We will bring Burundian genocide suspects to book, however long it takes: Ibuka

Friday September 18 2015

Charles Habonimana, the president of GAERG, an association of student genocide survivors, pays tribute to victims of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. PHOTO | DANIEL S NTWARI

After many years of delayed justice, Rwandan survivors of the Genocide against the Tutsi might soon have an answer after the national prosecution office showed willingness to pursue Burundians who committed genocide crimes in Rwanda in 1994.

Most of the Burundian suspects were refugees in Rwanda from 1989 and others reportedly crossed the border during the 1994 genocide and engaged in the atrocities, according to testimonies of survivors.

In the judicial proceedings in the traditional Gacaca courts, which commenced in 1997 and handled many cases of genocide crimes in Rwanda, names of some Burundi nationals have popped up in testimonies of survivors, especially in the districts of Kamonyi, Ruhango, Bugesera and Ngoma, which are on the Burundi border.

The Burundian suspects are said to have worked with youth militias, called Interahamwe, sponsored by the then government to stage and orchestrate some of the killings that left more than a million Rwandans dead.

Working with the Interahamwe, the Burundians are said to have killed more than 60,000 people in Ntongwe sector of Ruhango alone.

The suspects include Khadaffi Nzeyimana, Jean Pascal Ntirandekura and a Mukeribirori, who are notably mentioned in Ntongwe, while in other districts, such as Ngoma, residents say they have the names and locations of the suspects.


Jean Bosco Siboyintore, the head of the Genocide Fugitive Tracking Unit (GFTU) at the National Public Prosecution Authority, says the unit cannot proceed with investigations or prosecution unless there is sufficient information about the crimes, including particulars of the suspects, and concrete evidence pinning the suspects so as to have a watertight case against them.

“We are ready to start doing our job. We have already set aside 12 investigators and seven prosecutors for this job but we cannot start unless the requirements of a proper judicial case are fulfilled.”

READ: Justice, survival elusive 19 years after genocide

Some genocide survivors in the places where the alleged crimes were committed say that they have information on some of the Burundian suspects and most of them returned to their country and are in leadership positions.

“The Burundian refugees must have been registered somehow,” a Dusengiyumva said. “These files can be used to pursue the criminals whom we have mentioned in the gacaca courts.

“We ask that the government does it part in bringing them to justice.”

Mr Siboyintore added that the names are not enough; the genocide survivors’ advocacy groups need to do more in relation to the allegations.

“We need the survivor’s groups to facilitate us to identify the said people,” Mr Siboyintore said. “We cannot just go to Burundi and look for people by names.

“We need exact information on these people ­– what they did, where they are and doing now.”

The Rwanda prosecution office says that bringing foreign suspects to book may not be that easy since some of them were refugees while others who were not have since returned to the home countries.

Mr Siboyintore said that the Prosecution will have to work with genocide survivors’ advocacy groups such as the umbrella association for genocide survivor organisations in Rwanda, Ibuka, to gather evidence and information on the whereabouts of the suspects.

Requires procedures

He nonetheless said the process still requires some procedures to be followed. For example, the government has been asking for some genocide suspects to be extradited to Rwanda to face justice but some countries have preferred to keep the suspects, charge them in their host countries and sometimes let them walk free.

Such actions have seen Rwanda’s relations with some of the countries where genocide suspects have been released over excuses of differences in judicial procedures and guidelines become sour.

May hit a dead end

Judicial experts say the pursuit of the Burundian genocide suspects may hit a dead end as the two countries do not have an extradition treaty of genocide suspects and that if Rwanda pushes for this cause it may result in political tension.

Rwanda and Burundi are also yet to clear the political air on the Burundian refugee crisis in Rwanda with Bujumbura accusing Kigali of backing groups opposed to President Pierre Nkurunziza, an allegation that is strongly denied by President Paul Kagame’s government.

Naphtal Ahishakiye, the executive secretary of Ibuka, has claimed that the Burundian genocide suspects are in Burundi and have since changed their names to disguise their identities.

“We are now gathering full information and details of the suspects, but there is no support from the Burundian government to identify these suspects,” Mr Ahishakiye said, adding that the Burundian government has data on the alleged suspects.

Mr Ahishakiye said he was confident that justice will be served, however long that will take, and that the association was encouraging individuals and groups to start filling official complaints to the national prosecution office.

“We know it will be possible because there are witnesses where these suspects lived in Rwanda,” he said. “Even if they have changed their names, we will find them if Burundi’s justice system comes on board to help.”