Metropolitan police say Karenzi Karake is wanted in Spain in connection with alleged massacres in wake of 1994 Rwandan genocide
Rwanda has angrily condemned the arrest of the country’s intelligence chief, Karenzi Karake, by British authorities acting on a Spanish indictment.
Louise Mushikiwabo, the Rwandan foreign minister, tweeted: “Western solidarity in demeaning Africans is unacceptable!!” She suggested the arrest was a conspiracy by those who deny the 1994 genocide. “It is an outrage to arrest Rwandan official based on pro-genocidaires lunacy!”
Mushikiwabo also described the arrest warrant as preposterous.
Karake, 54, known as “KK”, has for two decades been a senior intelligence and military officer in the Rwandan Patriotic Front. The RPF brought an end to the genocide by Hutu extremists that left an estimated 800,000 Tutsis dead.
Karake and 39 others are accused of ordering revenge massacres of Hutus and the murder of three Spanish aid workers, according to a European arrest warrant issued by Spain in 2008, understood to be the basis for his detention by the Metropolitan police at Heathrow on Saturday.
Johnston Busingye, Rwanda’s justice minister, told the country’s New Times newspaper: “We are handling the matter with the UK government. They have better details on this evolving situation.”
Karake had been on official duty in London for a week, the report added.
Busingye dismissed the Spanish indictment as politically motivated. “I would be surprised if it is one the UK is acting on. We will contest in the courts. We have sought explanation from the UK on this matter as well.”
Williams Nkurunziza, the Rwandan high commissioner to the UK, told the BBC World Service: “We take strong exception to the suggestion that he’s being arrested on war crimes. Any suggestion that any of our 40 leaders are guilty of crimes against humanity is an insult to our collective conscience.”
Jordi Palou-Loverdos, however, a lawyer representing the Spanish victims, told the BBC’s Newsnight on Monday: “We hope in the name of the victims that this time justice will be provided and Karenzi Karake will soon be delivered to the Spanish court to have a fair trial, where he can defend himself.
“We hope that political or other interests will not neutralise the place for justice, truth and reparation.”
The arrest was also welcomed by Rwanda’s opposition FDU-Inkingi party. Its vice-president, Boniface Twagirimana, said: “It is a sign of equal justice for those who have killed innocent people. If someone has been involved in crimes against humanity, it is good if he is brought before the law to explain himself.
“It is very difficult for us to have reconciliation without this … We cannot confirm if people are guilty or innocent. That is the job of the judge to confirm.”
Andrew Mitchell, who worked closely with the Rwandan government while serving as Britain’s international development secretary, said the European arrest warrant system was being abused. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “These are politically motivated. They are not about justice, they are about politics.
“Let’s be very clear, they are being pursued by supporters of the genocidal regime which murdered up to one million people in Rwanda. It is one of the great tragedies and disgraces of our time, only 21 years ago.
“I think it is reprehensible that the European arrest warrant system should be abused in this way by a junior Spanish judge.”
A 2008 diplomatic cable sent from the US embassy in Kigali and released by WikiLeaks dismissed the Spanish indictments as “outrageous and inaccurate”.
“The Spanish indictment of 40 Rwandan military officers offers an unrecognisable version of some of the most painful and violent episodes in Rwanda’s history,” said the cable, which described the allegations as “a bloated political tract, sloppily organised and endlessly repetitive”.
Karake is a former deputy chief of the UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Sudan’s Darfur region. Human Rights Watch criticised his appointment to the peacekeeping mission, alleging that he was responsible for the killing of civilians in the town of Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in June 2000.
Karake has had mixed fortunes under president Paul Kagame’s rule. In 2010 he was placed under house arrest for misconduct, but was later released. He was a close friend of Patrick Karegeya, a former spy chief who became a dissident and was murdered in a South African hotel in late 2013.
Karake, the director-general of Rwanda’s national intelligence and
security services, appeared at Westminster magistrates court in London and was remanded in custody until Thursday.
Madrid’s ability to prosecute him may be hampered by a law passed last year that severely limits judges’ ability to prosecute crimes that occur outside Spain.
Carina Tertsakian, Rwanda researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “His arrest is significant because he’s been a key senior member of Rwanda’s intelligence and military for the past 20 years. Victims of human rights violations in Rwanda have often cited his name.
“We’re going to follow it closely. It could be a really important in terms of accountability. Many senior officials in Rwanda have never been held to account.”
The Spanish link
Karake stands accused of ordering the killing of three Spaniards – Flors Sirera, Manuel Madrazo and Luis Valtueña – in 1997. All three were members of the NGO Médicos del Mundo, and were allegedly murdered by four Tutsi soldiers after they had been taken to see the mass graves of murdered Hutus.
A former member of Karake’s intelligence unit testified to the Spanish judge Fernando Andreu that Karake had ordered the killings because “these whites had sensitive information about the Rwandan Patriotic Front’s recent massacres”. In 2008 Andreu brought a case against Karake and 39 other military officials.
Madrid’s ability to pursue Karake may be impeded by a law passed by the country’s conservative government last year that severely limits judges’ ability to prosecute crimes that occur outside Spain under a system known as universal justice.
The concept is rooted in the 1949 Geneva conventions and compels any signatory to provide effective sanctions against those accused of breaching the convention.
Spain took the lead in applying universal justice after the concept was integrated into the Spanish judicial system in 1985, most famously with the arrest and attempted extradition of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet from London in 1988.
The government introduced reforms to the system last year, apparently to avoid conflict with China, which had been indicted over human rights abuses in Tibet. A government spokesman said universal jurisdiction had to be abolished because “it only causes conflict”.
A spokesman for Amnesty International in Spain described the reform as “a backward step” for human rights.
Not long after the new law was introduced, a number of international drug barons jailed in Spain successfully sued for their release, claiming that Spain had broken its own laws by acting outside its jurisdiction.
The chances of prosecuting Karake would be much greater were he extradited and made to stand trial on Spanish soil, legal experts say.
Four other Spaniards – Joaquim Valmajó, Servando García, Fernando de la Fuente and Isidro Uzkudun, all priests – were also tortured and murdered by RPF members. The dismembered bodies of Valmajó and García were thrown into a well.
Stephen Burgen in Barcelona