Laurent Serubuga was born on 1 January 1939 in the village of Ruhunga, Rwanda.
Serubuga belonged to the circle of the “Comrades of the Fifth of July”, a group of eleven army officers who orchestrated a coup d’état in 1973 in order to bring Juvénal Habyarimana to power. Serubuga quickly became the right-hand man of the new president, and was given the position of Deputy Chief of Staff in the Rwandan Defence Forces – the highest in the army after that of the President. From that moment on, Serubuga was known as Colonel Serubuga.
Allegedly, Serubuga was a member of the “Akazu”, an informal organisation close to the President and composed of Hutu extremists. This group is said to have strongly contributed to the genocide of 1994.
As Serubuga’s political and military influence grew, Habyarimana, who felt increasingly threatened, decided to push him into early retirement in 1992.
On 30 April 1994, shortly after the beginning of the genocide, the Ministry of Defence addressed a message to Serubuga, offering him to be reinstated in his former position. Serubuga accepted, and officially rejoined the army on 2 May 1994.
Reportedly, Serubuga supported the self-defence forces, which were perceived as the body in charge of managing the genocide. Serubuga is also accused of having planned the genocide. In particular, he is said to have lead attacks in the region of Giciye, although no formal evidence has been presented to support this allegation.
At the end of the genocide, Serubuga fled the country. Reportedly, he first settled to Kenya, then moved to France in 1998.
Once in France, Serubuga, who detained a residence permit, applied for refugee status. In June 2002, the French Refugee Appeals Board denied his request. The Board contended that, although Serubuga’s role in the genocide was unclear, it could not be denied that in his capacity of Deputy Chief of Staff in the Rwandan army, he at least had the knowledge of the mass atrocities perpetrated by the combatants under his command, and did nothing to stop them.
On 6 January 2000, several NGOs, including the FIDH, lodged a complaint against Serubuga with the Prosecutor’s office of the Court of Strasbourg. However, the prosecutor refused to investigate on the basis of the lack of existing evidence.
On 6 January 2000, several NGOs lodged a complaint against Serubuga with the Prosecutor’s office of the Court of Strasbourg. However, the prosecutor refused to investigate on the basis of the lack of existing evidence.
A new complaint was filed at the end of the year 2000. This time, the Prosecutor decided to open an investigation against the former colonel. However, the investigation was extremely lengthy, and only after Rwanda issued an international arrest warrant in May 2013 did the French authorities arrest Serubuga. The arrest warrant ordered by the Prosecution’s office of Kigali charged Serubuga with genocide and crimes against humanity.
On 12 September 2013, the Court of Appeal of Douai denied the extradition of the accused and ordered his release. The decision of the Court is based on a well-established case law whereby the extradition of Rwandan perpetrators back to Rwanda is contrary to the French principle of non-retroactivity of the criminal law. Indeed, the law establishing the penalty of the criminal offenses of “genocide” and “crimes against humanity” was introduced into the Rwandan legal system on 19 June 1994, thus covering retroactively every act committed between April and June 1994.
The French prosecutor appealed the decision refusing the extradition of the accused. However, on 26 February 2014, the court of final appeals upheld the first instance decision, reaffirming that the extradition of Serubuga would be contrary to the principle of non-retroactivity of the criminal law.
On 9 May 2017, the investigating judge within the Paris Tribunal informed the parties that he had completed his investigation.
The prosecutor is expected to soon issue its final submissions (requisitions) stating its position regarding the next steps of the proceedings: referral to the Paris criminal Court (Cour d’Assises de Paris) and on what charges or dismissal of the case.
Rwanda has been historically inhabited by three distinct social groups, known as Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. Between April and July 1994 the country was torn apart by a bloody genocide, during which extremist Hutu people targeted Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) was powerless against those committing the genocide, as the peacekeeping troops were outnumbered.
THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL TRIBUNAL FOR RWANDA (ICTR)
In hopes of facilitating the process of national reconciliation and to promote peace in the country, on 8 November 1994 the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 955, establishing the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), located in Arusha, Tanzania.
The Tribunal’s function is to prosecute perpetrators of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed between 1 January and 31 December 1994 in Rwanda. Since its inception, 92 persons have been indicted in front of the ICTR. Some proceedings are however still ongoing.
The ICTR is primed to close down in 2015.
Regarding what will happen to the functions and activities that will outlive the ICTR, the UN Security Council established the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (or “the Mechanism”), in Resolution 1966 (2010), to take over the remaining functions of both the ICTR and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The Mechanism, which has been functioning since 1 July 2012, has already taken over some of the ongoing functions of the ICTR, including the enforcement of sentences of those convicted and sentenced by the Tribunal, the tracking, arrest and prosecution of fugitives earmarked for trial at the Mechanism, and the care and protection of witnesses.
THE GACACA COURTS
In 1998, discussions began under the direction of the President of the Republic of Rwanda about the possible use of traditional courts to support the ordinary Rwandan judicial system and the ICTR. A commission was created to study this possibility, and its report provided the basis of the Organic Law of 26 January 2001, which created the Gacaca Courts.
These courts were in charge of trying the low and middle-level perpetrators of the genocide, apart from the “planners” who should have been tried before national courts. The Gacaca courts were composed of elected popular assemblies, made up of non-professional judges. The composition and functioning of such courts raised several concerns about the respect of fair trial guarantees.
According to Rwandan authorities, during their functioning, the Gacaca courts tried almost two million people. On 18 June 2012 Rwandan President Paul Kagame announced the official end of Gacaca courts’ activity.