www.helsinginsanomat.fi/english print | close window

The witnesses of Nyantanga

The witnesses of Nyantanga
The witnesses of Nyantanga
The witnesses of Nyantanga
By Tommi Nieminen in Kigali and Nyakizu
      Chief Inspector Thomas Elfgren of the National Bureau of Investigation lights his curved detective pipe on a dusty unpaved road lined by small shops in the centre of Kigali.
      "My local driver tells me proudly that this is Kigali's best commercial street. He says that you can buy anything that exists here. I thought, God help us."
      Elfgren knows the place, as he is in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, for the second time.
      In the spring of 1994 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda in a period off three months. In early April this year, a Rwandan man was unexpectedly arrested in the Finnish south coast city of Porvoo on suspicion of involvement in genocide. The man has lived in Finland since 2003, and has sought political exile here.
Now it is Elfgren's task to conduct an investigation in Rwanda. A prosecutor must bring the case of the Porvoo man before a Finnish court in November, if there is enough evidence for a case.
      The Porvoo man is suspected at least of distributing weapons, training Hutus in the use of weapons, leading a death squad, spreading the ideology of Hutu extremists, and leading an attack at a church in Cyahinda, where about 5,000 Tutsis were killed.
      The investigation in Rwanda comprises normal police work: interviewing eyewitnesses, examining crime scenes, and collecting documents. The Finns are allowed to use a Rwandan Army helicopter to hover above the villages of Nyakizu and Nuatanga, because the aim is to digitally construct as precise a picture as possible of the scenes of the massacre for the trial in Porvoo District Court.
      Elfgren shakes his head when the subject moves to the conditions prevailing in Rwanda. In the capital, a small upper middle class, and an even smaller upper class have mobile phones, Internet access, and BBC television.
      The actual investigation is nevertheless conducted in the backward Nyakizu region, where the Rwandan who was arrested in Porvoo made his mark. "The thinking in that village is - no offence - pretty primitive. It was heart wrenching, with a school in the middle of the village, and children ran after us asking for paper and a pencil."
The Finns and Rwandans agree that the man in Porvoo must be brought before a court. They disagree as to which country the trial should take place in.
      Rwanda wants the Porvoo man to be brought to Kigali for trial. Such demands have been made by the Minister of Justice, Tharcisse Karugarama, and the Chairman of the Public Prosecutor's office, Jean Bosco Mutangana.
      "We want the Rwandan public and the victims of the genocide, the widows and the orphans, to get him here for trial. He must be judged before of the Rwandans", Mutangana says in his office in the Kacyiru district of Kigali.
      On his shelf he has a dark blue card with the Finnish word Poliisi in white lettering, as well as the lion and sword insignia of the Finnish police. He and Elfgren know each other from way back.
      "Our evidence against him [the Porvoo man] is pretty solid for court. There are many people who saw him operate in Nyakizu during the genocide", Mutangana says. "I certainly know that he does not agree with the charges."
If the Porvoo man were convicted in Rwanda, he would serve his sentence in the country's most modern prison, in Mpanga. Mutanga notes that Rwanda has also recently abolished the death penalty for those convicted of genocide who were extradited from abroad.
      "I plan to travel to Finland to explain to officials how important it is to get him here for trial. It is very important for the victims of the genocide."
      Whether or not the suspect will be sent to Rwanda for trial is a matter for the Ministry of Justice.
      However, all signs indicate that the trial will take place in Finland. Finland will not extradite a person if there is even the smallest chance that he could face the death penalty. And perhaps Finnish officials want to make the trial a precedent.
      Nevertheless, Thomas Elfgren also understands the wishes of the Rwandans. "I feel that Mutanga's arguments are quite justified, and understandable from the point of view of an overall sense of justice", he says.
      The inspector's mobile phone beeps on the table of a Kigali restaurant. I message received, and the work goes on.
      Elfgren knocks the spent tobacco out of his pipe into the ashtray, gets up from the table, gives a handshake, and drives away in his rented four-wheel-drive land rover to his lodgings - the Serena, the best hotel in Kigali.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 20.5.2007

TOMMI NIEMINEN / Helsingin Sanomat