Fugitive Hutu Militiaman Captured for War Crimes in Rwandan Genocide

On May 25, 2023, 62-year-old Fulgence Kayishema was apprehended in South Africa after spending 22 years on the run. The South African police and a tracking team from the Rwandan war crimes tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania, detained him. He had been charged by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in 2001 for crimes against humanity and complicity in genocide, which took place when over 500,000 people were killed in a hundred days. He is believed to have fled Rwanda after the genocide and hid among refugees, masquerading as someone else. In South Africa, he is facing five accusations, two of which are fraud related to his applications for asylum and refugee status.

Kayishema is wanted for his alleged involvement in the Nyange Church massacre 1994, where over two thousand Tutsi refugees were killed by Hutu militia using grenades, fuel, and bulldozers. Gatete Ruhumuliza, a Rwandan lawyer and political analyst, described Kayishema as an “important” figure among genocide perpetrators for crossing the first taboo of killing people in a church, followed by subsequent killings of Tutsis seeking shelter there. He is the last primary suspect of the attack still living and will be extradited to Rwanda. The case has been rescheduled to June 2nd to allow for further investigation.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Spokesperson praised the arrest of Kayishema, hailing it as a step towards justice and a reminder that perpetrators of such crimes cannot escape accountability. The UN commended the cooperation between the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals and the South African authorities and reminded all states of their obligation to cooperate with the Mechanism in the search for suspects still at large. IBUKA, the umbrella body of genocide survivors’ organisations in Rwanda, expressed hope for the extradition of all genocide suspects to Rwanda for trial, stressing that ending impunity is essential for peace, security, and justice.

The genocide in Rwanda was primarily caused by ethnic tensions between the two main ethnic groups in the country: the Hutu and the Tutsi. This was exacerbated by Rwanda’s colonial history, in which the Belgian colonists favoured the Tutsis over the Hutu majority.  Decades of ethnic discrimination and racism, propagated by Belgian colonial rule and Hutu Power ideology, resulted in a deep-seated mistrust between the two ethnic groups that ultimately boiled over into the Rwandan Genocide in 1994.

Violence was perpetrated by Hutu militia and government forces against anyone perceived to be a threat to the Hutu-led government, including Tutsis as well as Hutu and Twa civilians who did not support the regime. Perpetrators sought to instil fear and loathing of Tutsi among the Hutu by manipulating the state, military, administration, and political parties and using the radio to disseminate  propaganda. Hutu radicals used Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) to spread racist ideology and whip up hatred against Tutsi.

From April to July 1994, Rwanda was subject to intense violence, which ultimately resulted in a humanitarian crisis in the region and the spread of HIV in Rwanda after the genocide. The international community and UN peacekeepers’ failure to stop the bloodshed left a long-lasting stain on the reputation of UN Peacekeeping. The international community is perceived as having failed to act promptly to protect civilians and prevent violence from escalating. This has caused many to question the effectiveness of UN peacekeeping operations and led to increased criticism of the organisation.

The successful arrest of Kayishema is an example of how countries can cooperate peacefully to achieve justice for those who have committed heinous crimes, despite their attempts to evade capture. This incident was made possible due to the collaboration between the Rwanda government, the U.S. government, and the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, as well as an Interpol red alert sent to law enforcement agencies worldwide. This serves as a reminder that no one is above the law, and the international community is determined to hold perpetrators of genocide accountable.

Martina Smith