradition of Sylvere Ahorugeze, the former head of the Rwandan Civil Aviation Authority, to Rwanda to stand trial for his involvement in the country’s 1994 genocide. Sweden is the first European state to approve an extradition to Rwanda. Other European countries including Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom have denied extradition petitions on the grounds that the alleged genocide suspect would not receive a fair and just trial in Rwanda. After last week’s ruling by Sweden’s Supreme Court, Ahorugeze appealed his decision to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
The ECHR ruled that if extradited to stand trial in Rwanda, Ahorugeze would not risk a flagrant denial of justice. The court also noted that “experience gathered by Dutch investigative teams and the Norwegian police during missions to Rwanda, concluded that the Rwandan judiciary cannot be considered to lack independence and impartiality.”
The judgment is not final because Ahorugeze still has a chance to appeal the judgment to the ECHR Grand Chambers. Despite the decision not being final, however, it has a major impact on other countries because Rwanda has issued more than 40 extradition requests for suspects residing within European borders.
International law permits countries to prosecute suspects of serious international crimes before their domestic courts when extradition is not an option. However, those domestic countries often fail to prosecute suspects of heinous crimes which allow those suspects to go untried for their crimes against humanity.
Ahorugeze left Rwanda after the 1994 genocide in which 800,000 people were killed. He obtained refugee status in Denmark. In 2008, Danish authorities initiated an investigation against him but later released him because of lack of evidence. Rwanda submitted a request for his extradition but was denied on the grounds that Rwandan authorities did not provide any further evidence to support their request.
In July of 2008, Ahorugeze was arrested while he was visiting the Rwandan Embassy in Stockholm, Sweden. Swedish police acted on an extradition request from Rwanda and the Swedish Supreme Court decided that Ahorugeze could be extradited back to Rwanda. Ahorugeze appealed this decision to the ECHR. The ECHR ordered Sweden to release Ahorugeze while his trial was pending. Ahorugeze went back to Denmark to be with his family and that is where he remains. In the mean time, the ECHR returned an order to extradite him back to Rwanda. It remains to be seen what effect this ruling will have on Ahorugeze given that Denmark has already refused to extradite him.
Whether or not the extradition actually happens, Rwanda must view the court decisions made by the ECHR and Sweden as an acknowledgment warranting international respect of the progress Rwanda has made. This decision also opens the door to future extraditions of suspects in the 1994 genocide that Rwandan authorities are trying to prosecute. However, the ECHR decision is applicable only to Ahorugeze. Other cases brought before the ECHR might not have the same outcome.
Ahorugeze maintains his innocence and argues that he will not receive a fair trial in Rwanda. It is alleged that Ahorugeze was involved in the murder of twenty five Tutsis whose bodies were found in a latrine pit. Ahorugeze’s attorney, Hans Bredberg, stated that Ahorugeze is depressed over the ruling and plans to appeal the decision.
For more information, please see:
Radio Netherlands Worldwide – Green Light: Sweden Rwanda for Genocide Extradition – 7 November 2011
The Copenhagen Post Online – Human Rights Court: OK to Extradite Rwandan – 28 October 2011
Hirondelle News Agency – European Human Rights Court Greenlights Extradition to Rwanda – 28 October 2011