Genocide fugitives find sanctuary in Uganda
The genocide against Rwanda’s Tutsi began on 7th April 1994. Three days earlier, on 3rd April, the global Pan African Congress had kicked off in Kampala, closing on 8th April. But the carnage in Rwanda would persist for 100 days, claiming at least 10,000 lives a day and making it the most efficient genocide in human history.
Most importantly, the Pan African Conference became a platform for denouncing the killings, with Museveni amongst the most forceful voices in this regard. This attitude endeared him to many genocide survivors, particularly during subsequent commemorations.
I was at Amahoro Stadium during the 20th genocide commemoration when Museveni took to the podium, unloading a wrath like no other towards the Europeans, especially the Belgians and French, whom he accused of sowing divisions and the seeds of their destruction among Rwandans.
The former colonisers Belgium, and Habyarimana’s close allies, the French, received serious tongue-lashing.
Some of them were represented and were visibly embarrassed, with so much awkwardness that you could hear a pin drop.
But the genocide survivors loved the fact that Museveni was speaking truth to power, cheering him on, especially when he invoked his Runyankore-laced Kinyarwanda. The rhetoric was on point. It appeared to all that this was a brotherly neighbour after his extended honour to victims, comforting of survivors, and demands of accountability for the criminals regardless of how powerful they considered themselves. Museveni would, in turn, bask in the glory and adulation of the survivors.
But was Museveni, in reality, the good neighbour who had come to grieve with the survivors? Let’s put his rhetoric and his actions to the test.
When the RPF captured power in Kigali in 1994, most of the killers fled the country with the majority going to Mobutu’s Zaire (now DRC), rightly believing the long-standing Mobutu-Habyarimana friendship guaranteed them sanctuary. They remained there until Mobutu was forcefully removed, forcing many to relocate to such neighbouring countries as Malawi and Zambia, where they could manipulate the authorities, who did not know much about the genocide into believing they were refugees not fugitive killers. Others stayed behind, and benefitted from the lack of capacity of the new government, in what was now the DRC, to monitor and apprehend them.
At the time, Uganda was never on their radar. For one, Museveni understood very well who they were. Secondly, his well-known rhetoric had signalled to them that they would likely get nabbed and either tried in Uganda or extradited to Rwanda to face trial.
However, they soon learned a key feature of Museveni’s character: What he says and what he does are often day and night.
The boldest among those fugitives were soon testing the waters, moving to different parts of Uganda where they were surprised to see no one was bothering them, and that they could go about their lives untroubled. They also discovered they could thrive in Uganda. Some went into business; others even into local-level politics.
Emboldened by the impunity accorded to their friends, many more soon joined them. Credible sources underscored to this website that out of approximately a 1,000 active arrest warrants issued against genocide suspects worldwide, a quarter (250 suspects) are in different parts of Uganda, mostly in Nyakivale, Mubende, Fort Portal, Kasese, Mityana, Lyantonde, and Kampala.
In 2010, this prompted Rwandan authorities to write to their Ugandan counterparts reminding them of their international obligation to apprehend and either try or extradite these mass killers.
According to experts on such obligations, countries are forbidden from granting refugee protection to suspects of international crimes, including genocide.
On 18 June 2016, Rwanda sent Uganda a note verbale on the same matter, including a list of 137 suspects, with details of their violations. Uganda arrested three people, who were subsequently set free.
Among these were Jean Baptiste Bizimungu and Augustin Rwiririza, both former Rwanda local government officials who had played active roles in mobilizing ordinary people to kill. Bizimungu was a Rwankuba sector “conseilleur”, Murambi Commune, who had worked closely with notorious Burgmestre (mayor) of Murambi, Jean Baptiste Gatete, a convict of the Arusha-based International Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on genocide crimes.
Rwiririza was also a ’conseilleur’ at Ndatemwa sector, Murambi Commune, where he similarly incited locals to kill. Both Bizimungu and Rwiririza currently live respectively at Gashojwa and Kiretwa, both in Isingiro district.
Others on the list include Bizimana Bernard, a former Bourgmestre for Musange Commune in Gikongoro, who was previously arrested by police and subsequently set free.
Matemane Faustin, also a genocide fugitive, is the former Bourgmestre of Commune Kidaho where unspeakable atrocities took place under his direct incitement. He lives comfortably in Kisoro.
Also previously arrested but set free is Kanamugire Callixte, aka Supa, who lives freely in the Kampala suburb of Nsambya despite the interpol notice that has led to his initial arrest in Kampala.
Hakizimana Bonaventure, who hails from Rwamagana, escaped from Ntsinda prison in Rwanda where he was serving a life sentence for his role in the genocide. He now lives in Sangano-Nyakivara where he has thrived as a businessman.
Astonishingly, Epimaque Twahirwa, aka John Musana, who was also a local leader in Murambi district, is now a ocal government leader in Uganda, where he is an Local Council (LC) chairman for Kabazana A, Nyakivale, where he also operates a thriving liquor trading business.
To say genocide fugitives have found sanctuary in Uganda would, in other words, be a serious understatement.
They’re thriving while, ironically, the European countries Museveni rebuked at that commemmoration for their role in the genocide have arrested and tried or extradited genocide suspects who had previously freely roamed their territory, some of them masquerading as refugees.
These include Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany, and Switzerland. Across the Atlantic, the United States and Canada have done the same, most prominently the genocide masterminds, Professors Leopold Munyakazi and Leon Mugesera, respectively.
The two European countries targetted in Museveni’s ire during that genocide commemoration have also tried or extradited suspects. France has had convictions and Belgium has tried eight; altogether, 23 suspects have either been tried or extradited from Europe, America, and Canada – countries that have only a small number compared to those roaming the streets of Kampala or live unbothered across Uganda.
Some countries have previously explained the delays in apprehending suspects as arising from insufficient knowledge about the genocide in Rwanda. However, as indicated above, perhaps no one followed the genocide as it unfolded as closely as Museveni. Indeed, horrified Ugandans watched in disbelief as thousands of dead bodies arrived floating on the shores of Lake Victoria after the killers had butchered and dumped them into lakes and rivers. Uganda also hosts a genocide museum in Rakai district, the exit point from the lake into Ugandan soil of most of these victims.
The killers who dumped the victims into the lakes and rivers have followed them to Uganda and have found sanctuary with Museveni, who in his speeches in front of genocide survivors never ceased to rebuke the killers of their loved ones.
This article was originally published by “The watchman” blog