Lt Gen Karake’s arrest: Why the UK should apologise to Rwanda

Some of the Rwandan nationals who turned out to support Gen. Karenzi in London. (File)

When a UK court dismissed the charges against Rwanda’s head of the National Intelligence and Security Services, Lt General Karenzi Karake, there was relief that Britain finally realised Rwanda was not about to succumb to any pressures no matter how mighty Britain may be.

However, there are a couple of questions that remain unanswered and which Britain should respond to if Rwanda is to move on from the incident.

Why did the arrest take place?

Karenzi had been to the UK on several occasions prior to the arrest,. He had held meetings with UK officials organized in the same manner; the UK knows what a chief of National Intelligence and Security Service is; why is it that the arrest was made this time round? As a Rwandan official with diplomatic status, making this arrest was clearly an affront to Rwandans as a people and they therefore deserve to know why, in the first place, the incident ever took place. It was also a violation of international conventions regarding the treatment of envoys on mission under diplomatic immunity.

There was never any doubt about the political nature of that the Spanish indictments for which the arrest were made. In 2008, at the time they were first issued, various organisations exposed the flaws in the cases.

In an opinion published by the Wall Street Journal last month, Jendayi Frazor, a former top US diplomat, questioned the motive behind the arrest.

“A U.S. government interagency review conducted in 2007–08, when I led the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, found that the Spanish allegations against Mr. Karenzi Karake were false and unsubstantiated,” she wrote.

A British lawmaker and former International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, was even more pointed in his criticism of the indictment in the wake of Gen Karenzi’s arrest.

He described it as “a misuse of the European Arrest Warrant system”.

“It’s being used by the supporters of the genocidal regime against those who stopped the Genocide,” he said. “The indictment is being used for political reasons, and not judicial ones”.

UK authorities ought to explain why this happened — It is unbelievable that they would have merit enough to act the way they did.

Why did it take 7 weeks to dismiss the case?

General Karenzi was barred from leaving the UK for about 7 weeks. Owing to the controversies around the case, any competent judicial system would have discovered that the issue was not judicial, it was politically motivated and designed to inconvenience Rwanda. As a sovereign state, Rwandan should never have been dragged through this mess, not to mention for seven weeks.

The UK prides itself in being a champion of Human Rights and no doubt, has strong functioning institutions. The Rwandan people believe in friendly relations, but what the UK did was not friendly at all. However much more powerful the UK is compared to Rwanda, it does not have the authority to tramp on another sovereign country more so over a spurious legal tract. Attempting to do so against Rwanda; given what Rwanda has gone through; is of course a huge miscalculation

It is not surprising that the UK dismissed the case. The truth finally came out, leaving the Judge with no option but to drop all charges. In March, a Spanish High Court, disagreed with the indicting Judge, Fernando Andreu Merelles, and overturned the arrest warrants on all the 40 Rwandans. The case is now with the Supreme Court which is expected to make a ruling next month. This, as President Paul Kagame said in Parliament on Thursday, is however not enough. Rwanda needs to understand why this happened; to be reassured it will not happen again and to understand how the UK plans to rebuild the lost trust.

For the UK to allow its system to be used by Rwanda’s political detractors to gain, dishonors the country. The least the UK should do is apologise to the Rwandan people. While Rwandans are glad General Karenzi is back to work, answers to these questions and sincere apologies will help come good on the assertions that Rwanda is a close ally to the UK.

And, as Andrew Mitchell said shortly after the case was dismissed, “These events do not reflect well on the Spanish legal system, the European Arrest Warrant or indeed on Britain.

“What a terrible way to treat a senior official from a friendly government who was here to help us in the battle against terrorism. There’s little doubt that the Rwandan government deserves an apology.”

Originally published at on August 16, 2015.