Rwandan intelligence chief arrested in London — on Spanish charges from 2008

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Marco Werman: Prosecutors in Spain are asking Britain to extradite Rwanda’s intelligence chief. A triangle of players, I know it’s confusing, but bear with me for a moment. Here are the facts: General Emmanuel Karenzi Karake was arrested saturday at London’s Heathrow Airport. He was wanted in connection to crimes that allegedly occurred towards the end of the Rwandan genocide in 1994. But the arrest warrant for General Karake was issued in Spain back in 2008. Phil Clark studies post-conflict issues in Africa at the University of London.


Phil Clark: The arrest warrant against General Karake relates to a massacre that’s alleged to have taken place in 1994. This was allegedly a massacre of about 40,000 predominantly Hutu civilians. Karake was a very senior member of the Rwandan Patriotic Army at that time, and so he’s seen as, again, allegedly a key figure in this massacre.


Werman: Right, and we should clarify that Karenzi Karake is Tutsi, ethnically speaking.


Clark: He is. He would self-identify as Tutsi, yes.


Werman: So tell us, Phil Clark, who Emmanuel Karenzi Karake is. We heard from writer Philip Gourevitch who said this is a high-level man, he would be like detaining the head of the CIA. Who is he?


Clark: Yes, General Karenzi is currently the head of military intelligence in Rwanda. He’s a very central figure in the ruling party. He’s been a long term ally of President Paul Kagame. And General Karake can really take himself back to the late 1980s and early “˜90s when the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the current ruling party, in fact was formed. So, he’s had a very long history at the elite level in Rwanda, he’s very much at the center of the regime.


Werman: So, detained at the Heathrow Airport in the UK, but it’s Spain that chose to indict him. So why, and why now?


Clark: The Spanish government has taken a particular interest in General Karake and 39 other Rwandan officials mainly because three Spanish nationals were allegedly killed in a large scale massacre in Rwanda in 1994. And so under the precept of universal jurisdiction, Spain believes that it has a legitimate claim to this criminal case. It’s quite surprising to many people that seven years after that arrest warrant was issued, we’re in fact now seeing some arrests taking place. The timing of the arrest is doubly unusual in that he’s a very regular visitor to the UK. General Karake, he’s never been interrupted on any of his previous journeys, so it’s not immediately clear why he’s been arrested now. There’s some suspicion that maybe new evidence has come to light in his case in the last few months which may have convinced the UK authorities to act at this time. But there’s very little clarity around that.


Werman: So Spain has used this concept of universal jurisdiction before--they’ve gone after Augusto Pinochet of Chile, they’ve even gone after Bin Laden after 9/11. What does it say though about somebody like Karake, that he’s wanted by one country, like Spain, and then the UK steps in to arrest him to help Spain out?


Clark: This is quite a surprising dimension in this case, because in the past the UK has often been quite skeptical about cooperating with the Spanish legal authorities. So, that’s one of the very interesting developments here, that the UK is showing almost a new interest in cooperating with Spain.


Werman: So will the UK take the next step and extradite Karenzi Karake to Spain?


Clark: That, in fact, is a much bigger step than perhaps is being reported today because of course General Karake will be back in court in London on thursday at Westminster Magistrate’s Court, and much of that case will center on whether there is enough initial evidence in the Spanish dossier to consider extraditing him.


Werman: Why would the UK though arrest him if not to extradite him?


Clark: I think that’s a big part of this, that this initial arrest is an opportunity for the UK system to test the validity of those claims. So there are big questions about whether there is enough evidence to extradite and enough evidence, in fact, to convict if in fact a trial gets underway.


Werman: Phil Clark teaches at the London School of Oriental and African studies. Thank you very much, Phil.


Clark: You’re very welcome.