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Rwandan Genocide: Alleged Perpetrators

Volume 658: debated on Tuesday 9 April 2019

(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary if he will make a statement on the handling of the cases of the five alleged perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide in the United Kingdom.

None of us can forget the horrendous scenes of the Rwandan genocide 25 years ago. My colleague the Minister for Africa visited Rwanda only this week to share in the international recognition and remembrance of those horrific events.

I can confirm that the Metropolitan police’s war crimes unit, within the counter-terrorism command, received a referral from the Rwandan authorities in January 2018 relating to five individuals in the UK and allegations of genocide offences in Rwanda dating back from around 1994. Relevant documentation was assessed by the war crimes unit and officers were deployed to Rwanda as part of our initial work to scope out the allegations. We subsequently commenced an investigation, which will initially involve a review of all the documentation transferred from Rwanda. Given the complexities involved, it is expected to be a protracted and lengthy process. Inquiries continue.

As the Minister said, Sunday was the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. The hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) and I represented this House, along with the Minister for Africa, at ceremonies in Kigali, which were dignified and profoundly moving.

The House will recall that nearly a million Rwandans were murdered in frenzied killing over a 90-day period while the international community effectively did nothing to stop it. Once the killing was ended, those leaders who were responsible for the genocide fled. Over the intervening years, many have returned voluntarily to Rwanda to be processed through the Gacaca court system. Others have been extradited to Rwanda from the United States, Canada, France, Norway, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden. Britain, sadly, is a glaring exception.

Proceedings started here in the UK more than a decade ago in respect of five alleged genocide perpetrators, but in spite of ruling that there was a prima facie case of genocide made out against all five, the British courts declined to extradite. The British taxpayer has already forked out more than £3 million in legal costs, and four of the five are living on benefits, including housing benefit. The Rwandan authorities, having failed to secure extradition in Britain in the lower courts, have declined to proceed to the Supreme Court and have asked that the UK undertake the trial here. In spite of all the evidence already being available here in the United Kingdom, the Metropolitan police have indicated that it could take a further 10 years to process these cases.

The souls of those who were murdered in the genocide cry out for justice, but from Britain justice has at least been delayed and at worst denied. The Nuremberg trials commenced a mere seven months after the end of the war and were concluded within 10 months. In the interests of those facing these dreadful allegations, as well as of the reputation of British justice, we should surely expect these five alleged génocidaires to be on trial at the Old Bailey by the end of this year. I end with the words spoken last weekend by the distinguished Rwandan Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Mr Johnston Busingye, who, when he came here to Britain, our Director of Public Prosecutions could not even find the time to see. He said this:

“Anyone who cares about British values and justice should be ashamed. The UK will go down in history as the only country in Europe that knowingly shielded alleged Rwandan génocidaires from justice.”

My right hon. Friend is a strong supporter of Rwanda and knows the country incredibly well. I respect many of his views on the country and on the need for action, but I have to say that I fundamentally disagree with his last point. The United Kingdom has not shielded these people. He will know that on 28 July 2017 the High Court ruled that they could not be extradited, for fear of not facing a fair trial. He will know and respect the difference between the Government, the police and the judiciary. He will know that we have to follow the rule of law and that ruling.

This Government, and previous Governments, have been committed to bringing people to trial, which is why he has raised this issue. We have spent £3 million trying to get the right outcome, but when the Court ruled that these individuals could not be extradited, the United Kingdom, under its genocide convention obligations and after requests from the Rwandan Government, took on the investigation itself. We went out to meet officials in Rwanda and to gather evidence there, and there is a live police investigation into a number of individuals in relation to potential war crimes. My right hon. Friend will also understand that, as this is a live police investigation, there is no more I can say on this matter, for fear of prejudicing a fair trial here or anywhere else, and that is where we have to leave it. Those are the facts we find before us.

The Government are not shielding any war criminals, and nor should we. We would not do that. We are doing our best. I have raised the issue with the counter-terrorism police, and they say that the timescale for these investigations is not 10 years but more like between three and five years. I can assure my right hon. Friend that if the police require more resource or if they come up against an obstacle relating to international relations, the Government are standing by to help, to expedite and to ensure that those suspected of war crimes face full justice, but there is absolutely no case that this Government or any previous Government have shielded them from any war crimes trials that they might face.

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) for applying for this urgent question on such an important matter, and I am grateful to you for granting it, Mr Speaker. The Rwandan genocide took place in 1994, and its recent 25-year anniversary was a haunting reminder of what happened. It was an atrocious act of violence, with hundreds of thousands of people being killed in just 100 days. That such a heinous act took place while the world stood by is a stain on the international community.

Allegations have been made against five individuals whose extradition to Rwanda was not granted by the High Court in 2017. I will not comment specifically on the individuals themselves. It has, however, been reported in the past couple of days that Scotland Yard received a referral from the Rwandan authorities in January 2018, and that Scotland Yard officers were sent to help with the investigation regarding those individuals, as the Minister has confirmed today.

It is right that these allegations are investigated in this country. We believe in a rules-based international order. If that is to mean anything, a crime against humanity must be considered as a crime against us all; no matter where in the world it takes place, all efforts must be made to pursue justice for victims. Although the Minister must be circumspect about what he says with an investigation ongoing, can he reassure the House that all necessary resources will be put at the disposal of the investigation, that all possible efforts to gather evidence will be made and that, although it will of course be complex, the investigation will be carried out carefully and as speedily as possible?

I can give the hon. Gentleman that reassurance. At the beginning of this year, I got an update from the counter-terrorism police about the conduct of any investigations relating to people from Rwanda. In fact, I briefed my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) on that at about the same time to make sure he realised we are not forgetting this. We are not going to forget the genocide, and nor are we going to forget bringing those people to justice. I am very happy to keep the House posted, as we are allowed to. Nevertheless, with respect, we have to remember that this is a live police investigation and therefore all the safeguards apply.

Other countries with very strong records of protecting asylum and the rights of individuals under criminal investigation, such as Canada, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands, have seen fit to extradite suspects back to Rwanda. Why have we not?

If my right hon. Friend has a problem with the judiciary, I suggest he takes that up with the Lord Chief Justice. We have to respect the ruling of the High Court, which took the view in July 2017 that these people would not face a fair trial if extradited. We fought the case, we took it to the Court, the Court decided otherwise, and we have to respect that ruling.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) on securing this urgent question, and I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting it, as the 100 days of commemoration of the 25th anniversary begin. I was part of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation to Rwanda last year—I think it was the first ever CPA delegation to Rwanda—and saw at first hand the efforts that are being made to achieve justice and build peace. However, the question of alleged perpetrators remaining overseas leaves a cloud hanging over those efforts. It is not fair either to those who are accused or to the victims that these accusations are left untested.

Building on some of the questions that have already been asked, and accepting the role of the judiciary, what discussions have been had with other countries about why they felt able to allow extraditions? If the justice system here has concluded that a fair trial cannot be conducted in Rwanda, a way has to be found to achieve justice here. Is the Minister confident that the Met police has enough resources to complete its inquiries? What is the planned timescale for the next steps once those inquiries are concluded? Can he assure us that those steps will be taken as quickly as possible so that justice is both done and seen to be done?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I meet the head of counter-terrorism policing at least once a week, and we discuss a wide range of issues. If there is an issue with resource pressure in this particular case, or in other cases, we will no doubt discuss it and do what we can to solve it. Other courts and other countries have different statute books and different legislative arrangements. We go by our courts, and our courts made that ruling. That is regrettable. I am frustrated, and not just in this case; any Home Office Minister will often see their decisions and their attempts to extradite sometimes very dangerous people struck down. However, that is the rule of law—that is the rules-based system we are in—and, whether I like it or not, it is quite right that we follow it.

With chain gangs labouring in uniforms of magnificent pink, like that worn by my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), is there not much we can learn from the Gacaca court system?

Well, I am not going to comment on that, but it is very clear that successive Governments have tried to extradite these people to face justice in Rwanda. The courts took a different view. We then stepped up to the plate, and the police, in an operational decision, had to investigate. I am not a learned gentleman with the ability to compare different legal systems, and nor will I attempt to.

I will not ask the Minister to comment on these particular cases, but given the decision of the High Court in 2017, can he assure the House that there is no obstacle in principle to anyone who is accused of war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity facing justice in this country, provided the evidential test is met?

I can give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance. When it comes to war crimes, under our obligations in the convention there is no barrier at all.

Twelve years ago, I sat in on one of those Gacaca courts and saw some of these genocide suspects being put on trial. It was a rough and ready process, but does the Minister agree that a huge amount of work has been done over the years by the international community, including by British lawyers and experts, to help Rwanda improve its justice system? It has abolished the death penalty. Does he agree that there is no problem in principle with extraditing suspects to Rwanda to face trial?

It is our view—it was the Government’s view—and that is why we contested the case. Unfortunately, it was not the view of the UK courts.

May I plead with the Minister for a greater sense of urgency in this case? The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), whom I congratulate on securing the urgent question, talked about a 10-year delay. The Minister said there was a three to five-year delay. Three to five years is still too long. It is 25 years since the genocide in Rwanda. May we please have a sense of urgency from the Government?

The hon. Gentleman will have heard me say that it was not until 2017 that we started the investigation here at the request of the Rwandans, so it is not that we have not been doing it for 20-odd years. If there is a requirement for resources, that will be discussed every week with the counter-terrorism police, and I stand by ready to help with that. However, the hon. Gentleman will also want us to ensure that if these people come before a court, they are convicted and that we present the best case possible to ensure that the charges they face are upheld and stick.

I have spent time in Rwanda with Project Umubano and with the Select Committee on International Development. I have met people whose families were slaughtered. I have met people who have reconciled themselves to the fact that they no longer have families. They have gone a long way. I agree with the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) that it has been too long. These people have waited 25 years. Perhaps we have not been doing this for 25 years, but we should have been. We should have moved it on. People cannot come to peace until this is reconciled.

I hear what my hon. Friend says, and I understand that not only victims but supporters of the country want this matter to be closed and justice to be administered to the people responsible for the genocide. However, a police investigation is a matter for the police. How they conduct it is a matter for them, and how it is prosecuted is a matter for the CPS. We stand by ready to support them in doing that, but, at the end of the day, the police are operationally independent and the CPS is independent on many of these issues.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) on asking it. As he mentioned, it was very important for us to attend the Kwibuka 25 remembrance ceremonies in Kigali on Sunday. I must tell the House that the bravery of survivors was humbling. Our duty to them is to pursue justice.

I know the Minister knows that, so may I ask him a broader question? What conclusions has he drawn about the UK’s current ability to act on crimes against humanity, and what discussions has he had with the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development about that? That matters not just to Rwandans but to other victims of grave injustices, such as those from Syria, and not just to direct victims of these heinous crimes but to every one of us in this world, all of whom rely on the rule of law.

While I recognise the understandable impatience of many colleagues on these particular cases, we should not lose sight of the fact that the United Kingdom, under successive Governments, has been a proud supporter of administering justice for war crimes around the world—in Bosnia, the former Yugoslavia, in Rwanda and other places. We should be proud of that.

We have not only often put our money where our mouth is, but we have used all diplomatic tools—the former Yugoslavia is a good example—to bring to trial people who thought they were always out of reach of justice. We continue with that enthusiasm and support. If it is a case of resources, the Department and I are standing by to continue the support. We are determined to see justice, and there is no resistance on this side of the House to doing so. We will continue to pursue the case to make sure that these people face the justice they deserve.

Having been on several trips to Rwanda with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), I entirely share their comments. Does the Minister agree that it is vital that this case is prosecuted with the utmost vigour? If the 2017 High Court judgment leads people to think that the UK is a soft touch, people who commit these atrocious crimes will see the UK as a natural refuge. That should not be the case, and they should know they will face the full force of the law, whatever the views of the court system in the country from which they have come.

I agree with my hon. Friend that we need to send a strong message. I do not like, any more than he does, seeing in the newspapers that people are living freely in this country having had their extradition effectively turned down, which is why I would like to see, in general—I will not comment on this case—people in this country who have potentially perpetrated a war crime to be persecuted and prosecuted themselves.

The Minister is hearing from both sides of the House that we want action and that we want this investigation to happen promptly. We all know that he is not in charge of the courts and that the police are independent, but he does have the power to give extra money to the Met war crimes unit now, rather than waiting for a request. Will he not do that and send a signal from this House that we want the police to have the resources to get this investigation done soon?

The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that if the police require more money, for this or any other issue, they can come to the Home Office—either they internally prioritise or they come to us to see what we can do. We stand ready to do that. I know from my discussions with the police on this issue that this is not about resource; it is about the complexity of the case itself. Some of these cases are incredibly complex, and the challenge of untangling them is one of the reasons it takes time.

Along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), I have talked to some of the families who witnessed some of these dreadful crimes. In the Minister’s meetings with the Metropolitan police, he should urge it to proceed on this as urgently as possible. Three to five years is too long. If it were a terrorist outrage in this country, the public would be rightly outraged that it is taking so long. May I urge him to urge the Metropolitan police to get on with this? After all, most of the evidence has already been collected by the earlier court cases.

My hon. Friend may like to reflect that some of the terrorist trials we are awaiting here in the United Kingdom have taken years. They take a long time. In cases that stretch across countries, it is often highly complex to get evidence that reaches the evidential bar in order that a case can be submitted to a court.

Under our system, as under the Rwandan system, the accused has a right of disclosure and defence, and we have to make sure we get that right. I hear the urgency of my hon. Friend and other hon. Members. I will continue to press this when I meet the head of counter-terrorism policing on Thursday. I will make sure the police are aware of the urgency, and we will have a further discussion about whether more resource is needed or whether it is the complexity that is taking time.

I, too, met survivors of the Rwandan genocide when I visited Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2006. I know this subject is very close to your heart, Mr Speaker. I thank you for granting the urgent question, and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) on asking it.

Mr Speaker, you will remember 10 years ago, when we were joint vice-chairs of the all-party parliamentary group on genocide prevention, sitting in a meeting with Jack Straw on closing the impunity gap in the law and making sure that alleged war criminals could be prosecuted in this country. People will look at us today and say that our judicial system and our asylum system are supposed to give sanctuary to those fleeing human rights oppressors and atrocities, and that they should not be abused by the alleged perpetrators of war crimes. There is no time limit on justice, so why did the police not investigate these crimes in parallel with the extradition process? Will the Minister report to this House on a six-monthly basis so that we are not here still demanding justice for the survivors on the 30th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide?

On the hon. Lady’s last question, of course I can update the House on the progress of war crimes investigations in general, and maybe specifically around Rwanda, but not on individual cases—I cannot come to the House on those cases, one by one. I spoke earlier about commenting on live police investigations.

It is obviously a matter for the police when they start an investigation, but it is clear from the chronology of this case that the Rwandan Government requested an extradition and we complied with that request. We were keen to see these people extradited to face justice in Rwanda. We had safeguards, and we were confident that Rwanda would be able to deliver a fair trial. Regrettably, that was not the view taken by the High Court in 2017. Almost as soon as that decision was made, we took up the baton and started the investigation here. We will continue with that investigation, and hopefully we will get to a resolution sooner rather than later.

When I visited Rwanda in 2002 I had the misfortune to see some horrific scenes as a result of the genocide, and it was made very clear to me then that justice has to be part of the reconciliation process. A lot of progress has been made in Rwanda—I visited again last year and saw some of that progress—but will the Government continue to work with Rwanda to ensure it can continue making progress while, at the same time, recognising that justice is an important part of that recovery process?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The Africa Minister visited Rwanda not only to remember the horrors of the genocide and to say, “You are not forgotten,” but to continue to commit Britain’s support for that country and the amazing progress it has made since 1994.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) on raising this issue. Were we talking about people who were allegedly involved in the Nazi holocaust, there would be a much stronger sense of urgency on the action that needs to be taken. In that context, I believe the Minister is defending the indefensible. During the extradition proceedings, there have been 10 years in which I assume information has been gathered by the authorities. To say that it will take a further three to five years, or probably closer to 10 years, to bring the matter to trial is just unbelievable. Complexity and thoroughness do not justify this level of delay, and I urge him to listen to the unanimous voices on both sides of the House and do all in his power—it is not about resources but about a will to act—to ensure that the police pursue this and that these people are brought to justice much more swiftly.

I hope the right hon. Lady does not think that because I have upheld the rule of law about the courts, there is no urgency. I would like to see those people off our streets. I do not want war criminals walking around this country. I do not want them here on a day-to-day basis. My strong view is that they should face justice, but police investigations are complex, and there is no magic wand that we can wave to force these things to happen at a quicker pace. We can allocate resource, offer to remove any barriers, whether international or not, and go to court—as we did—on behalf of the victims and the people of Rwanda to try to get this dealt with, but I can do no more than ensure the police know of the urgency. I can continue to monitor the situation and press them, weekly if necessary, to ensure we get a resolution. There is a determination on all sides of the House to bring war criminals to justice, and we will continue to press that.

I accept the Minister’s good faith, and I recognise this country’s good record on dealing with its international obligations. I welcome the fact that neither he nor anyone else in this House is seeking to go behind the decisions of this country’s independent judiciary, but does he recognise that it is important in such cases to ensure that too much time does not pass and that the testimony of witnesses does not fade? We are often dependent on eyewitness testimony in such cases, and those of us who appear in the courts know that the longer it is since the incident, the harder it is to ensure a fair trial and fair testing of the evidence.

My hon. Friend knows better than anybody else about the judiciary and its relationship with the Executive. I absolutely understand the importance of urgency when it comes to evidence. It is important that we produce trials that are successful. All I can say is what I have said to many hon. Members: I will impress the need for urgency on the counter-terrorism police when I next see them. I promise to update the House on the progress of war crimes prosecutions. My hon. Friend and I know that we must respect the rulings of the judiciary. There has been too much bashing of the judiciary in the past 20 years, and that does not help our society. They made that decision, and we abide by it. We must now prosecute in this country, and we will do so urgently.

Not long after my election, I met a constituent who had seen their family members brutally killed during the Rwandan genocide. Her story was heartbreaking. It is unbearable for her that one of the alleged perpetrators of those horrific acts of violence now lives in her town and is free to continue with his family life without fear of extradition. She is asking when she will see justice for her brothers.

The hon. Gentleman will have heard my earlier answers. As the police progress whatever cases they have, we stand ready to support them. Subject to the complexities and the courts, I hope we will see prosecutions sooner rather than later.

Anybody visiting Rwanda will recognise a spirit of reconciliation and a real desire to move on from the absolutely horrific events of 1994. That is backed up by a sense of justice, often through the specially arranged local courts. If Rwanda has done the right thing, why cannot we?

Rwanda’s doing the right thing has meant ensuring the rule of law, separation of powers, respect for the judiciary, successful prosecutions and fair trials. Those are the same principles that we believe in in this country. We must respect the judiciary and its rulings if we are to set an example around the world. The Rwandan courts seem to manage that. We will respect our judiciary’s ruling and will seek to prosecute in this country.

I, too, have visited Rwanda, although it was with the all-party group on agriculture and food for development, so I saw a far more positive vision of the country. It is shocking to go round the stunning countryside and reflect on the fact that it was once steeped in bloodshed. Has the Minister had conversations with his colleagues in the Department for International Development? The number of survivors of the genocide is dwindling as the years pass. Between 250,000 and 500,000 women were deliberately targeted with rape, and many were deliberately infected with HIV. Working with the survivors can perhaps help us to gather evidence and eventually bring people to justice.

The hon. Lady makes some valid suggestions. I am obviously not the Minister for Africa or the DFID Minister, but I will write to my colleagues and ask them to write to her to explain what they are doing. I will seek any suggestions she has about how to build a better policy.

The alleged perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide are Rwandan citizens, are they not? The public in this country will view with disbelief the fact that we are not returning them to justice in their own country. For those people to be at large and in receipt of social security benefits just makes the situation even worse. If in 1970, 25 years on from the horrific events of the second world war, there were alleged Nazi war criminals in this country and the Government were refusing to extradite them for trial in West Germany, Poland and Israel, that would have been unacceptable, as is this.

Perhaps I can correct my hon. Friend. The Government are not refusing to extradite them; we sought to extradite them to Rwanda to face justice. The court took a different view and said that it did not feel that they would face a fair trial if we did so. We have to abide by the court’s ruling, so we will instead seek to prosecute them in the United Kingdom. We think that is the best outcome. Whether they are citizens of the United Kingdom, Rwanda or anywhere else, we must abide by our article obligations under the European convention on human rights.

In a few weeks’ time, I will join Nottingham’s Rwandan community to commemorate 25 years since the genocide. Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin), does the Minister appreciate the impact on survivors who have made their home in the United Kingdom of our country not being seen to be doing everything possible to ensure that those who are guilty of crimes against humanity are brought to justice?

I understand the hon. Lady’s point. Can she communicate to her Rwandan community that the Government spent £3 million trying to extradite those people so they could face justice in Rwanda? That was not possible, so this country and the police are investing to ensure we seek justice in the United Kingdom. That is not being passive and doing nothing; it is doing something.

I was privileged to be on the first Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation to Rwanda last November. It truly is a glorious country. The theme across all the meetings we took part in, whether with the Foreign Minister, in reconciliation villages or with district mayors, is that no one will or wants to forget the genocide. Those people deserve justice. One of the Foreign Minister’s concerns was our apparent unwillingness to investigate the allegations against the alleged perpetrators of the genocide. The Minister knows that in 18 months’ time, Rwanda will host the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. How can the UK Parliament, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the UK Government sit with the Rwandans in Kigali talking about common purpose around security and safety, when it appears that we do not take their concerns and their need for reconciliation and justice seriously in the UK system?

I dispute the picture the hon. Gentleman is painting about the Government’s and Parliament’s commitment to Rwanda. Plenty of friends of Rwanda who care about the consequences of the genocide in 1994 have rightly stood up to ask questions. This Government, the previous Government, the previous Labour Government and this House have been great supporters of the steps that Rwanda has taken since 1994. We are not doing nothing. We tried to extradite individuals so they could face trial. The court took a different view, and then we started an investigation. We have also been running other investigations into war crimes, and we will continue to do so.