Alain and Dafroza Gauthier: Searching for Justice
January 21, 2014
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A recent NY Times article profiled the work of Alain and Dafroza Gauthier, who have spent the past 13 years collecting evidence for the prosecution of 24 perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide who are now hiding in France. Their efforts have been successful; “Paris appointed five judges to investigate the matter of the Rwandan fugitives and opened a police section specializing in crimes of genocide. Next month, the judges are scheduled to bring their first criminal case against a Rwandan fugitive accused of genocide” (NY Times).
Their success illustrates how important individuals actors are to the spread of norms of international justice and the end of impunity (a theme explored in the most recent chapter we’ve read from Kathryn Sikkink’s The Justice Cascade). It also helps to understand the human toll of impunity–how an obsession for justice for family and a beloved country can lead two individuals with no background in law (he’s a former school principal and teacher, she’s a chemical engineer) to devote decades of their lives to an investigation. Justice for atrocities is more than an abstract concept–it has real value to victims.
This case also reveals the stakes of pursuing international justice for individual states. Rwanda and France only resumed diplomatic ties in 2009, and while these prosecution will likely improve ties between the two countries, “there is a risk the rapprochement could be set back if the trial results in a short sentence or acquittal. ‘The Rwandans would not be happy at all with that,’ acknowledged one French diplomatic source” (Reuters, 9/12/13).
Also interesting is the revelation from Alain Gauthier that perpetrators of atrocities in hiding “come across as pillars of society, be it as practicing priests and doctors. ‘They try to be forgotten,’ he said” (Reuters). Dafroza Gauthier explains that these perpetrators have “always denied, they have created another story, they have completely erased that part of their lives. They were obliged to do so, otherwise you end up in a mental institution. You can’t live with a crime like that” (Mrs. Gauthier, quoted in NY Times). It is chilling to think that individuals with so much blood on their hands could resume a normal life and take up a position of trust in the community, especially when victims have so much trouble resuming their normal lives and moving past the tragedy. Perhaps this is one reason why justice in the wake of atrocities is so essential–it forces perpetrators to confront their crimes and the victims whose lives they’ve shattered.