Former U.N. employee may face charges of genocide

Saturday, June 25, 2005

UNITED NATIONS -- The United Nations will ask France to take legal action against a former U.N. employee accused in the killings of 33 Rwandans in the 1994 genocide, after an internal review found the world body bungled his case and failed to protect its Rwandan staff.

Callixte Mbarushimana, who has lived under refugee protection in Paris since 2003, vehemently denies the charges and says he would welcome his day in court. Rwanda has a warrant for his arrest on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

For the last year, U.N. officials have quietly pressed Rwandan authorities and the U.N. war crimes tribunal for Rwanda to seek his extradition, without success, and are turning to France.

"We've exhausted the possibilities," Mark Malloch Brown, chief of staff to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said. "We are going to ask the French authorities where he's resident to pursue a case against him."

French justice officials refused to comment until they get the request from the U.N. Development Program. U.N. officials, who agreed to discuss the request only on condition of anonymity because the note had not yet been delivered, said the note would not specify whether France should prosecute Mbarushimana or extradite him to Rwanda.

While denying it's the main reason for pursuing the case, U.N. officials say French action could help them avoid paying 13 months' pay that Mbarushimana won in an administrative ruling last September. The three judges found his rights were violated when the United Nations decided not to renew his contract after the genocide claims gained attention in 2001.

Mbarushimana's case has been a stain on the United Nations and emblematic of some of its most serious failures during Rwanda's genocide, which saw more than 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus massacred over three months in 1994.

Now 41, he worked for the U.N. Development Program in Rwanda from 1992 to 1994 as a computer technician. He largely took over the agency's office there once international staff fled after the genocide began in April.

Witness statements collected by the U.N.-backed International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda say Mbarushimana, a Hutu, drew up a list of people to be killed, including fellow U.N. employees.

An unsigned 2001 indictment based on the testimony claimed he killed two people with gunshots to the head and was involved in the deaths of 31 more. Among them was Florence Ngirumpatse, a UNDP personnel officer.

While that evidence wasn't collected until mid-2001, the claims against Mbarushimana became known as early as 1995, said one former colleague. Even so, he got two more jobs with the United Nations -- in Angola in 1996 and in Kosovo in 2000.

Mbarushimana, who now refurbishes computers in Paris, denies the accusations.

"I'm innocent of everything they accuse me," Mbarushimana told AP. "What happened in Rwanda is horrific. I do not really find any words to qualify that. It was horrendous. And I don't see anything which could justify such acts of barbarism."

The former chief prosecutor for the Rwanda tribunal, Carla del Ponte, reviewed the indictment accusing Mbarushimana of genocide, crimes against humanity and murder, but refused to sign it.

The tribunal, based in Arusha, Tanzania, had decided to focus only on the ringleaders of the genocide because of money and time concerns. But del Ponte denied that was a factor.

"We could not indict him," del Ponte said last year. "We did not have enough evidence."

Still, the U.N. has acknowledged failure in dealing with Mbarushimana. An internal UNDP review, which Malloch Brown ordered when he was head of the agency, faulted the United Nations for neither pursuing the case nor giving Mbarushimana the chance to clear his name.

The review, finished late last year and obtained by AP, also faulted the United Nations for failing to protect Rwandan employees during the genocide and never investigating "the murder of a large number of staff."

"The Organization has failed, at every step of the way, to pursue the case to a satisfactory conclusion," the review said. "There appears to be a disconnect between the slogans and buzz words advocated by the Organization and the day-to-day actions of its managers and staff."

Hoping to keep the case in the spotlight, three former U.N. staff who either worked with the war crimes tribunal or in Rwanda sent a letter May 26 urging the new Rwanda prosecutor, Hassan Jallow, to pursue the case.

Tony Greig, a former investigator for the tribunal who signed the letter, questioned del Ponte's claim there wasn't enough evidence to try Mbarushimana.

"To a lawyer it's a complete answer -- 'Oh, well, if there's insufficient evidence, then we can't indict him.' But I know that it's just not true," Greig said.

Jallow's spokesman, Roland Ammousouga, said the prosecutor had reviewed del Ponte's decision. "He decided very recently that he wouldn't override the decision made," Ammousouga said from Arusha. "It is a closed case."

Rwandan officials are studying the case but appear no closer to seeking his extradition. France gave him refugee status explicitly because of the Rwandan charges.

"We certainly blame the countries where he's finding safety," said Rwanda's U.N. ambassador, Stanislas Kamanzi. "Why can't such countries make sure he's prosecuted as a matter of establishing his innocence or proving his guilt instead of letting him stay at large?"

Mbarushimana welcomed the possibility that France could take up the case, but said he would not get a fair trial in Rwanda. He still hopes to work for the U.N.

"I do not fear justice. I do respect justice," he said. "I would like anybody who has committed any crimes be prosecuted, and if guilty, be punished."

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