Rwanda: Will South Africa Arrest Genocide Fugitive Mpiranya?

Photo: Wikipedia
This wanted poster shows Protais Mpiranya - bottom row, second from right - a former Rwandan army official, who is accused of taking part in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis (file photo).
analysis

Genocide survivors will be looking to South Africa to arrest and hand over one of the most wanted fugitives responsible for the Genocide against the Tutsi, so he is brought to book.

It all started last week with Serge Brammertz, the Chief Prosecutor of the Residual Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (RMICT) complaining to the UN Security Council about the lack of cooperation from some countries in arresting Genocide fugitives that remain at large.

The Mechanism took over from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) which closed shop in 2015, having been established by the UN to try masterminds of the Genocide against the Tutsi.

On Wednesday last week, Brammertz told the UN Security Council that his office has approached a number of Member States, including South Africa, seeking cooperation to have fugitives apprehended but this has not been forthcoming.

He did not mention which suspect was in South Africa.

However, it turns out that its Protais Mpiranya, one of the three most wanted fugitives who have been dubbed the 'Big Fish' by the UN court, owing to their critical role in the Genocide in which over a million people died.

The two other 'Big Fish' who remain on the run are former businessman Felicien Kabuga, the alleged financier of the Genocide and Augustin Bizimana, the former Minister of Defence.

Seven other suspects indicted by the tribunal but remain at large were referred to Rwanda as part of the court's completion strategy.

Mpiranya was the commandant of the notorious presidential guards, known for their viciousness in killing people during the Genocide.

South Africa, it was reported in the media, "took note of" the request by the Prosecutor, according to their Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO).

"South Africa expresses its gratitude to the prosecutor and for the commendable work of the IRMCT and reaffirms that it takes its international obligations seriously," DIRCO spokesperson Clayson Monyela told the media.

He, however, said that South Africa has encountered "certain challenges" in effecting the request by the UN Prosecutor, but did not divulge such challenges.

Like the two other 'Big Fish', if Mpiranya was to be apprehended today, he would be handed over to MICT based in Arusha, Tanzania.

It, however, remains uncertain whether the government of South Africa will cooperate with the UN Court to bring him to book.

Mpiranya was a Major in the ex-Rwandan armed forces.

He commanded the Presidential Guard, an elite unit believed to have taken immediate charge after the death of former President Juvenal Habyarimana on the night of April 6, 1994, and is blamed for the slaughter of top politicians as the Genocide unfolded.

Among the politicians killed was then Prime Minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, and her security detail of 10 Belgian peacekeepers, slaughtered a few hours after the downing of Habyarimana's plane blamed on extremist elements within his party and military.

The attack on the former premier's home is said to have been led by Mpiranya himself.

25 years a long time to wait

Eugene Eric Murangwa, a survivor of the Genocide who lives in the UK, told The New Times the South African government's move - if genuine - is commendable.

Though it comes quite late, he said, it should serve as a good example to other countries harbouring Genocide fugitives.

He said: "Genocide is not a 'simple' crime like any other. It ravages communities and peoples for generations to come. To fail to bring those responsible to justice is a bloody stain on the international community's supposed 'just and fair' justice system and helps in increasing genocide denial."

Murangwa stressed that 25 years of no justice is a long time to wait for survivors.

"Why are perpetrators of the Genocide against the Tutsi not treated with the same concern as terrorists? Survivors wonder why the international community's negligent failure to pursue justice for Genocide victims results in impunity for this crime," he said.

He gave the example of a longstanding the case of five known Genocide fugitives - Dr Vincent Bajinya, Emmanuel Nteziryayo, Charles Munyaneza, Celestine Ugirashebuja and Celestin Mutabaruka - who reside in the UK despite courts establishing there are prima facie cases against them.

No country, the UK included, he said, should be a safe haven for alleged Genocidaires.

"If UK cannot send these Genocidaires back to Rwanda it must investigate and put them on trial here - it is why the law was changed in 2009 and the UK government has a moral duty to survivors and its own citizens," he added.

The Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda saw more than one million innocent people massacred in 100 days.

Today, Murangwa said, the failure of UK and other countries' judicial systems to bring Genocide perpetrators to justice "only increases Genocide denial."

"Rwanda is committed to remembering its past, but it has refused to be defined by it. It has not let wounds fester but has sought healing through its commitment to justice.

All we are asking the world is to be fair and help us to judge and punish the perpetrators, in doing so the world would have then stood with survivors."

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