Exclusive – Rwanda: Niger expels former génocidaires

By Jeune Afrique
Posted on Thursday, 30 December 2021 17:13

Rwanda Genocide Anniversary
Family photographs of some of those who died hang in a display in the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali, Rwanda Saturday, April 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

A month and a half ago, in agreement with the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, Niger had agreed to accept eight Rwandan nationals convicted for their role in the 1994 genocide or acquitted by the ICTR. But a few days ago, a ministerial decree formalised their definitive expulsion from Niger.

These men are not nobodies. Some of them have left their names, written in blood, in the history of the genocide perpetrated against the Tutsis between April and July 1994. While some were acquitted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), others, convicted for their participation in the genocide have since served their sentences.

In an order dated 27 December, which we were able to consult, Niger’s Minister of the Interior and Decentralization, Hamadou Adamou Souley, ordered their expulsion from the national territory within seven days of notification. The people targeted by this text are senior officials, civilian or military, of the regime that oversaw the genocide against the Tutsis.

Protais Zigiranyirazo, brother of Agathe Habyarimana – the widow of the president assassinated on 6 April 1994 – was sentenced by the ICTR to 20 years in prison in 2008 before being acquitted the following year. Alphonse Nteziryayo, former head of the Rwandan military police and also the prefect of Butare (southern Rwanda) during the last weeks of the genocide, was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Lieutenant-Colonel Anatole Nsengiyumva, who was sentenced to life imprisonment at first instance in 2008, had his sentence reduced to 15 years in prison on appeal in December 2011. The same sentence was handed down in 2010 against Lieutenant-Colonel Tharcisse Muvunyi, former commander of the Rwanda Non-Commissioned Officers School, and confirmed on appeal in 2011. Innocent Sagahutu, the former second-in-command of the Reconnaissance Battalion (RECCE), was sentenced to 20 years in prison – a term reduced to 15 years on appeal.

This is a negotiation between the United Nations and the government of Niger in which the Rwandan government was not involved.

Major François-Xavier Nzuwonemeye, former commander of the reconnaissance battalion of the former Forces Armées Rwandaises (FAR), was acquitted on appeal. André Ntagerura, former minister of transport and communications in the genocidal government, was acquitted. Prosper Mugiraneza, former minister of public service, was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment before being acquitted on appeal in 2013.

Jérôme Bicamumpaka, former minister of foreign affairs in the Rwandan Interim Government (GIR), which coordinated the genocide in 1994, was acquitted in the first instance and on appeal. While he is mentioned in the agreement between the International Mechanism (which is called upon to exercise functions of criminal tribunals such as the ICTR) and the Republic of Niger, his name does not appear in the expulsion order. According to our information, he is undergoing medical treatment in Nairobi, Kenya, and has declined the Nigerien offer of asylum.

Ignorance

What were these people doing in Niger? Between Kigali and Niamey, the case is delicate to untangle. On both sides, they plead ignorance. In Rwanda, an official source sums up the situation as follows: “This is a negotiation between the United Nations and the government of Niger in which the Rwandan government was not involved”. In other words, Rwanda discovered this offer of asylum after the fact without having been able to express its reservations.

But on the Niger side, according to a government source we interviewed, the UN had assured Niamey that Rwanda would not make a problem of it. However, after the arrival of those concerned in the country, Kigali expressed its dissatisfaction. “We consider the UN to have misled us. It is now up to the UN to find them a place to stay,” said a Nigerian official.

A good Rwandan expert on these sensitive legal cases shares his views with us: “The question of personalities acquitted by the ICTR has always been a thorny problem for the ICTR. Some acquittals were pronounced a long time ago, such as that of André Ntagerura, but the individuals concerned were unable to obtain the approval of a host country because of their past responsibilities. Those who could join their families – in Belgium in particular – are an exception.

In Kigali, people say they are surprised by the negotiations between Niger and the UN without the knowledge – it is claimed – of the Rwandan authorities. “I don’t know how this story was negotiated with Niger or who decided to take them all in,” said a diplomatic source.

On 13 December , Rwanda’s ambassador to the UN, Valentine Rugwabiza, sent an official communication to the Republic of Niger. After insisting on the need to begin the trial of Félicien Kabuga, the “financier of the genocide,” arrested in the Paris suburbs in May 2020, and on the need for international cooperation to apprehend the génocidaires still sought by justice, the diplomat came to the facts.

‘Rwanda is surprised’

“We take note that these nine Rwandan nationals [she included Jérôme Bicamumpaka in her count] have been transferred to Niger. Rwanda is surprised that it was not notified either by the residual mechanism of the International Criminal Tribunals [which replaced the ICTR since 2016] or by the State of Niger. We hope that Niger will take the necessary steps to ensure that none of them will use its territory to conduct subversive activities that could contribute to insecurity and instability in the Great Lakes region, as we have seen over the past decades. Indeed, there is judicial evidence that some of them conducted such activities, even after their acquittal by the ex-TPIR”, said Rugwabiza.

We were able to consult the agreement reached on 15 November 2021, between Aboubacar Tambedou, the clerk of the International Mechanism called to perform the residual functions of the criminal courts, and Niger’s Hassoumi Massoudou, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation.

In this 11-article agreement, the Republic of Niger committed to “ensure the resettlement of the [nine] persons, released or acquitted on the territory of the Republic of Niger. The costs incurred by the Mechanism and the obligations of the Rwandans concerned are also covered by the text. But this text will be long-lasting…

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