Fulgence Kayishema's arrest and thawing Kigali-Pretoria relations

Saturday May 27 2023

Fulgence Kayishema, one of the last fugitives sought for their role in the 1994 Rwanda genocide, sits in a magistrate court in Cape Town, South Africa on May 26, 2023. PHOTO | RODGER BOSCH | AFP


Fulgence Kayishema, one of the world’s most wanted genocide fugitives arrested in Paarl, South Africa, is expected to be extradited to Rwanda.

Kayishema was arrested in a joint operation between the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) Office of the Prosecutor Fugitive Tracking Team and South African authorities on Wednesday. He was arraigned on Friday in Cape Town.

Kayishema is one of the four remaining fugitives indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), who according to the UN Security Council Resolution 2637 adopted on June 22, 2022, are to be tried by Kigali.

The arrest of Kayishema is a major victory for Serge Brammertz, IRMCT chief prosecutor, whose mandate was renewed for two years from July 1, 2022, until June 30, 2024.

But the arrest is expected to test relations between Rwanda and South Africa, which have been poor over the last decade due to political disagreements over operations of exiled Rwandan dissents in South Africa.

In 2021, Brammertz cited lack of political will in East and Southern Africa as a major hindrance to his work. He pointed out that despite his office providing evidence of some fugitives’ whereabouts, no arrests had been made.


Specifically, Brammertz told the UN that his office still faced “immense challenges over the last three years in obtaining cooperation”, citing South Africa's failure to arrest Kayishema, one the most wanted fugitives.

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“Relying on records and sources, my office concluded in early 2018 that Kayishema was living in Cape Town, South Africa. This was confirmed by South Africa via Interpol in August 2018,” said Brammertz.

In his latest statement issued on Thursday following the arrest, Brammertz said the arrest was made possible through the support and cooperation of the Republic of South Africa and the Operational Task Team established by President Cyril Ramaphosa to assist the Fugitive Tracking Team.

Now, South Africa will either extradite Kayishema to Rwanda or hold the trial. There is no extradition treaty between Rwanda and South Africa, though.

Rwanda remains frustrated that no African country has prosecuted genocide fugitives despite 785 of them residing on the continent, mostly in East and Southern Africa.

The latest arrest means there are now just three of the most wanted fugitives indicted by the Arusha-based genocide crimes court.
Those at large are Pheneas Munyarugarama, Aloys Ndimbati Ryandikayo and Charles Sikubwabo.

Fulgence Kayishema was a fugitive for more than 20 years, indicted for murdering more than 2,000 men, women, elderly and children's refugees at the Nyange Church in Kivumu Commune on April 15, 1994. He directly participated in the planning and execution of this massacre, including using a bulldozer to demolish the church, burying refugees in the rubble.

Read: Act on genocide fugitives, lobbies tell states

They then supervised the transfer of corpses from the church grounds into mass graves over the next two days.

“My office would like to recognise in particular the Directorate of Priority Crimes Investigations, Crime Intelligence Western Cape Province, SAPS Interpol and the Ministry of Home Affairs. Their exceptional skills, rigour and cooperation were critical for this success,” he said, adding that his office also received vital support from the Kingdom of Eswatini and Mozambique.

“Genocide is the most serious crime known to humankind. The international community has committed to ensure that its perpetrators will be prosecuted and punished. This arrest is a tangible demonstration that this commitment does not fade, and that justice will be done, no matter how long it takes,” said Brammertz in a statement issued on Thursday.

Kayishema was indicted by the ICTR in 2001 and charged with genocide, complicity in genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, and crimes against humanity for killings and other crimes committed in Kivumu Commune, Kibuye Prefecture during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.