By Edwin Nsereko
Ugandan regime propaganda mouthpieces have chosen the period of mourning in Rwanda of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi to crank up articles of a genocide denialist nature. Their attempts to falsify the catastrophic events are consistent with Kampala’s use of genocidal groups like FDLR and RUD-Urunana – offshoots of the Ex-FAR (armed forces of Habyarimana) and Interahamwe militias – as proxies in plots to destabilize Rwanda.
To understand how far deep the Ugandan ruler has sunk however, one has to understand the extent to which he has turned the country into a sanctuary, or safe haven for genocidaires.
Before we get there, the reader first has to know the lengths President Museveni has gone to, to camouflage his sympathies with individuals that committed horrific crimes.
In the past he has used a Pan-African Conference as a platform to “denounce” the killings. He positioned himself as a forceful voice in this regard. This attitude endeared him to many genocide survivors, particularly during subsequent commemorations.
One that was at Amahoro Stadium during the 20th genocide commemoration saw how Museveni unloaded wrath like no other towards the Europeans, especially the Belgians and French whom he accused of sowing divisions and the seeds of destruction among Rwandans.
The former colonizers Belgium, and Habyarimana’s close allies the French, received a 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 honor to victims, comforting of survivors, and demands of accountability for the criminals regardless how powerful they considered themselves.
Museveni would, in turn, bask in the glory and adulation of the survivors.
But was the Ugandan president truly the good neighbour he projected he was? 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. There they could manipulate the authorities – who were not well-informed about the genocide – into believing they were refugees, and not fugitive killers.
Others stayed behind, benefitting 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 rhetoric had signaled to them that if they ever set foot in Uganda they would likely get nabbed and either be tried there or extradited to Rwanda. However the fugitives soon learnt a key feature of the character of Uganda’s ruler.
What he says and what he does are often as different as 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 that no one was bothering them; that they could go about their lives untroubled. They also discovered they could thrive in Uganda. Some went into business, and others even into local-level politics.
Emboldened by the impunity accorded to their friends, many more soon joined them. Credible sources informed this website that out of approximately 1000 active arrest warrants issued against genocide suspects worldwide, a quarter – up to 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 Article 1 of the UN Convention against Genocide, states are under obligation to prevent, and punish genocide perpetrators. Yet Uganda was doing exactly nothing to bring the multitudes of suspects on her territory to book – even though Uganda is a signatory of the Convention.
Kampala even went ahead to establish an international crimes division in the High Court of Uganda in July 2008 supposedly to try crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and other crimes. Yet for the 12 years since this division came into being, not a single genocide perpetrator has been tried, though there are hundreds of them there.
Instead in 2015 they arrested two genocide suspects, Kanamugire Callixte and Bizimana Bernard, a former bourgmestre of the former Musange Commune in Gikongoro – both on an Interpol Red Notice. The two were briefly detained at Kireka Police Station but were later transferred to the Arua-based UNHCR refugee protection camp.
Rwanda protested this action by Uganda, which was also in contravention of the refugee convention that states: “individuals who have committed genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, terrorist and other serious criminal offences should be excluded from refugee status.
Also, on 18 June 2016, Rwanda wrote to Uganda a note verbale that included a list of 137 suspects in Uganda, with details of their violations.
Kampala only arrested three people, who were subsequently set free. Among these were Jean Baptiste Bizimungu and Augustin Rwiririza, both former Rwanda local government officials that had played active roles in mobilizing ordinary people to kill. Bizimungu worked closely with the notorious bourgmestre (mayor) of Murambi, Jean Baptiste Gatete, a convict of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
Rwiririza was a local government official, “conseilleur” of the Ndatemwa Sector in Murambi where he similarly incited locals to kill. Both Bizimungu and Rwiririza currently live respectively in Gashojwa and Kiretwa, both in Isingiro District, western Uganda.
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.
Another notorious genocidaire, Matemane Faustin, a former bourgmestre of Commune Kidaho, lived peacefully in Kisoro working as manager of Ugandan Minister of State for Regional Affairs, Philemon Mateke’s hotel. When Matemane died last year Mateke – who is the coordinator of anti Rwanda groups in Uganda – personally paid for the funeral.
Hakizimana Bonaventure who escaped from Ntsinda Prison in Rwanda where he was serving a life sentence for his role in the genocide now lives in Sangano, Nyakivale where he has thrived as a businessman.
Astonishingly, Epimaque Twahirwa, aka John Musana, who was also a local leader in Murambi now is a local government leader in Uganda, where he is a Local Council (LC) chairman for Kabazana A, Nyakivale. There he also operates a thriving liquor trading business.
Also last year in July, it was revealed that when genocide suspect Anastase Munyandekwe was arrested in Uganda by police on the basis of an Interpol Red Notice, Ugandan authorities intervened and had him released. Instead of extraditing him to Rwanda, they facilitated his travel back to Belgium where he had come from.
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 20th commemoration have arrested, 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 for 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 that live unbothered in Uganda.
President Museveni obviously has his uses for them.