by Ann Garrison
Susana Sanz Guardo of Basta de Impunidad en Ruanda (Stop Impunity in Rwanda) attended the Sept. 13 Paris protest against Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s visit to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy. She wrote that an unprecedented 1,300 people from several European countries marched to the Parliament Building protesting Kagame’s human rights abuses in Rwanda and Congo, calling him “genocidaire (someone who commits or advocates genocide).”
On Aug. 29, Barack Obama’s State Department filed “Suggestion of Immunity Submitted by the United States of America,” a request for immunity for Rwandan President Paul Kagame in the civil lawsuit Habyarimana vs. Kagame, which alleges Kagame’s guilt in the Rwanda Genocide and Congo wars and demands damages for the widows of assassinated Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira.
Obama seems to be requesting more legal immunity for a foreign head of state than he himself enjoys, after the landmark Supreme Court case Clinton v. Jones, which established that a sitting president of the United States has no immunity from civil litigation against him for acts done before taking office and unrelated to the office.
Plaintiffs’ counsel say they can prove that Kagame ordered the assassination of the Rwandan and Burundian presidents by shooting down their plane, which crashed into the presidential palace in Kigali, Rwanda, on April 6, 1994, triggering the panic and subsequent massacres that came to known as the Rwanda Genocide. The two presidents were returning from peace talks in Arusha, Tanzania, called to try to bring an end to the Rwandan civil war of 1990-1994, which began when then Gen. Paul Kagame and his Rwandan Patriotic Army invaded Rwanda from Uganda on Oct. 2, 1990.
Habyarimana v. Kagame
Habyarimana v. Kagame alleges that Gen. Paul Kagame and nine of his top military commanders and officials are guilty of “wrongful death and murder, crimes against humanity, violation of the rights of life, liberty, and security, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, torture, and continuing conspiracy in furtherance thereof” in Rwanda and its neighbor, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Plaintiffs allege that many of these crimes, including the assassination of the Rwandan and Burundian presidents, were committed before Kagame succeeded in overthrowing the government and becoming first a government official and then president.
Peter Erlinder and lawyers Kurt Kerns and John P. Zelbst filed the suit on behalf of Mesdames Habyarimana and Ntaryamira in the federal District Court of Western Oklahoma in Oklahoma City prior to Kagame’s April 30, 2011, commencement address at Oklahoma Christian University.
Kagame failed to answer the complaint within the time allowed, and the court thus declared a default judgment in favor of Mesdames Habyarimana and Ntaryamira.
Pierre Prosper, a lawyer who served as George Bush’s second United States ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues from 2001 to 2005, is representing Kagame in his claim that he was not properly served with the lawsuit and that he therefore cannot be expected to answer the lawsuit or be declared in default for failing to answer.
Kagame was not properly served?
It seems unlikely that the State Department would have intervened had they expected Pierre Prosper’s challenge of proper service, by a team of experienced lawyers and private investigators, to succeed.
Kagame’s prosecutors’ use of the lawsuit now as evidence against Ingabire herself make it even harder to argue. Ingabire stands in the dock in Kigali, facing a possible sentence on charges of terrorism and “genocide ideology,” i.e., refusing to deny that Hutus as well as Tutsis died in ethnic violence before, during and after the genocide.
Executive immunity after Clinton v. Jones
This is the first time that the U.S. State Department has requested immunity in a civil lawsuit for a foreign head of state in U.S. courts beyond that which U.S. presidents can claim after Clinton v. Jones, a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case establishing that a sitting president of the United States has no immunity from civil litigation against him for acts done before taking office and unrelated to the office.
The State Department has claimed immunity for Kagame’s alleged wrongful acts before he became the president of Rwanda, an immunity which Bill Clinton could not claim from Paula Jones’s lawsuit, which she filed when he was president of the United States, suing him for what he allegedly did while he was governor of Arkansas.
On Monday, the wives of the assassinated Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi filed their “Objections to the August 29 State Department Suggestion of Immunity on Behalf of Rwanda’s President Kagame” and cited the State Department statement of interest of the United States of America, No. 1:104 CV 1360 (Feb. 14, 2011) (LMB), declaring that immunity is only applicable to “official acts by a sitting government,” with which all parties agree.
Law professor Peter Erlinder
“It is astounding that the Obama-Clinton-Koh State Department would choose Paul Kagame as the first head of state on whose behalf to assert immunity for unofficial actions,” observes law professor Peter Erlinder, “wrongful acts before becoming head of state, in light of the clear legal guidance of Clinton v. Jones and the factual record of massive crimes committed by Kagame before he became titular head of state under questionable circumstances in 2000 and again in 2003 and considering negative White House comments that ‘an election is not democracy’ after opposition parties were outlawed and journalists expelled and assassinated in the rigged election in August 2010.
“The irony of the ‘Suggestion of Immunity’ is compounded because Victoire Ingabire, the would-be presidential candidate against Mr. Kagame whom I attempted to advise in Rwanda in May 2010, which resulted in my own arrest by Kagame on charges of ‘genocide ideology,’ is now in the dock in Kigali facing trumped-up terrorism charges, as reported in the New York Times Sept. 10, 2011, during the same week that the Obama administration has asserted immunity for massive crimes for which Mr. Kagame is charged in multiple criminal indictments and U.N. reports.
“The question is, why IS protecting Mr. Kagame so important for U.S. policy-makers, anyway?”
Habyarimana vs. Kagame, the civil lawsuit, is available here.
Suggestion of Immunity [Kagame’s] submitted by the United States of America is available here.
Objections to the August 29 State Department Suggestion of Immunity on Behalf of Rwanda’s President Kagame is available here.
Ingabire on trial, Kagame in France, Obama for Kagame immunity
KPFA Weekend News report broadcast Sept. 10, 2011
Transcript of KPFA Weekend News report broadcast Sept. 10, 2011
KPFA Weekend News Host Cameron Jones: Victoire Ingabire’s trial will resume in Kigali, Rwanda, on Monday, where Ingabire is expected to testify in her own defense. Ingabire is on trial for terrorism and genocide ideology, which, in her case, means refusing to deny that Rwandan Hutus as well as Tutsis died in ethnic violence before, during and after the 1994 Rwanda Genocide.
KPFA/Ann Garrison: As Victoire Ingabire prepares to testify in her own defense, Rwandan President Paul Kagame is on his way to France at the invitation of French President Nicholas Sarkozy. Sarkozy has sent French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé to Asia for the duration of Kagame’s visit.
Juppé has publicly disapproved of the invitation and said that the official Rwandan report on French involvement in the genocide is a collection of lies assembled to stop the investigation of Kagame and his senior officers and government officials’ crimes, including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, an investigation conducted by the French court of Jean-Louis Bruguiere.
Susana Sanz Guardo is a principle organizer with Basta de Impunidad en Ruanda – in English, End Impunity in Rwanda – an international organization based in Spain. KPFA spoke to Sanz Guardo as she prepared to travel to France to join Rwandan, Congolese, Burundian and international human rights activists in protesting Sarkozy’s invitation and Kagame’s presence in France.
Susana Sanz Guardo: His visit is really surrounded by a strange atmosphere, and has awakened most human rights organizations, who have asked to be mobilized. Military diplomatic French people are also doing their work, who are all against Kagame’s visit.
KPFA: On Friday, in the United States, President Obama asked a federal court in Oklahoma City to grant Kagame immunity in the civil suit alleging his guilt in the Rwanda Genocide and Congo wars filed by William Mitchell law professor Peter Erlinder and Wichita lawyer Kurt Kerns. Rwandan American legal scholar Charles Kambanda, a professor at St. John’s University Law School in New York City, had this to say about Obama’s request:
Charles Kambanda: In this case, in my opinion, the interests of the people who have come to this court – of the United States court – are far greater than the interest the United States might have in protecting Kagame. Also the interest the United States has in protecting its image as the pioneer of fighting for the helpless people who are denied their rights by their leaders is far compelling to any interest the president of the U.S. can possibly think of in Kagame’s case.
San Francisco writer Ann Garrison writes for the San Francisco Bay View, Global Research, Colored Opinions, Black Star News, the Newsline EA (East Africa) and her own blog, Ann Garrison, and produces for AfrobeatRadio on WBAI-NYC, Weekend News on KPFA and her own YouTube Channel, AnnieGetYourGang. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.