One of four most wanted Rwanda genocide fugitives arrested in S. Africa

Fulgence Kayishema was wanted for more than 20 years [File: US Department of State]

What you need to know:

  • Fulgence Kayishema's arrest was carried out in a joint operation by MICT's Fugitive Tracking Team and the South African authorities, the statement said

Fulgence Kayishema, one of four remaining fugitives sought for their role in the 1994 Rwanda genocide, has been arrested in South Africa, UN investigators said on Thursday.

"Yesterday afternoon, Fulgence Kayishema -– one of the world’s most wanted genocide fugitives -– was arrested in Paarl, South Africa in a joint operation," the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (MICT) said in a statement.

Around 800,000 Rwandans, most of them ethnic Tutsis, were slaughtered over 100 days at the hands of Hutu extremists.

Kayishema, a former police inspector, faces charges of genocide, complicity in and conspiracy to commit genocide, and crimes against humanity.

He has been on the run since July 2001, according to the MICT website, which gives his year of birth as 1961.

He and others allegedly murdered more than 2,000 Tutsi men, women and children who had taken refuge in a Catholic church in Nyange in Kivumu district.

"Kayishema directly participated in the planning and execution of this massacre, including by procuring and distributing petrol to burn down the church with the refugees inside," the statement said.

"When this failed, Kayishema and others used a bulldozer to collapse the church, burying and killing the refugees inside.

"Kayishema and others then supervised the transfer of corpses from the church grounds into mass graves."

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South African police said a "Rwandan fugitive," whom it did not name, had been arrested at a grape farm at Paarl, about 60 kilometres (35 miles) north of Cape Town, in response to an Interpol red notice.

The suspect, who had been living under the false name of Donatien Nibashumba, will appear in a Cape Town court on Friday "pending his extradition to Rwanda", police spokeswoman Thandi Mbambo said.

The MICT in 2015 took over the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), set up by UN after the genocide.

The swoop in Paarl was carried out by MICT's Fugitive Tracking Team and South African police, MICT said.

The hunt had spanned countries across Africa, targeting a man who used many aliases and false documents and relied on a "network of trusted supporters", it said.

These included family members, members of the former Rwandan armed forces, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebel group "and those aligned with the genocidal Hutu Power ideology."

MICT Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz paid tribute to "the exceptional skills, rigour and cooperation" of South African investigators and singled out Eswatini and Mozambique for their help.

Kayishema "will finally face justice for his alleged crimes," he said.

"Genocide is the most serious crime known to humankind," he said. "(...) This arrest is a tangible demonstration that this commitment does not fade and that justice will be done, no matter how long it takes."

Three fugitives left 

Naphtali Ahishakiye, executive secretary of Ibuka, an umbrella association of genocide survivors, said the arrest "sends a strong message to other fugitives and masterminds of the 1994 genocide... that they can never evade justice forever."

The wanted list targets major genocide suspects identified by MICT's predecessor, the ICTR.

Before handing over the reins in 2015, the ICTR had sentenced 62 people, including a 30-year term handed to former minister Augustin Ngirabatware, and acquitted 14.

In September 2022, one of Rwanda's richest men before the genocide, Felicien Kabuga, who moved to France and lived there under a false identity, went on trial in The Hague. 

His trial was put on hold in March amid concerns over his health.

Delay worry 

Ahishakiye called for Kayishema to be extradited to Rwanda and swiftly put in the dock.

"We hope that his trial is expedited, and that the wheels of justice do not entertain the sorts of delays that the Kabuga trial has experienced," he told AFP.

After Kayishema, three fugitives are left on the list, also facing multiple charges of genocide and crimes against humanity: Aloys Ndimbati; Charles Ryandikayo; and Charles Sikubwabo. 

But three other major suspects -- Augustin Bizimana, Protais Mpiranya and Pheneas Munyarugarama -- all died without facing justice.

Rwanda started trying genocide suspects in 1996, and on a single day in April 1998 had 22 of them executed by firing squad.

It abolished the death penalty in 2007, lifting the main obstacle for the ICTR to extradite genocide suspects to Rwanda for trial.

Between 2005 and 2012, more than 12,000 community-based courts put nearly two million people on trial and convicted 65 percent, sending most to prison.

Other convictions have been handed down in the former colonial power Belgium as well as in France, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, the United States and Canada.