The British values of accountability and rule of law mean we need the new All-Party Group on War Crimes
In Rwanda, precisely twenty-seven years ago, a terrible genocide started where nearly one million people, predominantly Tutsi, were murdered by their Hutu neighbours over a 90-day period.
Once the killing stopped, those responsible for these appalling events fled the scene of their crimes. Many escaped over the borders into neighbouring countries. But the richer and better connected — the bigger fish — escaped to Europe and North America, often with the active support or passive acquiescence of the French government.
Over the intervening years many have returned voluntarily to Rwanda to be tried in the gacaca courts. Some have faced justice in the countries to which they fled and others have been extradited to Rwanda — including from the US, Canada, France, Belgium and Sweden.
Britain, sadly, is a glaring exception. Decades on, living freely in our country are five people suspected of taking part in the genocide. In 2015 and 2017, a British district judge and our own High Court ruled that even though the evidence was compelling, none could be sent back to Rwanda because such action could breach their human rights.
This was a regrettable decision, but there was another option: to try these suspects right here in the UK. Our country has comprehensive legislation that allows for the prosecutions of suspects accused of war crimes, irrespective of their nationality or the country in which the crimes took place. Alas, efforts to bring the suspects to justice in the UK have been lacklustre and painfully slow. Indeed, the Metropolitan police have indicated that although almost all the evidence is readily available, it is likely to take years and years to process.
Exasperated by inaction and apparent indifference, a group of senior MPs and Peers decided it was time to act. Firm in the belief that the UK should be no safe haven for war criminals we have set up the All-Party Group on War Crimes with the sole purpose of seeing what can be done to accelerate the investigation and legal proceedings.
Clearly this is not to presuppose the guilt or innocence of the suspects. We simply want to ensure that due process is followed and that justice, already excessively long delayed, is not now denied. After all, it would equally not be right for these five suspects to have these allegations hanging over them for thirteen years, if they turn out to be untrue.
The APPG will work to raise awareness and bring pressure to bear on the authorities to expedite these cases. With the support of international legal experts, we intend to publish a legal opinion. We will also have a meeting with the Rwandan Justice Minister and Attorney General, Johnston Busingye, on 26 April to hear the latest developments and position of the Rwandan government on this matter.
No one expects this process to be quick or easy. But without question, the UK needs to demonstrate the same sense of resolve and urgency on Rwanda as they would - and have done - with suspected Nazi war criminals. Britain is a country with a rule of law and accountability - values that we should cherish and uphold and promote at all times.
Failure to do so would send a very dangerous and damaging message that the UK could become a refuge for war criminals. That would be shameful. The souls of those murdered in the genocide cry out for justice. We have the legal framework to deliver it, but what has been missing until now is the will to assiduously pursue it. The APPG will change that. Anyone who cares about British values and justice should be deeply troubled by these appalling delays.