26 September 2017

Rwanda: Swedish Judges Arrive to Hear Testimonies in Genocide Trial

Photo: The New Times
Mourners at Nyabarongo River in Muhanga District last year, commemorating the victims thrown in the river during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Swedish judges are in the country to gather evidence in a case of a Rwandan Genocide suspect whose trial is due to start tomorrow in Stockholm.

Two judges arrived in Kigali on Sunday - with four more expected later - to listen to witnesses in the trial of Theodore Rukeratabaro, 49, a Genocide suspect living in the European country.

According to the National Public Prosecution Authority (NPPA), the judges will today begin hearing witness testimonies - via video link - at the Supreme Court in Kigali.

Survivors of the Genocide who grew up with the suspect have told The New Times that he altered his last name to Tabaro, a short version now carried in foreign media reports, to evade justice.

According to NPPA spokesperson Faustin Nkusi, the suspect is charged with Genocide and crimes against humanity.

Nkusi said: "Rwanda sent his indictment to Sweden on September 12, 2014. He committed the crimes in Rusizi District. We now have a team of judges and prosecutors from Stockholm who have come here to listen to witnesses. The video link is useful because of the difficulty involved in transporting witnesses."

Sweden cannot extradite the suspect since he is now a Swedish citizen.

However, he will face trial in a special Stockholm court for his alleged role in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi- murder, attempted murder, rapes and kidnappings against the Tutsi.

The alleged crimes took place between April and May, 1994, mainly in the present Winteko Sector of Rusizi District, former Cyimbogo Commune.

No ordinary suspect

Survivors of the Winteko pogroms told The New Times that Rukeratabaro is no ordinary suspect as he was a mastermind of the Genocide in the area.

Egide Mutabazi, 41, a survivor who lost five relatives, including his father, said the suspect was someone they played and went to school with and knew well.

"The world needs to know that Rukeratabaro was a Genocide mastermind in our area who sensitised the youth and mobilised them to kill people. He was a powerful gendarme (paramilitary police). My elder sister was mutilated and is now crippled," Mutabazi said, noting that the suspect directly participated in the killings.

"The youth at the time complied with his directives as he was a gendarme. In the entire Winteko, he was the only gendarme, a very respected officer. He turned on the people he was supposed to protect and killed them, many after torture. Many survivors are now living with disabilities, others are orphans and widows. He deserves the maximum sentence."

The Tutsi at Winteko did their best to defend themselves but because of Rukeratabaro's influence, they were overpowered.

"In early April, on a Saturday, the Interahamwe attacked a settlement. People used stones to ward off the attackers. Unfortunately, in the evening, the attackers returned with reinforcements and firearms from gendarmes.

"Rukeratabaro led the attack himself. Grenades were hurled on defenceless people. Bullets were fired. Many, including the elderly, women and young children who couldn't run, died instantly."

On that same day, Mutabazi recalls, Rukeratabaro detained a prominent Tutsi businessman, Jean Marie Vianney Rudasumbwa, whom he accused of having relatives in the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA), which was then battling the genocidal regime.

The mob pulled the man by the legs, head on the ground, for more than a kilometre to Rukeratabaro's bar, a place where meetings to plan killings were often held. It is alleged that after further torture, Rukeratabaro personally killed the man with a bayonet.

Days later, hundreds of Tutsi from several localities fled to Nyakanyinya Primary School. Here, too, survivors recall, it is Rukeratabaro who led attacks where nearly all were killed in cold blood.

The Mibilizi attack

When widespread killings started in April 1994, thousands of Tutsi fled to Mibilizi Catholic Church in the region hoping to be safe. Today, more than 8,000 victims' remains are buried in a memorial site constructed outside the church.

Antoine Uwumuremyi, 44, who lost his father, Albert Senuma, says Rukeratabaro led all the attacks to the Mibilizi Catholic Church parish where more than 10,000 people perished.

"He came hunting for my father who they had labeled a rebel spy in the early 1990s. People who participated in these attacks later told us," Uwumuremyi told The New Times last week.

"After killing my father, Rukeratabaro brought proof; my father's watch, jacket, glasses and shoes, to show my mother and sister. He brought them to prove that he had seen my father. It was psychological torture. After killing my father, they launched no more attacks at Mibilizi because, to them, their job was done."

Uwumuremyi recalls that women and girls would be gathered in a house where they would be "tortured and raped every day," under Rukeratabaro's approval.

Kamarampaka stadium killing ground

Other attacks that Uwumuremyi recalls were launched at the area's stadium (Kamarampaka), which was at the time turned into a killing ground by Interahamwe militia and Rukeratabaro. Uwumuremyi spent about a month in the stadium.

In days that followed, the Tutsi were tricked into leaving the church and moved to the stadium where they were promised protection. However, on a regular basis, men and boys would be taken away by soldiers and militiamen, to meet their death outside the stadium.

In the stadium, Uwumuremyi recalls that Rukeratabaro and his henchmen would draw lists of people to be killed.

"They took my older brother, Vincent Tugirimana, and a cousin, Damascene. And many other people who they would kill at a place called Gatandara. We heard horrific tales of cannibalism about this place." Uwumuremyi said. "At this place, the killers often butchered people, removed their hearts, roasted and ate them."

Rukeratabaro, who reportedly arrived in Sweden in 1998 and became a citizen in 2006, was arrested at his home in Orebro, about 160 kilometres west of Stockholm, in October 2016.

In 2014 and 2016, Swedish courts convicted two other naturalised Rwandan Genocide suspects Stanislas Mbanenande and Claver Berinkidi, sentencing them to life in prison.

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