Sonntag, 30. August 2020

How France is tracking war criminals

 An interesting article about the french special unit OCLCH (Office central de lutte contre les crimes contre l'humanité, les génocides, les crimes de guerre) destined to identify and track war criminals. It has the particularity that it consists of members of Gendarmerie and Police.

The unit was created in 2013 and since then the men and women of this office tracked war criminals from Ex-Yugoslavia to Rwanda.

Recently, in may 2020, the officers of the OCLCH identified and arrested Félicien Kabuga bankroller of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda 1992.

The same fate is approaching to syrian war criminals.

"Saturday May 16, 2020, Asnières (Hauts-de-Seine). The first light of day appears when investigators discreetly get out of their cars. Head to a neat five-story building. On the back of their uniform, five words: "Office central war crimes." It is here, in this small street in the Parisian suburbs, that lives one of the main culprits of the genocide in Rwanda, perpetrated in 1994. That year, 800,000 people, according to the UN, were killed in a few weeks after the decision of the Hutu extremists in power to exterminate the Tutsi ethnic group.
Félicien Kabuga is suspected of having financed a bloodthirsty militia and of having called for the massacre of Tutsis through the Mille Collines radio station, of which he was one of the leaders. This Rwandan is targeted by an arrest warrant from the International Mechanism, the UN structure responsible for completing the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Pursued by international justice for ... twenty-six years.


It was an 87-year-old man who came to arrest, in an apartment rented by one of his sons under one of his 28 false identities, Colonel Eric Emeraux and his team. Thanks to a network of international criminal assistance, and despite Rwanda's lack of cooperation, agents of the Central Office for the fight against crimes against humanity, genocides and war crimes (OCLCH) located him by monitoring the comings and goings of his children.
Since May 16, the search notice for Kabuga has been crossed out with a red cross and a word: "Arrested". On that day, many Tutsi survivors sighed with relief. They no longer imagined that we would find "the financier of the genocide".
We knew that he had tried to take refuge in Switzerland before being deported there in August 1994, then that he had been reported in Kenya, Congo-Kinshasa before returning to Europe. The United States had even promised a premium of nearly 5 million euros for his capture. The decision concerning his extradition to The Hague (Netherlands), where the International Mechanism is based, will be rendered on September 2 by the Court of Cassation.
Created in 2013, the OCLCH has a threefold mission: to coordinate, lead and direct judicial investigations following serious violations of international law. France can therefore arrest (and sometimes judge) on its territory any suspect, even if he is a foreigner and has committed these abuses in another country. The executioners no longer have citizenship in France. And the OCLCH is responsible for ensuring this.
At its head for three years, Eric Emeraux was not intended to track down genocidaires in Rwanda, Liberia, Chad or in one of the 27 countries in the crosshairs of French and international justice. “I never imagined becoming a war criminal hunter one day,” he admits. Passionate about skiing, he took the direction of a high mountain gendarmerie squadron, before joining the judicial police of Montpellier (Hérault), where he worked on homicides and organized crime. But a transfer to the French Embassy in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, as Internal Security Attaché, in 2012, changed his life.
For five years, the officer read the pain in the eyes of a people marked by the ethnic cleansing unleashed in April 1992 following a declaration of independence refuted by the Serbs. “It leaves indelible marks,” he says.
Touched by this tragedy and by the testimonies of survivors, the gendarme agreed in October 2017 to take over the management of the OCLCH. Retired since the beginning of this summer, therefore freed from any reserve obligation, he published a book on September 3 in which he described the daily life of this service ("Tracking is my job", Ed. Plon, 21 euros) .
How to investigate war crimes committed, for many of them, years ago? How to remain stoic after having attended hearings where one perceives the hatred of one people for another, after having seen mass graves, heard victims forever traumatized?
"When we arrived at the top of the village, there was blood everywhere," a former Hutu executioner once testified in front of Eric Emeraux and his team. The surviving Tutsis were trying to escape, but we had surrounded the hill. To go faster, we cut the ankle tendons and came back later to finish them off (…) The captain joined us with his 4 x 4. He was rolling over the bodies for fun. " 
The ex-boss of the OCLCH does not hide it, the night following this confession was filled with nightmares. Hearing witnesses, victims or suspected genocidaires is a crucial element in this type of investigation. Their memory can be of variable geometry, voluntarily or not. “The key is empathy. It helps people to express themselves patiently thanks to an interpreter whose integrity has been verified, and after making sure that no pressure is exerted on the witness or his family ”, explains Eric Emeraux. .
Hora fugit, stat jus ("the hour passes, justice remains", in Latin). This is the motto of the office. "The missions force us to adapt and, above all, to overcome a major obstacle: being away from the places where the events took place," continues the former colonel, replaced since the beginning of August by General Jean-Philippe Reiland. No one survey looks like another, each one depends on the terrain, the conflict, the man, the ordering parties. "
The genocide in Rwanda and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Herzegovina are prime examples of the difficulties OCLCH has encountered in locating war criminals who have been under the radar for years. In France, how many are they living hidden under false names, sometimes naturalized, and enjoying a quiet "retirement"? Hard to say.
In 2013, a man, whose victims described in great detail the atrocities during the genocide in Rwanda, was arrested in Toulouse: Tito Barahira. Aged 61, he lived alone and without a job, and had been the subject, for two years, of a complaint from the Collectif des parties civiles pour le Rwanda. He was definitively sentenced to life imprisonment in 2019, after numerous appeals. He is now imprisoned in France, our country not extraditing Rwandan criminals.
Installed at 154, boulevard Davout, in the 20th arrondissement of Paris - a late 19th century barracks called "Bastion XIV" -, in obsolete offices where images of atrocities committed by war criminals are displayed, a small twenty people strive to go back in time. "Currently, we are working on 150 cases in permanent contact with the investigating judges of the Crimes Against Humanity pole and with the national anti-terrorism prosecution," reports General Reiland.
The OCLCH is a separate group. First, because it has both gendarmes and police. Then, because these specialists master international law, financial techniques as well as geopolitics. They are also aware of religious and ethnic issues, and able to monitor social networks with experts in facial recognition.
As soon as they have the possibility, depending on the diplomatic relations between France and the target countries, the women and men of the OCLCH go there. In Rwanda, for example, where they interview the victims still alive with the approval of the local judicial authorities, carry out reconstructions and carefully collect material traces, photos and videos.
They are also required to authenticate the bodies and precisely identify the torturers. Without always having access to the land. As in Syria. The country, led by Bashar al-Assad, accused by the UN of war crimes and crimes against humanity, is thus banned from the French office. The latter therefore only has access to reports published by NGOs, to journalists' inquiries, to videos which abound on the Internet: extermination of opponents, public slaughterings and hangings, gas attacks ...
Among these abuses, those revealed by a man nicknamed "Caesar". This former photographer of the Syrian military police fled his country with 45,000 photos taken between 2011 and 2013. Each image represents acts of torture. In total, they attest to the deaths of more than 10,000 detainees, military or civilian.
The “Caesar report” was sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and to the OCLCH, especially as it concerns two Franco-Syrian nationals, who allegedly lost their lives in a prison in Damascus. The cause of their death remains unclear, but a preliminary investigation has been opened by the Paris prosecutor's office against the regime of the Syrian president for war crimes. Three suspected torturers, members of the government intelligence services, were arrested in France and Germany in January 2019. The trial of two of them is ongoing in Germany. The third man, arrested on our territory, should be tried soon - the health crisis has slowed down the procedures. 
Another delicate task for investigators: to examine the profiles of asylum seekers present in the territory and who claim the right to remain in France after having committed violations of international humanitarian law. The French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Ofpra) must, since 2015, report suspicious applicants to the public prosecutor and submit to the OCLCH requests for investigations on these people, mainly of Syrian origin, therefore neither deportable or extraditable. “The number of these requests has exploded, they now constitute half of our files. These investigations can lead to the identification of interesting profiles, ”observes General Jean-Philippe Reiland.
A question torments Eric Emeraux: "How do men come to commit such atrocities? To answer it, he took an interest in the research of Pierre Thys. This doctor in psychology and professor at the University of Liège (Belgium) evokes the theory of "sweet pickle which becomes sour because immersed in a jar of vinegar". In other words, "the degree of obedience of individuals is linked to their conviction in an ideology which they consider to be legitimate, and not to genetic predispositions".
In his book, the former head of the OCLCH also launches a few pikes, in particular in the direction of the French State, which fights against the impunity of war criminals "according to logistical priorities", applied by "feasts in costume smoothed (…) convinced of having the truth ”. And to recall that this fight is the means of “preventing hatred from developing its metastases”, of “slowing down the emergence of populism” and “protecting democracy”.
At Bastion XIV, in Paris, investigations are continuing. "We will be around thirty investigators by the end of 2020", rejoices General Reiland. Missions are planned in Rwanda in the fall to collect testimonies. In his house in the south of France, Eric Emeraux is writing a second book. A novel whose plot is not so far from the reality he knew."


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