Genocide in Rwanda: The search for justice 15 years on 06 Apr 2009
An overview of the horrific 100 days of violence, the events leading to them and the ongoing search for justice after 15 years.

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David Taylor*

On the fifteenth anniversary of the plane attack killing former President Habyarimana which sparked one-hundred days of Genocide in Rwanda slaughtering over 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, David Taylor, editor at the Hague Justice Portal reflects on some of the important decisions, notable cases and remaining gaps in the ICTR’s ongoing search for justice.

Skulls at a memorial for the more than 800,000 people killed during 100 days of Genocide in Rwanda.On 8 November 1994, seven months after the passenger plane carrying President Juvénil Habyarimana was shot out of the sky on the evening of April 6 1994 triggering Genocide in the little-known central African state of Rwanda, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 955 (1994) establishing the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). The tribunal is mandated to prosecute “persons responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law”,1 with its inaugural trial commencing on January 9 1997. According to Trial Chamber I, delivering its Judgment in this first case against a suspected génocidaire, “there is no doubt that considering their undeniable scale, their systematic nature and their atrociousness” the events of the 100 days subsequent to April 6, “were aimed at exterminating the group that was targeted.”2

Indeed, given the nature and extent of the violence between April and July 1994, it is unsurprising that the ICTR has been confronted with genocide charges in nearly every case before it. Within hours of the attack on the President’s plane roadblocks had sprung up throughout Kigali and the killings began; the Hutu Power radio station, RTLM, rife with conspiracy, goading listeners with anti-Tutsi propaganda. The killing of Rwandan Tutsis and moderate Hutus by Hutu extremists lasted well into July 1994, with estimates suggesting that the individual killings, the large-scale massacres, and the other horrific acts perpetrated against innocent civilians claimed the lives of around 800,000 Rwandans. Perhaps even more bewildering than the number of people slaughtered was the nature of the ensuing violence. Not since the Second World War had the “banality of evil”3 been so manifest: neighbours killed neighbours, husbands killed wives, shepherds killed their flocks. Eyewitness testimony before the ICTR recounted:

“[…] heaps of bodies […] on the roads, on the footpaths and in rivers and […] many wounded persons […] who had sustained wounds inflicted with machetes to the face, the neck, and also to the ankle, at the Achilles’ tendon, to prevent them from fleeing.”4

Despite numerous early warnings and prior intelligence of the imminence of an apocalyptic crisis in Rwanda, the warnings went unheeded, with the ‘international community’ and the United Nations in particular failing to act. The UN peacekeeping mission on the ground, UNAMIR, stood powerless as restrictions in its mandate from the UN reduced its troops to little more than bystanders to genocide.

Fifteen years on, the ICTR still seeks to prosecute the Genocide and bring its perpetrators to justice.

From Peace (Accords) to Genocide

Tutsi identity card, introduced during colonial rule in Rwanda.The path to genocide in Rwanda can be traced back to German and successive Belgian colonial rule, with its roots in the introduction of policies of racial superiority favouring the minority Tutsi ethnic group. Based wholly on racist stereotypes and the contemporary eugenics movement of the time, the Europeans succeeded in polarising the otherwise harmonious relations between Hutus and Tutsis. The insistence on identity cards displaying each person’s ethnic background further reinforced and institutionalised the racial ‘distinction’, and became a significant factor facilitating the identification of persons to be slaughtered during the Genocide in 1994. The system was later abolished, but only after thousands of people had lost their lives, many of whom were butchered at roadblocks set up solely to identify Tutsi civilians through their identity cards.

The evolution of the Tutsi population from favour to fatal targets began in the 1950s during the decolonisation process in Africa. The growth in Tutsi awareness of their privileged status and their consequent desire for independence caused a shift in allegiance by the Belgians and the influential Catholic Church, who began to favour the Hutu majority, raising their political awareness. These shifts led to the formation of the first political parties in Rwanda in the late 1950s, organised according to ethnic rather than ideological divisions, which directly led to severe political violence in 1959. The spiral of bloody attacks that followed ended only with the establishment of an autonomous provisional Government following elections which granted an overwhelming majority to Hutu parties. Independence was granted on 1 July 1962, with a Hutu President.

Over this period many hundreds of Tutsis, including the Tutsi monarchy, fled to neighbouring countries, in particular Uganda, from where they launched incursions into Rwanda. In 1963, around ten thousand Tutsi civilians in Rwanda were murdered in reprisal for such incursions. As yet more Tutsis fled the country, their land and jobs were redistributed to Hutus.

Juvenil Habyarimana was President of Rwanda during the signing of the Arusha Accords and until the plane crash on 6 April 1994 that killed him and the President of Burundi.Following the official declaration of Rwanda as a one-party State in the 1970s and after years of systematic discrimination, the Tutsi opposition had become increasingly radicalised. On 1 October 1990, Tutsi exiles in Uganda launched a significant attack into Rwanda under the name of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). The RPF also had an organised political wing, the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), as it confirmed its intention not only to launch incursions, but to eventually seek political representation in Rwanda. Faced with both internal and external international pressure, President Habyarimana was forced to the negotiating table. The negotiations led to the signing of the first Arusha Accords in 1992, which were followed by the signing of the final Arusha Accords in August 1993 ending the 1990 civil. However, sustained attacks by the RPF in the year following the first Accords had led to renewed ethnic polarisation in Rwanda, whilst clear divisions began to emerge between pro-Arusha ‘moderate’ Hutus and the Hutu Power extremists vehemently opposed to the Accords and any suggestion of handing over political power.

The Arusha Accords signed in 1993 had provided for the establishment of a Transitional Government to include the RPF, as well as provisions for consolidating the opposing armies and the deployment of UNAMIR in Rwanda to monitor the Accords. Nevertheless, despite the agreed provisions, tensions across ethnic lines and within the Hutu political parties remained high, and the assassination of political leaders as well as Tutsi civilians continued. During the period from February to April 1994, UNAMIR commander, Major-General Dallaire sent his well-known ‘Genocide fax’ to the UN, which, like his earlier warnings, was ignored by the world body.

The radio station, RTLM, had by now intensified its propaganda, inciting the Hutu population to exterminate the Tutsi inyenzi (‘cockroaches’). In the immediate aftermath of the attack on the President’s plane, responsibility for which remains disputed, the genocidal killings began. Starting with moderate Hutus (ethnic Hutus, but opposed to the extremist regime), such as Prime Minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana and President of the Constitutional Court, Joseph Kavaruganda, the génocidaires and their Interahamwe foot-soldiers put in motion a plan to create a political vacuum paving the way for the establishment of an Interim Government dominated by Hutu Power extremists. The plan then shifted to triggering the withdrawal of international forces from Rwanda, achieved by the execution of ten Belgian UN peacekeepers. The results were swift, and after Western countries evacuated their soldiers and expatriates, the path was clear for the extremists to begin the extermination of Tutsi civilians, led primarily by individuals including now-convicted génocidaire, Théoneste Bagosora.

The remaining UNAMIR soldiers in Rwanda were powerless to stop the resulting carnage, with the 100 days of slaughter only halted by RPF forces commanded by current Rwandan President, Paul Kagame.

The ICTR was established in 1994 by the UN Security Council to prosecute genocide and other violations of international humanitarian law.The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR)

On 8 November 1994, a little over seven months after the Genocide began, the guilt-ridden UN Security Council adopted Resolution 955 for the establishment of “an international tribunal for the prosecution of persons responsible for genocide and […] violations of international humanitarian law”. The Tribunal, which sits in Arusha, Tanzania, was created by the Security Council using its powers under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Until the prior establishment of a sister tribunal to prosecute crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia, such powers to institute ad hoc tribunals under Chapter VII had previously been unforeseen.

At the time of writing, the ICTR had completed the cases of 39 accused, with 7 cases on appeal, 23 accused on trial, 5 awaiting trial, and a further 13 still at large.

Significant (completed) cases

Twelve years after the first trial commenced in 1997, the Tribunal has prosecuted various significant cases both as legal proceedings in themselves and for the history of the Genocide.

From the outset, the policy of the Prosecutor has been to target those bearing the greatest responsibility for the Genocide, thus some of the most senior figures from Rwanda during April and July 1994 have appeared to answer for their alleged actions. The ICTR has tried a former Prime Minister, government ministers, local bourgmestres, as well as senior military commanders. Also of great significance is the contribution that the Tribunal has made through these cases to international criminal jurisprudence, especially the crime of ‘genocide’. Owing to the relative lack of jurisprudence in the fifty years following the signing of the 1948 Genocide Convention and the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials, as well as the relative paucity of cases charging genocide at the ICTY, the Rwanda Tribunal has been tasked with developing the law largely on its own. This has resulted in a significant corpus of both substantive and procedural jurisprudence concerning the international prosecution of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Some of the most important cases heard before the ICTR are briefly considered below:

Prime Minister, Jean Kambanda

Following the constitutional vacuum left after the assassination of many moderate Hutu politicians, the Hutu Jean Kambanda, head of the Interim Government from April until July 1994, pleaded guilty to genocide at the ICTR.Power extremists that seized power quickly established an Interim Government, headed by Jean Kambanda. The engineering graduate and former banker was sworn into office on 8 April 1994, just two days after the death of President Habyarimana. In this position, Kambanda exercised de jure and de facto authority and control over members of the Interim Government, senior civil servants, military officers and local government préfets. The ICTR found Kambanda criminally responsible by way of his direct participation in the commission of massacres and because of his failure to prevent or punish the perpetrators. Kambanda had distributed weapons, incited Hutus to commit massacres and supported RTLM radio propaganda, failing his duty to ensure the security of the Rwandan population during the Genocide.

In addition to being the first case heard before the ICTR, the case is significant for several reasons. Jean Kambanda became the first ever accused to plead guilty to genocide, with Trial Chamber I subsequently convicting him in September 1998 of six counts of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, complicity in genocide, as well as murder and extermination (crimes against humanity).5 The decision marked the first condemnation of genocide as an international crime since the Genocide Convention. More significantly, in pleading guilty, Kambanda acknowledged the existence and careful organisation of the Genocide, establishing that the atrocities were state-sponsored policy, not merely collateral damage from the civil war. Moreover, the case has its place as a milestone in the history of international criminal law as the first successful conviction of a head of government for his direct participation in genocide, further establishing the lack of immunity for heads of state and government. The decision has had a direct legal impact on later cases concerning immunity, forming a precedent for the UK House of Lords ruling in 1998 on the extradition of Pinochet and the indictment of Slobodan Milošević by the ICTY in 1999.

On 19 October 2000, the Appeals Chamber in The Hague rejected Kambanda’s appeal and confirmed his sentence to life imprisonment. Kambanda had claimed ineffective assistance of counsel, arguing that he wished to tell the truth and admit that he felt politically, but not criminally responsible, further insisting that he was not informed of the consequences of pleading guilty (imprisonment).

Jean-Paul Akayesu

The Akayesu judgment is regarded as one of the most legally significant in the Tribunal's history.As mayor of the Taba commune near Kigali, Jean-Paul Akayesu was responsible for maintaining law and public order, with control over the police and local gendarmes. More than 2,000 Tutsis were killed in his commune by the end of June 1994. After fleeing Rwanda following the advance of the RPF, Akayesu became the first indictee to be extradited to Arusha by an African state (Zambia). For his direct participation in acts of genocide and his responsibility as a superior, Akayesu was found guilty on 2 October 1998 of genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, as well as extermination, murder, torture, rape and other inhumane acts as crimes against humanity.

The conviction and sentence of Akayesu to life imprisonment marks the first time that the 1948 Genocide Convention was actively enforced and its provisions interpreted by an international tribunal. In its decision, the ICTR served to entrench the dolus specialis (special intent) that characterises the crime of genocide, largely through its pronouncement that ‘genocide’ does not require the actual extermination of the group in question. The decision also represents a landmark in the definition of ‘genocide’ with regard to rape. For the first time in international criminal law, the Trial Chamber considered rape to be a constitutive act of genocide when committed with the requisite dolus specialis. In interpreting the definition of ‘genocide’, the decision also establishes that “measures to prevent births” can include rape, expanding the understanding of such acts beyond the practice of sterilisation which informed the drafting process in 1948 after the Holocaust.

The legacy of the decision with regard to rape continues to influence the prosecution of international crimes today. Currently on trial at the ICTR in the ‘Butare Group’ case, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko not only became the first female indicted by the Tribunal, but is the first woman in the history of international criminal law to be indicted for charges of rape. Such cases have also played a part in ensuring that rape now attracts the condemnation it deserves. This can be seen by the declaration in June 2008 by the Security Council that rape constitutes a weapon of war, as well as the prominent place of rape in the charges against Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo before the International Criminal Court (ICC) and those against President al-Bashir of Sudan in the recently-issued warrant of arrest for alleged crimes committed in Darfur.

Front cover of Hutu extremist publication, 'Kangura' from 1993, referring to Tutsis as 'inyenzi' and carrying the picture of a machete.Ngeze, Nahimana and Barayagwiza: The “media trial”

During the 100-day slaughter, Hassan Ngeze, Ferdinand Nahimana and Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza were senior figures in the Rwandan media. Ngeze was a journalist and editor-in-chief of the Kangura newspaper - a Hutu Power publication, the print equivalent of RTLM and famed for its ‘Hutu Ten Commandments’ - who also called for the extermination of Tutsis during interviews on RTLM. Nahimana was a historian and one of the founders of RTLM who directed the station to broadcast messages inciting the massacre of Tutsis. Finally, Barayagwiza was a member of the comité d’initiative for RTLM and like Ngeze, was a founding member of the Coalition pour la défense de la République (CDR). The trials of the three men were heard together in the so-called ‘media case’.

On 3 December 2003, the ICTR found that the three men had conspired in a plan to exterminate the Tutsi civilian population in Rwanda, the components of which included the broadcasting of messages of ethnic hatred, inciting violence, training militias, distributing weapons and the preparation of lists of civilians to be killed. Ngeze and Nahimana were each found guilty of seven counts including genocide and sentenced to life imprisonment, while Barayagwiza was found guilty of nine counts and sentenced to 35 years. On appeal, each of the accused had their sentences reduced and several convictions, including some of genocide, quashed, but the Appeals Chamber upheld the convictions of Ngeze and Nahimana for inciting genocide through the Kangura publication and RTLM, as well as Barayagwiza’s conviction for instigating the perpetration of genocide.

In spite of the reversals on appeal, the case addressed important principles not considered by a tribunal since Nuremberg. Evoking memories of the Streicher trial, the ‘media case’ involved contemporary prosecution of media hatemongering. The findings of fact by the ICTR established the role that the media played in the Rwandan Genocide, which served to generate ethnic hatred through dehumanisation of the Tutsi population and led at least in part to the massacre of Tutsi civilians. According to the Trial Chamber, “if the downing of the [President’s] plane was the trigger, then RTLM, Kangura and CDR were the bullets in the gun.”6 Both the trial and appeals judgments also generated much debate concerning issues of freedom of the press and free speech.7

Land of a Thousand Hills; Land of a thousand perpetrators: The ongoing search for justice

Rwanda is known as the 'land of a thousand hills'.On 28 August 2003, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1503 calling on the ICTR to complete all of its work in 2010 and formulate a completion strategy for this purpose. In its first outline of the Completion Strategy in October 2003, then President of the Tribunal, Erik Mose, unequivocally stated the impossibility of achieving the Security Council’s target of completing all trials by 2008. In Resolution 1824 (2008), the Security Council subsequently extended the Tribunal’s mandate, and in March 2009 the Tribunal’s Registrar was re-appointed for a four-year term. According to the current President of the ICTR, Dennis Byron, the existing workload ensures a “difficult phase”8 ahead for the Tribunal.

As the ICTR strives to complete its work and try the remaining suspects, the cases currently being heard, those awaiting trial, and those of the suspects still at large concern various matters extremely significant to the events of 1994, considered below:

The (un)holy church

The influence of the Catholic Church in Rwanda, like many African countries, is very important, particularly following the beginnings of the decolonisation process. As explained, in Rwanda this influence played a role in the ‘Hutu Revolution’ during the 1950s, and remains today as an important institution in the lives of many Rwandans.9 During the Genocide, many civilians forced from their homes sought refuge in the sanctuary of churches and parish communes across Rwanda. However, as the conviction of pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana for genocide in 2003 demonstrates, many refugees found something other than sanctity awaiting them at these (un)holy sites.

Elizaphan Ntakirutimana became the first member of the clergy to be convicted of genocide, with the conviction of Emmanuel Rukundo in February 2009 the most recent. Besides these cases, judgments are currently awaited against Tharcisse Renzaho and other suspects accused of genocide and additional crimes for their actions at churches in Rwanda in 1994.

Thousands of civilians were killed after seeking refuge in churches across Rwanda.The ongoing proceedings against Hormisdas Nsengimana (a verdict which is expected soon) has heard evidence of how the Catholic priest not only began gathering weapons for the purpose of killing Tutsi civilians as far back as 1990, but following the April 6 plane crash led extremists in the search for Tutsis to be killed, supervised roadblocks and personally killed a fellow priest. Based on similar facts, not least the discovery of thousands of corpses near his parish, pastor, Jean-Bosco Uwinkindi is wanted by the Tribunal. Perhaps the most illustrative and well-known example of the church becoming the site for atrocities in Rwanda however, is the Nyange Parish massacre. During this incident, for which so far only Athanase Seromba has been found to bear at least partial responsibility, more than 2,000 Tutsi refugees were slaughtered when the parish was attacked, burned to the ground, then bulldozed. Former businessman, Gaspard Kanyarukiga, is awaiting trial to answer for his alleged role in the massacre, while two accused, Grégoire Ndahimana and Fulgence Kayishema, remain fugitives of the Tribunal wanted for their actions at Nyange.

The straw that broke the camel’s back: The withdrawal of the West

A significant event in the early stages of the Genocide was the carefully planned execution of ten Belgian UNAMIR peacekeepers on 7 April 1994 in the same sequence of events that led to the torture and assassination of Prime Minister Uwilingiyimana. Almost immediately the West evacuated their soldiers and expatriates, leaving not only a wholly inadequate UN force in Rwanda, but the space for over 800,000 civilians to be killed, in the knowledge that the West had no desire to intervene.

Currently ongoing at the ICTR are the trials of three accused in the joint ‘Military II’ case, Ndindiliyimana et al., suspected of bearing responsibility for the deaths of the ten peacekeepers who were “horribly killed and mutilated by an unleashed horde”10 of killers. A memorial and shrine to the murdered soldiers now marks the exact place where they were killed in the capital, Kigali, though for many the delivery of justice is the most appropriate way to mark their memory. Accordingly, commanders of the Reconnaissance Battalion of the Rwandan Army, François-Xavier Nzuwonemeye and Innocent Sagahutu are on trial in part for their responsibility as superiors of the soldiers who committed the assassinations. Former Chief of staff of the Gendarmerie nationale, Augustin Ndindiliyimana is also alleged to bear responsibility for the acts committed by forces under his control in the assassinations, whilst Ndindiliyimana is also on trial accused of frustrating the early attempts of UNAMIR commander, Roméo Dallaire, to investigate weapons caches before the genocidal violence began. Yet another accused allegedly bearing responsibility for the deaths of the ten peacekeepers, Protais Mpiranya, remains at large.

Theoneste Bagosora during his trial at the ICTR. Bagosora was convicted of genocide and sentenced to life imprisonment.Colonel Théoneste Bagosora

On 18 December 2008, Trial Chamber I of the ICTR convicted one of the chief masterminds of the Genocide, Théoneste Bagosora, of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced him to life imprisonment.11 Bagosora had assumed the highest authority in the Rwandan Ministry of Defence following the death of President Habyarimana, and was judged responsible for, among other acts, the organised killing of civilians by Interahamwe militias. According to their indictments, several of the accused currently on trial have specific links to Bagosora and themselves bear responsibility as ‘masterminds’ of the Genocide.

The trial of former officer in the Rwandan Army and Director of the Judicial Affairs Division of the Rwandan Ministry of Defence, Ephrem Setako, began in August 2008. The former Lieutenant-Colonel is charged with being a principal planner and executor of the Genocide. Further, with explicit links to Bagosora, a verdict is expected in 2009 in the ‘Government II’ trial of four co-accused in Bizimungu et al.. Specifically, Casimir Bizimungu and Prosper Mugiraneza as ministers in the Interim Government during the Genocide are accused of conspiring with Bagosora in working out a plan to exterminate the Tutsi population, which included recourse to hatred and ethnic violence, the training and distribution of weapons to Interahamwe militias, as well as the preparation of lists of persons to be exterminated. Perhaps more importantly, in the Ndindiliyimana et al. trial, former Chief of staff in the Rwandan Army, Augustin Bizimungu, is accused of participating in the plan conceived alongside Bagosora, as well as overseeing grotesque atrocities committed by his subordinates, including the cutting of foetuses from their mothers during the Genocide. According to a Human Rights Watch report,12 Bizimungu was promoted to his position by Théoneste Bagosora to replace another officer “deemed not rigorous enough in exterminating the Tutsi minority”.

A continuing “threat to international peace and security”

In Resolution 955 (1994) establishing the ICTR, the UN Security Council expressed concern that “the situation continues to constitute a threat to international peace and security”. Even today, 15 years after the Genocide, violent conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the instabilities of the Great Lakes region can largely be traced to the final days of the Genocide during which millions of Hutus fled the country faced with advancing RPF forces. Alongside innocent civilians, the mass exodus included many hundreds of génocidaires and Interahamwe militias fleeing over the border into Zaïre (now the DRC). The subsequent humanitarian policies implemented by international forces and the UN in many respects further exacerbated the problems by inadvertently providing As the RPF commanded by Paul Kagame advanced from the east, a mass exodus of Hutu civilians and perpetrators fled west into Zaire (now the DRC).protection for thousands of perpetrators of the Genocide. There were also strong accusations of crimes committed against Hutu civilians by the RPF. For these reasons, the major relief organisations eventually pulled out of Zaïre.

Following two previous invasions of its neighbour with the ostensible purpose of targeting the remaining perpetrators, Rwanda launched an operation in January 2009 alongside the government of the DRC to attack the Hutu rebels known as the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR). After fleeing Rwanda in July 1994, Augustin Bizimungu is alleged to have continued to command his Hutu troops, forming an army which was eventually integrated into the FDLR. Moreover, the trial of another suspect thought to have contributed to the violence in the DRC, Jean-Baptiste Gatete will soon commence before the ICTR, while another alleged collaborator with the FDLR, Callixte Nzabonimana awaits trial in Arusha following his arrest in Tanzania. Idelphonse Nizeyimana, a fugitive of the ICTR, is also suspected of being a current commander in the FDLR.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has also become indirectly seized of the matter, with the indictment of Bosco Ntaganda, unsealed in April 2008. Ntaganda, an ethnic Tutsi from Rwanda who fought with the RPF in overthrowing the genocidal regime, is accused of conscripting child soldiers in the Ituri conflict in north-eastern DRC for which Thomas Lubanga Dyilo is currently on trial. After leaving Ituri, Ntaganda joined the forces of another former RPF soldier, Laurent Nkunda, in the rebel group, Congrès national pour la défense du peuple (CNDP), which claims to fight on behalf of Congolese Tutsis. However, after Ntaganda claimed he had ousted Nkunda in the CNDP leadership, forces under Ntaganda’s control fought alongside the Congolese army in the joint military operations launched in January 2009 by the DRC and Rwanda to disarm the FDLR. In the course of the operations, Laurent Nkunda was also arrested by Rwandan forces and remains in their custody, though the Congolese Government in Kinshasa is pushing for his extradition to the DRC after issuing a warrant for his arrest in 2005 on war crimes charges. The matter is further complicated by accusations that Nkunda and his rebels were backed by Rwanda.

The national jurisdiction of Rwanda

The District Court of The Hague is one of only a few national courts to have tried Rwandan suspects, convicting Joseph Mpambara of torture.The adoption in 1996 of the Rwandan ‘Organic Law on the Organization of Prosecutions for Offenses Constituting the Crime of Genocide or Crimes Against Humanity Committed Since October 1, 1990’, and the abolition of the death penalty in Rwanda in July 2007, raised expectations that the national jurisdiction of Rwanda would not only concurrently prosecute suspected génocidaires, but ease the workload of the ICTR by receiving referrals from the UN Tribunal. The Prosecutor at the ICTR has also sought to concentrate on prosecuting the most senior accused by attempting to refer lower rank, intermediate officials to national jurisdictions, with the Tribunal’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence amended by judges to allow for such referrals. As yet however, this plan to refer cases to national jurisdictions has faced legal obstacles.

The Prosecutor has so far made five requests for referral of cases to the Rwandan national jurisdiction, including the case of Idelphonse Hategekimana which recently commenced at the ICTR. As well as Hategekimana, the requests for referral of three accused awaiting trial, Gaspard Kanyarukiga, Yussuf Munyakazi and Jean-Baptiste Gatete, and one fugitive, Fulgence Kayishema, were all unanimously rejected by the ICTR citing fair trial concerns and risks that the accused may be sentenced to life imprisonment in isolation, in violation of their right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Despite claims that in doing so the judges were threatening the Completion Strategy of the Tribunal, the decisions against referral were upheld on appeal.13

In the first case involving the referral of an accused to a national jurisdiction other than Rwanda, the ICTR denied the request of the Prosecutor to transfer the case of Michel Bagaragaza to Norway since Norwegian law contained no specific genocide provision. A second request to refer the case to the Netherlands was accepted in April 2007, but later revoked owing to concerns over the prosecution of genocide in the Dutch courts. The decision to revoke the referral came less than a month after the Hague District Court declared itself incompetent to prosecute genocide in the case of Joseph Mpambara, a Rwandan arrested in the Netherlands after applying for asylum, and convicted by the same court on 23 March 2009 for torture – but not genocide.14 Bagaragaza was thus transferred back to Arusha in May 2008.

Felcien Kabuga, alleged financier of the Genocide remains at large, suspected of residing in Nairobi, Kenya.The remaining gaps in the search for justice

In March 2009, UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon called for cooperation in the arrest of the remaining fugitives of the ICTR. The call reiterated the demand made by the UN Security Council in Resolution 1503 (2003) for cooperation from states including Kenya and the DRC in the arrest of the remaining 13 indictees still at large. Moreover, in the same month in 2009, the Prosecutor at the ICTR, Hassan Jallow, deplored Kenya as the “biggest obstacle”15 to the Tribunal’s work.

The comments of Mr Jallow demonstrate the frustration of the ICTR that one of its main suspects remains at large, suspected of residing in Nairobi, Kenya. Félicien Kabuga, believed to be the chief financier of the entire genocidal campaign in Rwanda, has a reward of several million US dollars on his head as part of the US State Department’s ‘Rewards for Justice’ campaign to bring wanted criminals and suspected terrorists to justice. Nevertheless, the wealthy businessman and former RTLM president, believed to be responsible for the importation of the infamous machetes used to devastating effect during the Genocide, continues to evade justice. Kabuga, whose assets were frozen by Kenya in 2008, is also believed to have acted as mentor to Augustin Bizimungu, facilitating his ascent to becoming one of the chief architects of the violence in 1994.

Another suspect who remains at large, Protais Mpiranya, is also accused of helping to finance the mass slaughter in Rwanda. Similar to Kabuga, reports in 2008 suggested that Mpiranya was being sheltered in Zimbabwe with allegations that he had business links to President Robert Mugabe.

Finally, alongside Félicien Kabuga, Augustin Bizimana is one of the most wanted fugitives of the ICTR and the most senior figure still at large. Formerly the Minister of Defence in the Interim Government exercising authority over the Rwandan Armed Forces, Bizimana is accused of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, complicity in genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, serious violations of Common Article 3 and Additional Protocol II, as well as murder, extermination, rape and persecution as crimes against humanity. Bizimana is also subject of a $5 million bounty as part of the ‘Rewards for Justice’ campaign.


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*David Taylor is an Editor at the Hague Justice Portal and a Junior Researcher at the Centre for Conflict Studies, Utrecht University. He holds an LL.B (first class with honours) in Law and Criminology from Cardiff University, United Kingdom, and an LL.M (summa cum laude) in the International and European Protection of Human Rights from Utrecht University, the Netherlands.

1 UN SC Resolution 955 (1994).

2 Prosecutor v. Akayesu, Trial Chamber Judgment, ICTR-96-4-T, 2 September 1998, para. 118.

3 H. Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, New edition (1994).

4 Prosecutor v. Akayesu, Trial Chamber Judgment, ICTR-96-4-T, 2 September 1998, para. 115.

5 Prosecutor v. Kambanda, Trial Chamber Judgment, ICTR-97-23-S, 4 September 1998.

6 Prosecutor v. Nahimana, Barayagwiza and Ngeze, Trial Chamber Judgment, ICTR-99-52-T, 3 December 2003, para. 953.

8 Report on the Completion Strategy of the ICTR, annexed to a letter dated 21 November 2008 from the ICTR President to SC President (S/2008/726), para. 65.

9 Immediately after the Genocide a distinct increase was observed in the number of Rwandan Muslims, which has been attributed to various causal factors including the loss of faith in Christianity following the events of 1994. See for example A. Kubai, Walking a Tightrope: Christians and Muslims in Post-Genocide Rwanda 18 (2) Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 219 (2007); M. Lacey, Ten Years After Horror, Rwandans Turn to Islam, The New York Times, 7 April 2004.

10 Prosecutor v. Bizimungu, Ndindiliyimana, Nzuwonemeye and Sagahutu, Indictment, ICTR-00-56-I, 23 August 2004, para. 105.

11 Prosecutor v. Bagosora, Kabiligi, Ntabakuze and Nsengiyumva, Trial Chamber Judgment, ICTR-98-41-T, 18 December 2008.

12 Human Rights Watch, Rwanda: Top Genocidaire Arrest an “Important Step”, 14 August 2002,

13 Prosecutor v. Munyakazi, Decision on the Prosecution’s Appeal Against Decision on Referral Under Rule 11bis, ICTR-97-36-R11bis, 8 October 2008. Prosecutor v. Kanyarukiga, Decision on the Prosecution’s Appeal Against Decision on Referral Under Rule 11bis, ICTR-2002-78-R11bis, 30 October 2008. Prosecutor v. Hategekimana, Decision on the Prosecution’s Appeal Against Decision on Referral Under Rule 11bis, ICTR-00-55B-R11bis, 4 December 2008.

14 ‘Dutch Court finds Rwandan Militiaman guilty of torture’ Hague Justice Portal, 23 March 2009. <>.

15 Radio Netherlands Worldwide, Rwanda tribunal steps up pressure to arrest genocide financier, 10 March 2009,

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International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR)

Tribunal pénal international pour le Rwanda (TPIR)

Related new items / Informations complémentaires

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External links / Liens externes

UN SC Resolution 955 (1994) (establishing the ICTR)

Résolution 955 (1994) (création du TPIR)

8 November 1994

UN SC Resolution 1503 (2003) (completion strategy)

Résolution 1503 (2003) (la stratégie d'achèvement)

28 August 2003

Resolution 1824 (2008)

Résolution 1824 (2008)

18 July 2008 

Commentaries / Commentaires

Committing Genocide by Integral-Part Participation: The ICTR Appeals Chamber judgement in Prosecutor v. Seromba

« Commettre » le génocide par des actes qualifiés de « partie intégrante » du crime : l'arrêt du TPIR dans l'affaire Seromba

Gregory Townsend

The "Media case" before the Rwanda Tribunal: The Nahimana et al. Appeal Judgement

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Sophia Kagan

The Appeals Judgement in the Aloys Simba case

Le jugement en appel d'Aloys Simba

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Rwanda's Unanswered Screams: Still seeking justice after the Seromba trial

Les cris ignorés du Rwanda : la quête de justice continue après le procès Seromba


Research files / Dossiers de recherce

Jean Kambanda

Jean-Paul Akayesu

The 'Butare Group’ case (Nyiramasuhuko et al.):

Pauline Nyiramasuhuko

Arsène Shalom Ntahobali

Sylvain Nsabimana

Joseph Kanyabashi

Elie Ndayambaje

Alphonse Nteziryayo

The “media trial” (Nahimana et al.):

Hassan Ngeze

Ferdinand Nahimana

Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza

The (un)holy church:

Elizaphan Ntakirutimana

Emmanuel Rukundo

Tharcisse Renzaho

Hormisdas Nsengimana

Athanase Seromba

Gaspard Kanyarukiga

The ‘Military II’ case (Ndindiliyimana et al.):

Augustin Ndindiliyimana

Augustin Bizimungu

François-Xavier Nzuwonemeye

Innocent Sagahutu

Théoneste Bagosora

Ephrem Setako

The ‘Government II’ case (Bizimungu et al.):

Casimir Bizimungu

Prosper Mugiraneza

Justin Mugenzi

Jérôme Bicamumpaka

A continuing “threat to international peace and security”:

Jean-Baptiste Gatete

Callixte Nzabonimana

Yussuf Munyakazi

International Criminal Court / Cour pénale internationale

The ICC: Situation in the DRC

La CPI: Situation en RDC

Bosco Ntaganda

Thomas Lubanga Dyilo

Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo

The national jurisdiction of Rwanda:

Idelphonse Hategekimana

Gaspard Kanyarukiga

Yussuf Munyakazi

Jean-Baptiste Gatete

Fulgence Kayishema

Domestic cases in the Netherlands (on the DomCLIC project):

Michel Bagaragaza

Joseph Mpambara

Félicien Kabuga

International Court of Justice / Cour internationale de Justice

Armed Activities on the territory of the Congo (DRC v. Rwanda)

Armed Activities on the territory of the Congo (DRC v. Uganda)


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Augustin Bizimana

Jean-Bosco Uwinkindi

Grégoire Ndahimana

Fulgence Kayishema

Protais Mpiranya

Idelphonse Nizeyimana