Niger, UN bicker over Rwandan ex-genocide detainees

Friday January 07 2022
Gatwaro Genocide Memorial in Kibuye

A general view of the Gatwaro Genocide Memorial in Kibuye, western Rwanda. FILE PHOTO | AFP

By Johnson Kanamugire

The fate of eight Rwandan nationals who were released or acquitted by the UN tribunal for genocide crimes recently expelled by Niger hangs in the balance after parties came at loggerheads over their controversial relocation from Tanzania.

While Rwanda finds their repatriation to a third country unjustified and Niger, which took them in, moved to expel them over diplomatic reasons, the UN’s International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) condemned Niger’s actions.

Judge for the Arusha Branch of the IRMCT, Joseph E. Chiondo Masanche, on orders from IRMCT President Carmel Agius, asked Niger “to stay the expulsion order and to allow the relocated persons to remain on its territory in accordance with the terms of the agreement pending the final adjudication of this matter” in a letter to authorities of the Niger government dated December 31. 

In response, Niger accepted to reverse the decision for 30 days as the UN continues to search another host country.

Parties had equally agreed that the group stay in Niger for at least one year following relocation with financial assistance from the IRMCT.

“The problem is in the decision making mechanism of the UN and its agencies because this move effectively renders these people stateless or refugees, and for that to happen there is need to clearly define the threat they face,” argues Athanase Rutabingwa, a Rwandan based lawyer and advocate at former International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).


“The mechanism had powers to impose conditions on Rwanda regarding their repatriation and stay in the country, or demand Rwanda to give assurance about their safety if their concerns are backed up by facts. However, I doubt any of these happened. It is just the UN mode of operations that needs overhaul.” 

While Rwanda formally complained about the UN deal with Niger, officials have not indicated whether the government is engaged with either on the matter.

Officials maintain, however, that the concerned individuals are welcome to return to the country.

The UN court last week accused Niger of violation of both the spirit and the content of the agreement that paved the way to their relocation from the Arusha-based Safe House where they had spent 17 years.

The mechanism expressed concerns that the expulsion order would cause prejudice to the fundamental rights of the relocated persons.

Details of the agreement shared by the court show Niger had accepted the relocation within its territory of eight Rwandan nationals who were acquitted or are ex-convicts for the role in the genocide committed against the Tutsi in 1994.

The country also committed to granting them permanent residence status, including issuing them identification documents within three months of their entry on its territory.

The mechanism reports that the group, made of former senior military and government officials in the former President Juvenal Habyarimana’s government, were afraid to return to Rwanda.

They were relocated to Niger on December 5 where they were served with expulsion orders weeks later on December 27.

Through their legal counsels, a section of them had filed motions seeking an order from the Mechanism to Niger, “to permit the continued presence on the country’s territory until an arrangement is made for their relocation to another safe State or until the expulsion order is reversed.”

Others requested that the Mechanism issue an order to Niger not to expel them to any country and provide them with the necessary assistance to be relocated to a safe country.

The group include former military intelligence, chief Anatole Nsengiyumva, former army officers Innocent Sagahutu and Tharcisse Muvunyi, as well as former commanding officer of the military Police Alphonse Nteziryayo who are all ex-convicts.

Former civil service, and transport minister Prosper Mugiraneza and Andre Ntagerura respectively were acquitted by ICTR, alongside Francois Xavier Nzuwonemeye, former military commander, and Protais Zigiranyirazo, former businessman and politician.