BBC's Stephen Sackur talks to Rwanda's president, Paul Kagame on 7 December 2006
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BBC's Stephen Sackur talks to Rwanda's president, Paul Kagame on 7 December 2006.

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Stephen Sackur during his time as BBC Washington correspondent

Stephen Sackur during his time as BBC Washington correspondent

Stephen Sackur: In the spring of 1994 up to one million Rwandans were slaughtered in a modern day genocide. Twelve years on, the President of Rwanda is here in London with a message that his country has overcome its terrible past. The President Paul Kagame is still dogged by that past. He stands accused of ordering the political assassination which triggered the genocide. Paul Kagame is my guest on HARD Talk today.

Stephen Sackur: President Kagame, welcome to Hard Talk

President Paul Kagame: Thank you. […inaudible]

Stephen Sackur: France’s leading antiterrorism judge

Le Rwanda

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda. ©

wants you and some of your key aids to face trial; trial on the accusation that you ordered the shooting down of the plane which was being used by the serving Rwandan President on the 6th of April 1994. Are you ready to let justice take its course?

President Paul Kagame: I think there can’t be justice in that particular case for various reasons: First of all there is no basis whatsoever on which the people in Rwanda, leaders of Rwanda, people who fought to stop genocide, people who fought against the genocidal government and the forces to be tried; and moreover be tried by anybody from France, when France is seriously implicated in the genocide of Rwanda. And we are very sure that this judge is not acting in anyway within a sound legal basis. This judge is more political than anything else.

Stephen Sackur: I suspected you would counter with charges against France…we will talk about those. I just want to remind you something you said in a BBC interview in February 2004 when you said “anybody who wants to investigate me or try me, I have no problem with that”. So what’s changed?

President Paul Kagame: Yes, if anybody acting on a legal sound basis. That’s what I was talking about. You don’t just have anybody coming up with wild allegations and accusing me and accusing ...I am the president of Rwanda , I am a Rwandese, I had a right, I had the basis for getting involved in the armed struggle to liberate my country from Habyarimana, from the government he was leading; I have been a refugee in ... outside Rwanda for 30 years. ..

Stephen Sackur: But you didn’t have a right to shoot down his plane and to assassinate him.

President Paul Kagame: Well I had the right to fight for my rights!

Jean-Louis Bruguière
The world's most prominent terrorism investigator

Jean-Louis Bruguière The world's most prominent terrorism investigator. ©MICHEL LIPCHITZ / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 2001

Stephen Sackur: But do you believe you had a right to assassinate him?

President Paul Kagame: No [LAUGHING], but of course Habyarimana, having been on the other side that I was fighting, it was possible that he could easily die. Imagine if I had died myself in the same process? Would the same judge be asking about my death or who killed me? … I am saying [that] this was a situation where there was a war which was being fought. But this has nothing to do now with who actually killed Habyarimana yet. I am not even coming to that. I am only saying that it is even surprising that somebody involved in a war can die. Does that also mean that you simply bring up wild allegations against me without...

Stephen Sackur: Sorry to interrupt you…But you were involved in a peace negotiation with him at the time! The RPF was talking to him.

President Paul Kagame: Yes, and the genocide happened a while after that as well. We had a genocide …

Stephen Sackur: You call them wild allegations; but of course you know they are not wild allegations. You know that judge Jean-Louis Bruguière has been working on that case for many many years. You also know that he is one of the most respected judges in all France . He has a track record of tracking down terrorists, bringing them to justice. He has been working on your case and he has, and I have it here, about 70 pages of documentary evidence pointing to your….

President Paul Kagame: No, no, no! It is 70 pages of trash, of nothing and I will show that. Look at the people he is talking about, that he talked to, that he got his testimonies from. Almost all of them are people who are indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. People who are in fact wanted by the tribunal but they can’t have access to them, they can’t get hold of them. Yet, the judge has access to them, because they enjoy protection in France . …

Stephen Sackur: Judge Bruguière comes up with this conclusion that “the final order to attack the presidential plane was given by Paul Kagame himself during a meeting held in Mulindi on March the 31st 1994.

President Juvenal Habyarimana

President Juvenal Habyarimana. © Nouvel Observateur

President Paul Kagame: That represents absolutely nothing. First of all the judge wants to … bring out this incident as having been responsible for the genocide. But the judge, the French, people of the UN, every body they know there were months of preparations for the genocide; they bought arms, they trained people, they got arms from France, money paid by the French government, to the government of Habyarimana to prepare for a genocide. This has nothing to do with the aircraft. Even if we are talking about the assassination of Habyarimana or bringing down the aircraft, it has nothing to do with that. It is absolutely nonsense, nonsense…

Stephen Sackur: Why not, why not bow to the wish of judge Bruguière… and have your case tested at the International Tribunal on Rwanda?

President Paul Kagame: I can’t bow to the wishes of judge Bruguière, with the French acting politically with France having had a genocide in Rwanda , never! Just because he is coming from France .

Stephen Sackur: He has no political involvement. He is an investigative judge who specializes in anti terrorism. ..He is not controlled by the French government.

President Paul Kagame: Why doesn’t he investigate about the genocide and the involvement of French officers and army officers and government officials in the genocide of Rwanda , if he is credible?

Stephen Sackur: I want to pick up that point very soon. But before we finish on your position, as a result...

President Paul Kagame: my position is very simple, I will…

Stephen Sackur: Why do you not, because you are so confident about your innocence…

President Paul Kagame: I am very confident.

Stephen Sackur: Why do you not bow to his demand to have the case tested in an international court of law?

President Paul Kagame: I am confident for various reasons….

Stephen Sackur: I understand your confidence, but my question is simple, why not accede to his wish to have the case tested…..

President Paul Kagame: There are even issues of principles here. A French judge has no right to judge me, in my own situation in Rwanda.

Stephen Sackur: He doesn’t want to judge you, he is saying….

President Paul Kagame: He is judging me by bringing that nonsense! First of all why create fabricated stories.

Stephen Sackur: I say that Rwanda cannot move on until the real responsibility for the assassination of the president of your country in 1994 is established.

President Paul Kagame: No, no, no! First of all I am not responsible for Habyarimana’s death and I don’t care! I wasn’t responsible for his security. He wasn’t responsible for mine either. And he wouldn’t have cared if I had died. I don’t care that it happened to him. I was fighting that government, the government that made me a refugee for those years, for which I had a right to fight about, and the judge wants to ask me why?

Stephen Sackur: My question is this, how can Rwanda move on and move forward until …

President Paul Kagame: It is moving on, it is moving on, irrespective of not knowing who killed Habyarimana because it is not such a big problem, as it is a problem for Rwanda to have lost one million people in a genocide in which France is indicted and this judge is silent about. So France, Bruguière, have no right whatsoever to be making such a nonsense of our situation. And our people in Rwanda are making headword, they are rebuilding their lives, they are moving forward, I am their leader, they elected me and it is nonsense.

Stephen Sackur: You talked about the lack of credibility in the evidence I put to you; you make the most explosive allegation against the French. You seem to be suggesting that the French were involved in the assassination…of the president in 1994…You also suggest…

President Paul Kagame: They were involved in killing one million people …

Stephen Sackur: Whom do you mean is involved in the killing of a million…

President Paul Kagame: The genocide consumed a million of lives of our people. They were involved supplying arms, fighting against us who were trying to stop the genocide, supporting a president that was leading a section of his people to kill another section of the people of our country; and you are saying they are less guilty than whoever killed Habyarimana? That I don’t care about! That I care more about a million of people that were lost…

Stephen Sackur: I want to be clear about precisely what you are alleging. Are you alleging that the French authorities were actively involved in the killing of up to one million of your country?

President Paul Kagame: Yes, Yes, I am surprised you don’t know that even as a journalist.

Stephen Sackur: Who, who do you believe…

President Paul Kagame: I am surprised even that people are still talking about that. They were there, they were seen, there more than, I don’t know how many evidences you want. There are documented evidences showing them in combat, fighting, training the militia that committed genocide. The UN knows that, they have got information before the genocide happened.

Stephen Sackur: Mr. President, it’s 12 years since the slaughter of one million Rwandans. If you had real evidence of French involvement, why haven’t you produced it in twelve long years.

President Paul Kagame: We have been talking about that. In the last…In 2004 when we were commemorating the 10th year of genocide, I said it publicly in front of heads of states who had come to Rwanda to be with us on that day, including the French government minister. I said it publicly, people have been saying it. People who have been investigating, journalists, professionals of different kinds who have been following this case know it. It is public knowledge. The Rwandese know about that….

Stephen Sackur: You have a commission of inquiry sitting right now considering French involvement. What are you going do? Indict French officials… when they make that final report?

President Paul Kagame: If we have judges…If France has judges who can indict us, surely we are more placed to have judges who can indict them over this case when the facts come out.

Stephen Sackur: Of course the president of France at the time is dead. Are you suggesting that culpability

President Juvenal Habyarimana

Dominique de Villepin, Director of the Cabinet of the French Foreign Minister during the genocide.

President Paul Kagame: There are French officials who were involved at that time who are still alive, including the Prime Minister of France now, de Villepin, who was the Director of the Cabinet of the Foreign Minister and who,…these people who were involved directly in this situation, supporting the government and supporting the forces that committed the genocide! There are many senior military officers by names, we can …, they are on record. I don’t want…

Stephen Sackur: You are a president of a nation. Do you believe it is responsible for you to sit here on this program and suggest that the Prime Minister of France was actively involved, colluded in the slaughter of a million people?

President Paul Kagame: Yes, why does that sound very strange to you when you are there asking me about a judge indicting a head of state, of my country Rwanda? Why does that surprise you?

Stephen Sackur : Wouldn’t you be better advised focusing all of your attention now on rebuilding Rwanda and eradicating the tensions that still exist in your country?

L’un des réacteurs de l’avion de l’ancien président rwandais Juvénal Habyarimana

L’un des réacteurs de l’avion de l’ancien président rwandais Juvénal Habyarimana.

President Paul Kagame: I don’t need any advice. That’s what I am doing. It’s only this judge who brings such a nonsense and try to divert the course we are taking to develop our country.

Stephen Sackur: I am just wondering, if we move on to what is happening inside your county now, I am wondering how you can argue how your policies for example on pluralism and democracy and human rights are really bringing healing and reconciliation to Rwanda.

President Paul Kagame: Ha! This is what I talk about every day. Healing has taken place, the country is stable, the country is registering economic growth and progress, the people of Rwanda are reconciled. There's a justice process going on, there is democratization going on, a new Constitution dealing with those problems, in fact, on the basis of that, we came out when there came the process for African Peer Review Mechanism under the NEPAD (The New Partnership for Africa's Development) , Rwanda was one of the first. Rwanda and Ghana were the first to be externally reviewed. And look at the report…

Stephen Sackur: I have looked at it. I have looked at the African Peer Review Mechanism and they say: “Political Parties as such are NOT, NOT able to operate freely. It effectively amounts to a denial of political activities to citizens”.

President Paul Kagame: That is not true.

Stephen Sackur: I read the report, that is what it says.

President Paul Kagame: Sure, it talks about that on every country. If you …

Stephen Sackur: We are talking about Rwanda . We are talking about Rwanda where The editor of the Umuseso Newspaper says “we don’t have anything like a real opposition….”

President Paul Kagame: Oh, but they exist, they are there, they are always talking about all sorts of nonsense. Sometimes they are talking about things similar to that even if they are the same. ..The fact that they are there operating is even…evident.

Stephen Sackur: If you know, there is only one newspaper which is remotely an opposition newspaper. I have quoted it. I can also quote you the State Department who still in their annual report on Rwanda talk about your own election as being “marred by serious irregularities, broad widespread intimidations of the opposition”.

President Paul Kagame: These are some of the things we were talking about that have been said by a few people as being negative. There are many more people that have said positive things about that. And in fact, let me talk about for example what we are criticized about in the APRM that is disputable like that one. For example, they were criticizing Rwanda for Gacaca courts. These are the traditional courts we are putting in place. And do you know the reason why there are criticisms? Because they are saying these ones, they have no textbooks to read from, to tell how they are going to perform, how good they are, and therefore they do not meet the international standards. What are international standards in this case of trying of such a hundreds of thousands of cases in the genocide?

Stephen Sackur: Let me, if I may, ask you about the situation of the former president, President Bizimungu. You locked him up for 15 years.

President Paul Kagame: Yes, and do you know why?

Stephen Sackur: Because he established an opposition party.

President Paul Kagame: No, that is not true. The whole legal process explains that. I did not do that. It is the judicial process that did that. Bizimungu had time to defend himself, he was accused on different accounts, including an act of fraud.

Stephen Sackur: He is convicted on charges which he wasn’t even charged with in the first place

President Paul Kagame: No that is not true. There are specific cases…One of them is that of fraud. $200,000 of money of people that he took and now he trying to justify it, that was meant for the orphans of Rwanda that was given by the then Organisation of African Unity. He had many other cases. This has nothing to do with me..

Stephen Sackur: You see, many Hutus in your county that look at what happened to President Bizimungu.

President Paul Kagame: Hutus, most of them are the ones who elected me; the majority of them. We have…

Stephen Sackur: Many Hutus who look at what happened to President Bizimungu who established an opposition political party which you said was divisive, which you said was Hutu extremism. When you know full well that president Bizimungu had fought alongside the RPF, has been a member of the RPF and even had his brother killed because Hutu extremist did not trust him.

President Paul Kagame: There was no brother of him who has been killed first of all. Secondly, he was with us for a short time, thirdly, he was doing exactly what he stopped us doing when he was a president, invoking what was in the law that we were pleating on in the transition. He himself stopped people from forming parties on that basis. And later on when the law caught up with him on that, now he cries a fowl.

Stephen Sackur: So all the causes that are given from the African Peer Review Mechanism, from newspapers, the American State Department all of them ask you to open up your country to embrace pluralism, to trust your people more …

President Paul Kagame: Let me tell you how it is open. It is even more open than APRM could suggest or anybody could suggest. In fact in Rwanda we have a constitution that prescribes for the winner not taking all. And that is the choice we made under that constitution. That’s why a winning party does not take everything, but shares out power and you have losers coming on board, the cabinet, the president who appoints the cabinet through a process provided by the constitution; he cannot members of his own party to more that 50% of positions, the others have to be taken by [people] from the opposition; the speaker of the parliament has to come from the minority party. These are things Rwandese made a choice about. To try and heal their history, and heal the whole rift that had developed in their population and stop dividing the country again [which] would lead to such a serious situation like the genocide. What is wrong with that? I am sure some of those who were there trying to read our situation do not understand that. That is why they did not understand Gacaca. That is why...because they have no textbooks to refer to in some…and here you don’t need to refer to the textbooks in this kind of situation. You have to respect what people decide. And that is what the people of Rwanda decided; including those Hutus that people keep talking about.

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