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First denial of Rwandan genocide extradition by Dutch court

25 November 2022
On 9 November 2022, the District Court of The Hague denied the extradition of a Rwandan man, Pierre-Claver Karangwa, who is suspected by the Rwandan government of involvement in the genocide of 1994. The reason for declaring the Rwandan extradition request inadmissible is that the Court has doubts about the independence of the judiciary in Rwanda in criminal cases against (prominent) political opponents of the regime. This conclusion is remarkable in light of the Court’s conclusions in earlier Rwandan extradition cases.

The judgment refers to reports by the UN and human rights organisations that detail several recent cases in which political opponents of the regime did not receive a fair trial. These reports also state that members of the opposition in Rwanda may be subject to threats, disappearance and persecution. Karangwa is deemed to be at risk of such maltreatment.

According to the Court, Karangwa is a former high-ranking military officer in the former Rwandan army and has continued to be of interest to the Rwandan authorities since emigrating to the Netherlands. He became politically active in a political party (FDU-Inkingi) that has been qualified as a terrorist organisation by the Rwandan authorities. This political party is also considered a target of the Rwandan regime’s operation ‘Cleaning the West’, aimed at getting hold or rid of opposition figures based outside of Rwanda. The Court accepted the arguments by Karangwa’s defence that his extradition would expose him to the risk of a flagrant violation of his right to a fair hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.

This is the first time a Dutch court blocked a Rwandan extradition request in relation to the 1994 genocide, after several similar requests were approved in recent years, and three other men were actually extradited to Rwanda: Jean-Claude I., Jean Baptiste M. and Vénant R. Other countries in Europe, such as Belgium, France and the United Kingdom, have earlier denied extradition to Rwanda because a fair trial was deemed impossible.

The judgment is remarkable in light of the conclusions drawn especially in the recent cases against Joseph Mu. and Jean Baptiste N. in April and November of 2021. Here, the same Court found that the Rwandan government had provided sufficient safeguards to warrant a fair trial, since the prosecution of these men in Rwanda would fall under the Rwandan ‘Transfer Law’. The Court held that this fact set extradition ('transferred') cases apart from the domestic cases against political opponents in Rwanda that had already raised concerns among observers about the independence of the Rwandan judiciary. Moreover, the Court found that the monitoring process of earlier cases that fell under the Transfer Law had identified some issues, but according to the Court, there were no indications of unfair trials.

The case of Karangwa would be governed by the same law, but apparently in this case the guarantees offered by the Rwandan government are insufficient (see paragraph 3.7.2 of the judgment). It seems that Karangwa is (more clearly) seen by the Court as a member of the political opposition, and has better substantiated his individual risk of persecution. This likely has to do with his particular position as a former member of the former Rwandan army, and his active role in the political opposition from outside Rwanda.

At the same time, the Court also says that the conclusion in this case builds on “more recent information on (the criminal prosecution of) political opponents in Rwanda”. Such information adds up to allegations that the Rwandan government has misled foreign law enforcement authorities, to move them to criminally investigate Rwandan opposition figures. This raises the question what those recent insights mean for future Rwandan extradition requests, as well as currently ongoing cases, including those against Joseph Mu. and Jean Baptiste N.

It is therefore too early to say whether this case is an exception, or that the general trend of approving extraditions from the Netherlands to Rwanda in genocide cases will now be discontinued. Moreover, this judgment could still be reversed in appeal.

Karangwa was arrested on the day he lost his final appeal against revocation of his Dutch nationality over suspicions of involvement in the Rwandan genocide. The denial of his extradition will not change that. This means that – for now – he will remain in the Netherlands without having a legal residence right and without being transferred to Rwanda. This leaves him in a legal limbo, as he joins a growing group of people who can be described as undesirable but unreturnable migrants.

By Maarten Bolhuis