Rights groups challenge Rwandan's S.African asylum

AP News
Posted: Jun 15, 2011 9:55 AM
Rights groups challenge Rwandan's S.African asylum

Refugee rights groups want a court to strip a Rwandan general of asylum status in South Africa, saying he has been linked to mass human rights abuses in East Africa.

In a statement issued this week after filing the suit against the South African government earlier this month, Nicole Fritz of the Southern African Litigation Center said the case of Gen. Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa could "send a signal to war criminals the world over that they will find a safe haven here. Indeed, a haven where they might be actively protected as refugees."

The Southern African Litigation Center and the Consortium of Refugees and Migrant Rights South Africa filed the suit.

A spokesman for Nyamwasa said Wednesday the general denies involvement in human rights violations, and fears the refugee group's suit will distract attention from an upcoming trial that Rwandan dissidents hope will focus on their president's activities.

Since coming to South Africa in early 2010, Nyamwasa has been a sharp critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Nyamwasa was shot and wounded in Johannesburg last year, and dissidents accuse Kagame of involvement in what they call an assassination attempt. Kagame's government has denied involvement in the shooting, and accuses Nyamwasa of trying to destabilize Rwanda.

The trial over Nyamwasa's shooting is scheduled to start later this month in Johannesburg. Frank Ntwali, who is Nyamwasa's brother-in-law and spokesman, said the refugee group's case, for which no date for hearings has been set, could be a distraction, but that the general would cooperate.

"This is South Africa, you are allowed to go to court with your evidence and present your case," said Ntwali, a lawyer in South Africa. "He will be ready to defend himself. He's ready whenever he's called upon to come and answer any allegations."

Ronnie Mamoepa of the South African government's immigration department said the government would not comment on a case before the courts.

In the lawsuit, the refugee and rights groups acknowledge it might not be safe for Nyamwasa to return to Rwanda. The groups suggest instead he be tried in South Africa.

"Any country can prosecute serious international crimes," Alan Wallis of the Southern African Litigation Center said in an interview. "The first step is just to have his refugee status revoked,"

A Spanish judge in 2008 charged Nyamwasa and 39 other members of the Rwandan military with the mass killings of civilians after they seized power in Rwanda.

Rwandan Hutus in 1994 killed more than 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in a genocide. Nyamwasa and other senior Tutsis are accused of waging a subsequent extermination campaign against Hutus.

Spanish courts can prosecute human rights crimes even if they are alleged to have occurred in other countries so long as there is a clear link to Spain. Three Spanish aid workers were killed East Africa in 1997 _ homicides for which Nyamwasa has also been charged in Spain.

A U.N. report last year echoed the 2008 Spanish charges, accusing invading Rwandan troops of killing tens of thousands of Hutus in 1996 and 1997.