'We are working on behalf of all the Rwandan victims': The genocide hunters

Husband and wife Alain and Dafroza Gauthier have spent 13 years relentlessly pursuing those behind the 1994 genocide. Now their efforts are finally starting to bear fruit, they tell Anne Penketh in Paris


Alain Gauthier, a retired French headmaster from Reims, is living out of a suitcase for the next five weeks. He is staying in a borrowed apartment in Paris while he and his Rwandan-born wife, Dafroza, attend the ground-breaking trial of an alleged participant in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The trial of the former Rwandan intelligence chief Pascal Simbikangwa, which opened on Tuesday, is the first trial on French soil of an alleged "génocidaire", as the suspects from Rwanda's armed Hutu majority are known in France.

It is largely because of 13 years of unrelenting effort by the couple that Mr Simbikangwa, a former army captain, is being brought to justice.

The former official was arrested in the French overseas territory of Mayotte in 2008 under a complaint filed by the victims' association founded in 2001 by Mr Gauthier and his wife, an ethnic Tutsi. Mr Gauthier says that French authorities, which were close allies of the Hutu-led government in 1994 and which have been accused of sheltering génocidaires, had no option but to arrest him. "He had been in prison for trafficking in forged documents. The magistrates realised he had an international warrant out, and our association had issued a complaint."

Mr Simbikangwa, a paraplegic since a 1986 road accident, faces charges of complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity, which he denies.

Mr Gauthier insists their campaign is not a personal search for revenge. Dafroza, 59, lost "at least" 80 members of her family, including her mother, in the 100 days of the pre-planned massacres sparked by the shooting down of the plane carrying the country's Hutu President, Juvénal Habyarimana. The 800,000 victims of the Hutu army and extremists were mainly Tutsis and moderate Hutus. When the couple visited Dafroza Gauthier's native Butare area in 1997 looking for her relatives, "we found nobody. The land was emptied and the property taken over".

Mr Gauthier points out that none of the 25 suspects living in France, who are sought by their Collectif des Parties Civiles pour le Rwanda (Collective of Rwanda Civil Plaintiffs) is linked to the murders of Dafroza's family. "We are working on behalf of all of the victims. In a way, the first trial is dedicated to them," he says.

Mr Gauthier met Dafroza when he was working in Rwanda as a young teacher. In 1973 she sought political asylum in Belgium and came across Mr Gauthier again in France. They married in 1977 and now have four children, aged between 25 and 33.

Mr Gauthier describes how their self-assigned task of tracking down the alleged génocidaires became all-consuming after they returned to France in 1997 with witness accounts incriminating a Hutu priest, Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, which they handed to a lawyer. "But nothing happened," he says. Then, following the trial in Belgium of four génocidaires, they decided to set up their association dedicated to tracking down the suspects in France.

"We spend all our waking hours on this. We never see our friends," he says.

The couple return regularly to Rwanda, where they are faced with the challenge of a lack of documents and archives. "But if you can find 10 or 15 people who all say the same thing, that's pretty good," says Mr Gauthier.

The international community let Rwanda down by failing to act to stave off the genocide. The former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has apologised, as has the former US President Bill Clinton. But France's relations with Rwanda, over its support for the Hutus trained and armed by the French against invading English-speaking Tutsi rebels who have ruled the country since the genocide, have remained fraught. When France launched Operation Turquoise in the west of the country in 1994, it was widely perceived as protecting the Hutu génocidaires.

Relations deteriorated further in 2006 after a French investigating magistrate accused President Paul Kagame, the former Tutsi rebel leader, of masterminding Mr Habyarimana's assassination, and Rwanda severed ties. They were restored three years later. In 2010, then President Nicolas Sarkozy acknowledged during a visit to Rwanda that "serious errors" had been made by France, but refrained from a full apology. 

Mr Gauthier says that the most significant change for his association came in 2012, when five examining magistrates were appointed to look into the cases of the Rwanda genocide suspects in France.

But he senses that even now,  France's fundamental political position has not changed. "France has not extradited a single suspect to Rwanda," he says. French authorities refused to extradite Mr Simbikangwa and have turned down 15 extradition requests from Rwanda which has been ruled since 1994 by Mr Kagame. The Hutu ringleaders of the ethnic massacres have been tried by a special UN-backed court which has heard more than 70 cases.

"French prosecutors haven't pursued anyone. It has all been done by the civil plaintiffs," says Mr Gauthier.

Among the suspects on the association's case list is Agathe Habyarimana, the widow of the dead President and an anti-Tutsi extremist, who was airlifted from the capital of Rwanda, Kigali, by the French following her husband's assassination. She now lives in a Paris suburb. "She shouldn't be here," says Mr Gauthier. "She was refused political asylum." Last month she appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, prompting  Mr Gauthier to write a letter of complaint to the Interior Minister, Manuel Valls.

"I don't think France's relations with Rwanda are particularly good now. No senior politicians have gone to Rwanda," says Mr Gauthier. It remains to be seen who will represent France at the 20th anniversary commemorations of the genocide in Kigali on 7 April. Mr Gauthier stresses that the trial of Mr Simbikangwa, seen as a first major step towards future prosecutions, is not that of France.

The verdict is expected on 14 March.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Arts and Entertainment
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Life and Style
The Commonwealth flag flies outside Westminster Abbey in central London
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
Arts and Entertainment
tvWebsite will allow you to watch all 522 shows on-demand
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Rock to play DC character in superhero film
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# .Net Developer

£23000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: C# .Net Develop re...

Senior BI Engineer (BI/MI, Data Mining)

£60000 - £65000 per annum + Bonus & Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior BI Enginee...

IT Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are seeking a teacher o...

Graduate Sales Executive

17.5k + Commission (£18.5k after probation period): ESI Media: You will be res...

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor