Sweden Decides to Extradite . . . And Then Changes Its Mind

by Gregory Gordon

A couple of weeks ago, Sweden did something unprecedented for an EU nation — it indicated it would proceed with the extradition of an accused Rwandan génocidaire to Kigali. Sylvere Ahorugeze, a 53-year-old former director of Rwanda’s civil aviation authority, is implicated in the 1994 murder of a group of civilians in the Kigali suburb of Gikondo. He was arrested on an international warrant last year at the Rwandan Embassy in Stockholm, where he was attempting to renew identification papers for his wife (he had previously been detained on similar charges in Denmark, where he had been a resident for several years, but was released and supposedly awarded damages because of an alleged lack of evidence). The Swedish Supreme Court ruled on May 26th that there were no legal obstacles to extraditing the man. On July 9th, the Swedish Justice Ministry announced it agreed. It was undoubtedly influenced by the recent domestic justice reforms initiated by Rwanda in response to concerns expressed by various European governments (the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Switzerland have all recently refused to extradite Rwandan genocide suspects). Among other things, the Rwandans have abolished the death penalty and initiated a witness protection program.

Ahorugeze promptly filed a petition with the European Court of Human Rights, which has granted provisional measures asking Sweden not to extradite him “until further notice.”  (I have not been able to find a reference to the case on the ECHR website and press reports have not alluded to interim measures but this is clearly what must have happened).  Sweden, for its part, complied with the request.  Professor William Schabas has noted on his blog that the Europeans are holding the Rwandans to an unfair standard. He notes that the former are following the lead of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which has refused to authorize the transfer of several suspects that it would rather not try itself because of concerns regarding due process standards and judicial independence. According to Professor Schabas:

They insisted that Rwanda, an impoverished third world country, provide a witness protection programme for defence witnesses that would not exist in most European countries, and dismissed Rwanda’s proposed solution to address the problem of reluctant defence witnesses living abroad, which was to hear them using videoconference, as being unfair. Be that as it may, the unintended consequence of these recent rulings of the International Tribunal, spurred on by certain human rights NGOs, has been to enhance impunity, not reduce it. Several genocide suspects, including four in the United Kingdom, have simply been released.

In the meantime, as noted above, the Rwandans have made improvements to their justice system and initiated legislative reforms. And, in light of these developments, ICTR Chief Prosecutor Hassan Jallow has indicated a willingness to reapply for authorization to transfer cases to Rwanda. So perhaps in the end the Swedes will ultimately have the blessing of the ECHR (but that might take some time) and the extradition will proceed. I suspect, however, that there are lingering concerns about executive meddling in Rwandan judicial affairs. One would hope any such worries will soon be assuaged but, sadly, one should probably not hold one’s breath (and certainly the Kagame government, even if currently focused on appeasing the Europeans, has not been a model democracy). In the meantime, it is certainly unacceptable for Rwandan mass murderers to take advantage of this state of limbo and evade justice.  Justice in Rwanda may never be perfect but it’s probably at the point of being good enough.  After all, the entire world needs a proper “completion strategy” for bringing Rwandan genocide perpetrators to justice.  Let’s hope the bulk of it can be done properly in Rwanda.  And soon.


3 Responses

  1. In other words, they decided to extradite… and then they were overruled.

  2. Can there be a worse occasion for letting the perfect be the enemy of the good?

  3. So how exactly did Sweden change its mind?

    Aside from that, a ruling from the ECtHR might be a very helpful guide for all the other European countries that are currently faced with extradition requests from Rwanda, but, for the time being, can’t extradite due to their obligations under the Convention.

    Rwanda passed considerable and welcoming reforms, even ratified CAT in December last year, yet as long as these reforms do not live up to the standards required under the Convention, an extradition should obviously not proceed. We should not make human rights exceptions for “third world” countries but rather support Rwanda to implement even more effective reforms.  Until the (valid) concerns are met, countries that refuse to extradite will need to exercise UJ to ensure that alleged perpetrators (and Sylvere Ahorugeze is just that) are being held accountable. Not ideal, but for the time being (and possibly until the ECtHR gives the go ahead), the only solution. That is one reason why the UK is considering to change its legislation.
    The Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Switzerland, Germany are all examples of countries were UJ proceedings against Rwandan genocide suspects are currently ongoing.

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