A former defence minister in Rwanda, Augustin Bizimana, one of the top suspects wanted over the country’s 1994 genocide, has died, the UN tribunal said Friday.
He is believed to have died around August 2000, “based on the conclusive identification of Bizimana’s remains in a grave site in Pointe Noire, the Republic of the Congo,” the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) said in a statement.
About 800,000 people, mainly members of the Tutsi ethnic group but also moderate Hutus, were slaughtered over 100 days of violence committed by Hutu extremists in 1994.
Bizimana had been indicted by the United Nations’ International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in 1998 over the 1994 genocide.
The 13 counts included genocide, murder, rape and torture, including the murder of former prime minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana and 10 Belgian UN peacekeepers.
The announcement by the MICT comes six days after the arrest in Paris of one of the last alleged fugitives from the genocide — Felicien Kabuga.
He is accused of creating the notorious Interahamwe militia that carried out massacres, and the Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines which, in its broadcasts, incited people to murder.
Kabuga, 84, who spent a quarter of the century on the run, was indicted by the UN court in 1997 on seven counts, including genocide.
The UN tribunal for Rwanda, headquartered in Arusha, Tanzania, formally closed in 2015 and its duties were transferred to an institution called the MICT.
– DNA evidence –
In its statement on Friday, the MICT said the “confirmation of death” was the result of an exhaustive probe by the prosecutor’s office “combining advanced technology with extensive field operations, and involved exceptional cooperation with partner authorities in Rwanda, the Republic of the Congo, the Netherlands and the United States.”
The prosecutor’s office, it said, conducted DNA analysis late last year on previously-obtained samples of human remains from a grave site in Pointe Noire.
“Subsequent investigations and comparative DNA analysis by the Office over the last several months ruled out that the remains were those of any other person,” it said.
“The Office further verified additional evidence concerning the circumstances of Bizimana’s death.
“Accordingly, the Office confirms today that Augustin Bizimana is deceased. It is believed that he died in August 2000 in Pointe Noire.”
– Survivors disappointed –
In France, the head of an association of genocide victims said the news that Bizimana had died without being brought to book was a “great disappointment.”
“The survivors’ greatest wish is for the killers to face justice,” said Alain Gauthier, founder of an association called the Collective of Civilian Parties for Rwanda (CPCR), which campaigns for the prosecution of genocide suspects.
“Only justice can provide them with a little bit of comfort, and when a genocide leader is tried, their honour is restored,” he said.
Gauthier also lamented that Bizimana’s death deprived survivors of key details of what had happened.
“If he had been taken alive, we could have learned things — it’s a pity.”
A Kigali-based victims group said although they were “grateful” to hear of Bizimana’s death, they suspected that investigators “knew all along.”
“Otherwise, how do you explain the strange coincidence that they announce his death a few days after the arrest of Kabuga?” said Jean-Pierre Dusingizemungu, the president of IBUKA, the umbrella association for survivors of the genocide.
Dusingizemungu thanked the UN tribunal for announcing Bizimana’s demise but added: “We suspect that there is no goodwill from the international community to bring the fugitives to justice.”
“It appears as though they wait for someone to get very old or to die before they jump into action,” he said.
The last major fugitive sought by the MICT is Protais Mpiranya, who commanded the guard of former president Juvenal Habyarimana.
Habyarimana died on when his aircraft was shot down over Kigali on April 6 1994 — the act that unleashed the mass killing.
Five other individuals named by the UN tribunal are still on the run.
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