by Ann Garrison
Kagame delivered the commencement address at Oklahoma Christian University in Edmond, while demonstrators held up signs outside the hall. Inside, Kagame’s aides refused to accept the documents presented by lawyers and process servers. University officials then ordered the lawyers and process servers to leave, and Kagame himself left early, surrounded by bodyguards.
The lawsuit alleges that Kagame and nine of his current and former military officers and officials are guilty of the assassination of former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira and subsequent acts that caused the 1994 massacres that came to be known as the Rwanda Genocide, after costing approximately 1 million Rwandan lives. The suit was filed by the widows of the two assassinated presidents.
It also alleges that Kagame and other defendants are guilty of racketeering, as defined by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, to acquire and control an interest in the resources of Rwanda’s neighbor, D.R. Congo, site of what the U.N. has called the most lethal conflict since World War II. In January 2008, the International Rescue Committee estimated that it had cost 5.4 million Congolese lives.
D.R. Congo is one of the most resource rich nations on earth and its mineral wealth, most of all its cobalt reserves, is essential to modern military industries’ ability to manufacture for war.
Outlets around the world reported that Kagame had avoided process service by leaving the commencement exercise early, surrounded by bodyguards, but Digital Journal and KPFA Radio News both reported lawyer Peter Erlinder’s assurances that Kagame will have failed to avoid service if lawyers are able to demonstrate that he tried to do so intentionally. This is the KPFA Radio News report, “KPFA Radio News: Lawsuit alleges Rwandan President guilty of Rwanda Genocide.”
The lawsuit includes arguments for jurisdiction in the U.S., based on the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Federal Extraterritorial Torture Statute, and for the supplemental jurisdiction of the Oklahoma City court, based on laws of the state of Oklahoma and “ongoing, substantial contacts” with Kagame and the other defendants, meaning their engagement with various educational and non-profit organizations.
Its sixth count alleges that Kagame and the other defendants violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act in order to acquire and control the resources of neighboring D.R. Congo.
Specifically, it says:
“Over a period of years and continuing to the present, through a pattern of racketeering activity, have acquired and maintained an interest in resources in the eastern Congo to their own benefit.”
The 24-page complaint is available online, as a Google Doc, which can be reached by clicking on: Habyarimana vs. Kagame.
Its eight counts are:
1. Wrongful Death and Murder,
2. Crimes against Humanity,
3. Violation of the Rights of Life, Liberty and Security of Person,
4. Assault and Battery,
5. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress,
6. Violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act,
7. Torture and
8. Conspiracy to Torture.
Peter Erlinder is arguing not only the affirmative lawsuit of widows Habyarimana and Ntaryamira in Habyarimana vs. Kagame but also the defense for Rwanda’s leading opposition presidential candidate, Victoire Ingabiré Umuhoza of the FDU-Inkingi Party, whom Kagame’s government has charged with genocide ideology speech crime and “associating with terrorists” amidst the run-up to what was to have been Rwanda’s 2010 presidential election, scheduled for Aug. 9.
Roots of the lawsuit
The three attorneys who filed the wrongful death lawsuit in an Oklahoma City federal court on Thursday, April 29, are representing Madame Agatha Habyarimana, widow of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, and Madame Sylvana Ntaryamira, widow of Burundian President, Cyprien Ntaryamira. Both their husbands died when assassins shot down their plane on April 6, 1994.
The two presidents were flying home from a conference between east and central African leaders in Tanzania, held to discuss ways to end violence between ethnic Hutus and Tutsis from Burundi and Rwanda, when their plane was shot out of the sky with a surface-to-air missile over Rwanda’s capital, Kigali.
That evening the BBC reported: “The deaths of the presidents, both Hutus, look likely to make the situation in both states [Rwanda and Burundi] worse. Heavy fighting has already been reported around the presidential palace in Rwanda after news of the deaths spread. News agencies in Kigali said explosions have been rocking the city but it was not immediately clear who was involved in the fighting.”
Madames Habyarimana and Ntaryamira allege in their wrongful death lawsuit that Kagame, then leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, ordered their husbands’ assassination and that his and his army’s actions brought about the mass civilian massacre known as the Rwanda Genocide.
Earlier this week, French media reported that a Paris judge investigating the crash, Marc Trevidic, was planning to send experts to Rwanda. His predecessor, Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere, had accused the RPF of shooting down the plane and called for the arrest of President Kagame.
The widows do not live in the United States but argue that a federal court in Oklahoma City has jurisdiction over their claims because of Kagame’s substantial contacts with Oklahoma Christian University.
President Kagame appeared at the university in Edmond, Oklahoma, on Friday, April 30, the day after the lawsuit was filed, to deliver the commencement address, but left the ceremony early, surrounded by bodyguards, avoiding process service.
Media outlets around the world report that Kagame avoided process service, but it’s not yet clear that he has, because a defendant may be considered served if it can be demonstrated that he has intentionally avoided process service.
Professor Peter Erlinder, lead defense counsel for the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda and one of the attorneys on the wrongful death case, said: “The U.S. Secret Service and university staff informed Kagame that we had a valid summons and complaint that we wished to serve upon him. We were instructed we could not approach Kagame for security reasons, with which we agreed, but Secret Service informed us that security requirements permitted service on any authorized person on his staff.”
A university spokesman said, “President Kagame is at Oklahoma Christian as the head of Rwanda to honor the 10 outstanding Rwandan Presidential Scholars who are graduating today.
“We do not want to distract from their remarkable accomplishments by getting involved in the politics of Rwanda and surrounding countries. We cannot comment on pending lawsuits.”
Attorneys in the lawsuit stated, “There is no independent functioning judiciary in Rwanda and any suit against defendants there would have been and would still be futile and would result in serious reprisals.”
Carla del Ponte, lead prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals on Rwanda and Yugoslavia, in her book, “Madame Prosecutor; Confrontations with Humanity’s Worst Criminals and the Culture of Impunity,” tells the story of how she was fired by the U.N. after announcing her intent to prosecute sitting Rwandan President Paul Kagame for the assassination of Presidents Habyarimana and Ntaryamira that triggered the genocide.
San Francisco writer Ann Garrison writes for the San Francisco Bay View, Digital Journal, Examiner.com, OpEdNews, Global Research, Colored Opinions and her blog, Plutocracy Now. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story, which originally appeared May 3 in Digital Journal, is combined with another Digital Journal story by Ann Garrison posted May 1.