Recently, an odd story broke about an accused genocidaire who was wandering around near the Canadian border in Maine. John Leonard Teganya, a Rwandan citizen, fled his country first to the Congo and then sought refuge in Canada. However, after being accused of killing nearly 200 Tutsis during a church massacre, his refugee claim was rejected. So it seems Teganya wandered into the United States in hopes of escaping removal from Canada.
This bizarre case has led many to wonder how many genocidaires are still out there wandering around.
The term ‘genocidaire’ was coined by the French during the Rwandan Genocide, a brutal conflict in 1994 that took nearly 1,000,000 Tutsi lives. It was an event that shook the world and the focus on reconciliation since has been enormous. Small councils where victims can either forgive or punish their tormentors have been wildly successful in bringing peace and development to Rwanda.
However, one little known fact was that when France arrived on Rwandan soil in 1994, they actually created a passage for a number of Hutu genocidaires to escape. Most fled into the neighboring DRC.
When the Hutu genocidaires escaped into the DRC (then Zaire), they reformed in refugee camps. Unable to know who was a killer and who was not, they were fed alongside victims and refugees from the actual genocide. When the camps broke up, some accused war criminals went on to join militant factions in the dense jungles of the region. Others still continued to threaten violence, occasionally coming over the border with Rwanda to slaughter those in villages.
Some eventually left the DRC, changing their names and escaping to different countries around the globe.
The case in Maine is not unprecedented. Earlier this year a court in France convicted a genocidaire who had been hiding out on the French island of Mayotte for 20 years. Although he had changed his name, Pascal Simbikangwa was tracked down and brought to justice.
Another case involved a genocidaire who fled to Sweden a few years after the violence settled in Rwanda. He was given citizenship and raised his family there before being named by the Rwandan regime as complicit in the genocide. Although he denied all charges, he was convicted of genocide shortly after.
An article in the New Times Rwanda noted that, “There are many genocide suspects living, working and moving freely in various countries across the world. Despite efforts by the government of Rwanda and anti-genocide groups, few of these have been brought to book.”
So far it’s impossible to say how many genocidaires are still out there in the world; however, some estimates are as high as 200,000.
Much like Nazi war criminals, who were tracked down for years and imprisoned, regardless of age, it is likely we will be hearing about genocidaires being brought to justice for decades.
Groups that focus on hunting them down, such as the CPRC (Collective of Civil Plaintiffs for Rwanda) have made it their life work to bring genocidal criminals to justice. CPRC in particular goes after genocidaires that are hiding out in French countries and colonies. They helped bring the case against Simbikangwa earlier this year and refuse to let up.
Inside the USA, a number of genocidaires are reportedly still in hiding. The United States has promised Rwanda it will ramp up its hunt for war criminals inside its borders. During the commemoration 20 years after the genocide last April, it was noted that Rwanda had sent over 200 indictments to nearly 30 countries around the globe, in hunt for the war criminals. As of press, nine of the top commanders, who fetch a multi-million dollar bounty for being caught alive, have yet to be found.
Justice Minister Jonson Busingye told a press conference in Kigali this year, “[Genocidaires] are still free 20 years after they were first suspected, while the survivors have endured the agony of not seeing justice done…All we are asking for is for those countries to do the most honorable thing they ought to do; help us bring these suspects to face justice.”