Genocide fugitives

The Case Senator Nzirasanaho: A story of violence, intimidation and witness harassment

senator anastaseThe case against first category genocide suspect Senator Nzirasanaho, is currently about to be closed before the higher instance court of Nyarugenge in Kigali.  This 20 year-old case has been one of the longest and obviously extremely dangerous dossier for several witnesses and survivors involved in the case.   This article explores the direct accounts of witnesses and the ultimate price they had to pay including their lives.

The case is no doubt a sad story of violence, intimidation and harassmenent . In a separate case, Nzirasanaho is also accused of inciting and distributing arms to hutu population in his native district of Gakenke , Former Ruhengeli Prefecture, to exterminate Tutsis.

On 5 January 2008, the gacaca jurisdiction of Amahoro cellule in Muhima, Kigali, found Senator Anastase Nzirasanaho guilty of involvement in the genocide and classified him as a category one suspect. For survivors like Xaverine and Jean-Claude, it was a moment of triumph, the fruit of a long and tough battle to hold the senator accountable. In 1994, Nzirasanaho was the director of the para-statal responsible for the coffee industry, OCIRCAFE. Xaverine, who was his neighbour in sector Muhima, Kigali, before and during the genocide, also describes him as “the leader of the interahamwe.” The interahamwe parked their vehicles at his house and reported to him every morning and every evening. I saw all this because I lived very close to his house. I personally saw the senator holding grenades which he gave to the interahamwe after pointing them to Dr Gafaranga’s house. I also heard his wife calling after the interahamwe, saying they had forgotten to take the doctor’s domestic worker who was hiding in their home. The interahamwe took him and killed him together with the doctor.’’ 

In 1997, Xaverine and two men gave written testimonies to the court detailing allegations against him. One of the two men was, she added, “Nzirasanaho’s bodyguard during the genocide”, and other man, Ezechiel Ntahondi, had also worked for him. Nzirasanaho found out about the accusations.

‘’Almost immediately, I started receiving threats. The senator’s wife publicly insulted me,

saying our actions had not stopped him from becoming a senator. But the intimidation got

them nowhere. ‘’

As a result, said Xaverine, Nzirasanaho befriended her husband, Ezechiel Ntahondi’s older brother, in an attempt to persuade Ezechiel to “change his testimony.” She later found out that Ezechiel had been given jobs by Nzirasanaho, and that he had also been persuaded to write a letter to the effect that Xaverine planned to have him killed. In the meantime, her own husband had given a copy of her testimony to the senator. Soon afterwards, Ntahondi was gunned down as he returned home from work at the senator’s house.

Xaverine became a prime suspect because of the letter written by Ezechiel. While she was being questioned by the prosecutor’s office, she said she could “see the senator’s car driving in circles around the court, trying to keep tabs on the whole process since he had filed the charges against me.” A second summons led to her arrest, but she was released that same evening after interventions on her behalf, “pointing out that the conflict between the senator and I was common knowledge.”

These people also asked how it was possible that the senator, and not the mother or older brother of the victim, had brought charges against me. But her ordeal was far from over.

 Other people came to insult and taunt me, saying that the senator’s wife gave them money for food and clothes, and asking me what I got from Gafaranga’s widow.  I’m not testifying so I can be paid;

In fact I’m not even friends with Honourable Steria, the doctor’s widow. But my conscience can not let me hide the truth. Xaverine said she then received visitor, including a survivor and a local official, with offers of money and advice to “stop involving myself in something that could cost me my life.” But she refused to budge. She was, however, shaken when she ran into the senator himself. He stopped his car and said to me: “You refused to make a deal with me, but in two weeks you will regret it.” Afraid, she moved in with her sister.

But her husband, she said, resorted to beating her to “make me stop pursuing the case.” She reported him to the police and he was detained for a few days. She was then called to the gacaca jurisdiction of cellule Amahoro in sector Muhima, of which the president was the senator’s wife, Christine Mukakarangwa, to give explanations about her written testimony. But they asked me all sorts of bizarre questions so I would lose my composure. The public, seeing the conduct of the judges, refused to return to the court unless a new committee was voted in. So this is what happened; a new committee, presided over by JMV Ngendahimana, was installed, and my testimony was considered.

The next stage in this extraordinary saga was particularly distressing for Xaverine for it involved her daughter, and ended up with Xaverine in prison. She accuses two women, a member of the previous gacaca and one of the newly elected members, of offering her daughter, who had been raped, enormous material benefits if she would blame her mother and her step-father of sexual abuse so that the young man in prison for the rape could be released. Tempted by the offer, the young girl, who had also been given a job by the  senator and his wife, agreed. However, she was surprised when her testimony was used to release a genocide suspect by the name of Bonaventure Twagiriyaremye instead of the alleged rapist. She was even more upset to hear that her actions had led to her mother’s detention. She came crying to the court house, saying she didn’t know they intended to put her mother in jail. Xaverine was released after her daughter gave a written account of what had taken place to the appropriate officials, but Xaverine’s life has been shattered by the experience. She separated from her husband who, she says, turned her children against her, “telling them I’m a prostitute, that I would not stop testifying because I love to fight with my neighbours and that I’m the cause of all his misery.”

‘’I now live alone. My husband lives alone. The children live alone. My husband even

befriended some of my new neighbours whose attitude towards me has changed. People started throwing stones at my house during the night again.’’

Xaverine feels she has finally been vindicated. I appreciate the verdict passed by the new gacaca committee of Amahoro cellule in January of this year. By finding the senator guilty of the crimes he was accused of, the judges gave value to our testimonies. She cannot, however, understand why he has been allowed to continue his duties as a senator after gacaca classified him as a first category suspect and who should therefore be tried by the conventional courts. If he remains a free man, I doubt that any witness will survive. Xaverine ran into the senator after his conviction.

He asked me if I was happy since he had been found guilty, and when I planned on accusing all the others. I just kept on walking. He also came to the area where I stay, apparently to warn the authorities that I might kill him. Luckily, my neighbours know the story and told the same officials that if I died, they should question him. I’m trying to find a way to leave Kigali altogether and move far away from the senator so that I might be safer.

Leonidas works for the district office of Nyarugenge of which Muhima is a part. Long familiar with the case of the senator, he catalogued the pressures that witnesses have endured and the misfortunes that befell those who insisted on bringing him to justice. Regine Nyirabananira and Ignace Nsabimana, the two main prosecution witnesses, received so many threats that they had to move out of their cellules. Unknown people threw rocks at their houses at night and vowed to kill them if they continued testifying. Vincent Habimana has disappeared mysteriously and Ntahondi was shot by armed men. Eric Uwayisaba also came under fire. The senator had requested Eric to use his influence, as cellule co-ordinator, with the gacaca judges, but he had refused.

The senator also asked me to fire Regine, without being given a good reason, and I said no. So I too was included on the list of the senator’s enemies. Jean-Marie Vianney Ngendahimana, the president of gacaca, was not spared either. We had people throw stones at our houses in the dark, and I have even seen armed men patrolling my house. Released prisoners come to court to insult witnesses and to implicate some of them falsely in the genocide. I was once asked by a former soldier who is in his camp, Niyibiroye, aka, Cyabingo: “When do you people attend that useless gacaca?” Some witnesses were bribed and later returned to retract their testimonies and defend him instead. He asked a pertinent question.

‘’How can Nzirasanaho still be a member of the senate  when he has been found guilty of genocide? From there, he continues to harass people. Two of the first people to accuse him have been killed. Is it any wonder that we fear for our lives?’’

 Nzirasanaho’s wife, he added, also sought to demoralize them.

‘’His wife, Mukakarangwa, says publicly that accusing her husband of genocide has

achieved nothing, and will not change the fact that he is still an important person in the

Government. And here she’s right. How can he still be a senator? 

Like Xaverine, Jean-Claude has proved a stubborn witness, and a difficult one because he

has provided an eyewitness account that strongly implicates the senator in the death of

Dr. Gafaranga. He was summoned by gacaca when it was presided over by Nzirasanaho’s

wife. His testimony, he said, “disappeared.”

The witnesses for the defence seemed to reading out their statements, which made me

Think that they had been told what to say. He spoke a second time after the new gacaca committee had been established. “From that on”, he said, “I was constantly under threat.”

I bumped into Nzirasanaho’s former driver and he told me: “If you persist, you will go

down the same road as Ezechiel.” And Ezechiel had been shot dead.

Jean-Claude’s life began to unravel.

‘’Every evening when I came home, people I didn’t know would hit me, calling me an

Imbecile for speaking against the senator. I couldn’t sleep at night because of the stones

that pounded my roof. I finally decided to move, so that I would not die as Ezechiel had

done. I changed homes twice to make it more difficult for him to find me.’’

He returned to Muhima after he learned that the president of their cellule gacaca and

officials in the sector had warned the senator about his actions. Still, he does not feel at

ease.

‘’ As long as he is a senator, he is a menace to our security because he can find ways to

have us killed without showing his hand directly. What his wife says also makes us

scared. They have corrupted so many people that we are seen as the enemies of society.

During his trial, he used prisoners who had confessed their crimes to argue that some of

the prosecution witnesses were also genocide suspects, including my brother. Even now,

he continues to meet with these people; I see them coming and going to his house.’’

Jean-Claude is particularly disturbed by the ties between the senator and an ex-FAR

soldier, Niyibiroye, known as Cyabingo.

 ‘’During the trial, Cyabingo had a small tape recorder that he used to take to the bars where

people involved in the trial usually met for beer. This came to light when he got Eric Uwayisaba’s voice on tape; Eric was the cellule co-ordinator. He was asked in gacaca what he was doing with the recorder. He replied that the senator had asked him to use it.‘’

He does not think that it is feasible for the Government to offer effective protection to Gacaca judges and prosecution witnesses who live in close proximity to the defendants. Nevertheless, when there are significant trials, like the senator’s, security can be improved, for example by placing the accused in preventive detention so that he cannot intimidate witnesses and influence the court.

Over two decades have now passed since senator Nzirasanaho is enjoying safe heavens in the streets of Kigali at the expense of several victims still under his persistent persecution. The senators’case is now pending in the higher instance court of Nyarugenge. The court is finally due to close the hearing on 20th of January 2014.  

According to the 2012 Final Report of Gacaca courts, The Case of Nzirasanaho was referred to classic courts alongside other first category genocide suspects.  The report indicates that Boniface Rucagu and General Marcel Gatsinzi were  inter alia classified in the First category genocide suspects whose cases will be heard by classic courts—To date they  are free men occupying high ranked positions in the government

Ends.

Posted by Albert. G

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