One of Rwanda’s most wanted genocide suspects arrested in South Africa after 22 years on run

A special tribunal set up by the United Nations, the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, said Thursday that Fulgence Kayishema was arrested a day earlier

Family photographs of some of those who died hang on display in an exhibition at the Kigali Genocide Memorial centre in the capital Kigali, Rwanda on April 5, 2019.Ben Curtis (AP)

One of the most wanted suspects in Rwanda’s genocide, a police officer suspected of orchestrating the killing of more than 2,000 people at a church nearly three decades ago, has been arrested in South Africa after 22 years on the run, a special tribunal set up by the United Nations to find the perpetrators said Thursday.

The International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) said Fulgence Kayishema was arrested Wednesday at a vineyard in Paarl, a small town in a wine-making region about 30 miles east of Cape Town.

Kayishema, who is believed to be in his early 60s, had assumed a false identity and gone by the name Donatien Nibashumba, South African police said.

He was captured in a joint operation by the tribunal’s fugitive tracking team and South African authorities, the tribunal said, following an investigation that had tracked him across several African countries, including Mozambique and Eswatini, since his indictment in 2001.

The United States had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to Kayishema’s arrest through its Rewards for Justice program.

More than 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda’s genocide, which took place over the course of three months in 1994 when members of the Hutu ethnic group turned on the minority Tutsis, slaughtering them and moderate Hutus who tried to protect them.

“His arrest gives the survivors hope that other fugitives still at large will be arrested too,” said Naphtal Ahishakiye, the executive secretary of the Rwandan genocide survivor organization Ibuka. “A genocide crime is too grave to go unpunished.”

Kayishema was indicted by the U.N.’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and charged with genocide, complicity in genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and crimes against humanity for killings and other crimes. He had been at large since 2001, the tribunal said.

The tribunal said he is alleged to have organized the killings of more than 2,000 ethnic Tutsi refugees — men, women and children — at a Catholic church on April 15, 1994, during the first days of the genocide.

The indictment alleges Kayishema, who held the rank of police inspector at the time, directly participated in the planning and execution of the massacre by acquiring petrol to burn down the church with the people trapped inside. When that failed, Kayishema and others used a bulldozer to knock down the church, burying and killing those inside, which included young children but also many elderly men and women. Kayishema and others then moved the bodies from the church grounds into mass graves over two days, the indictment alleges.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed Kayishema’s apprehension which “sends a powerful message that those who are alleged to have committed such crimes cannot evade justice and will eventually be held accountable, even more than a quarter of a century later,” his spokesman said.

The U.N. chief commended the cooperation between South Africa and the Rwanda tribunal which led to Kayishema’s arrest, U.N. spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said. His thoughts today “are first and foremost” with victims of Kayishema’s alleged crimes and their families and he stressed that “ending impunity is essential for peace, security and justice.”

South African police said Kayishema would appear in a courtroom in Cape Town on Friday before likely being extradited to Rwanda.

The International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals was formed in 2010 to continue investigating atrocities and hunting down suspects of the Rwandan genocide and those suspected of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia during its ethnic conflicts in the 1990s and early 2000s.

“Fulgence Kayishema was a fugitive for more than 20 years. His arrest ensures that he will finally face justice for his alleged crimes,” IRMCT chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz said in a statement. “Genocide is the most serious crime known to humankind. The international community has committed to ensure that its perpetrators will be prosecuted and punished. This arrest is a tangible demonstration that this commitment does not fade and that justice will be done, no matter how long it takes.”

The tribunal said it has now tracked down five suspects wanted in the Rwandan genocide since 2020. It is still searching for three more fugitives, it said.

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