One of Rwanda’s most wanted fugitives in the country’s genocide died 20 years ago, the international tribunal overseeing justice efforts announced Friday, less than a week after another high-profile fugitive was arrested in France.
Confirmation of the death of former Rwandan defense minister Augustin Bizimana came when a DNA test on remains in a grave in Pointe Noire, Republic of Congo, positively identified him, the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals said.
Rwandan authorities say Bizimana was a key player in the 1994 genocide in which more than 800,000 Tutsi and Hutus who tried to protect them were killed.
The identification “is the result of an exhaustive investigation by the Office of the Prosecutor combining advanced technology with extensive field operations, and involved exceptional cooperation with partner authorities in Rwanda, Congo Brazzaville, the Netherlands and the United States, ” the United Nations mechanism said.
Some survivors found uncomfortable closure.
“I wish he lived to face justice in court for his inhuman crimes before his death,” said Denis Nsengiyumva, who comes from Bizimana’s village.
“But even in his death, Bizimana will not rest in peace.”
News about the death came days after the arrest of Felicien Kabuga, another key genocide suspect who is accused of supplying machetes to killers and broadcasting propaganda urging mass slaughter.
Kabuga, a wealthy businessman, was arrested on Saturday outside Paris after 26 years in hiding. He appeared before a French court Wednesday but a decision on his fate was delayed until next week. His lawyer said the 84-year-old said Kabuga wishes to be tried in France, citing health reasons, but did not give details.
The U.N. tribunal’s prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, said a request had been launched for Kabuga’s transfer into U.N. custody and he could initially be held at The Hague rather than in Africa because of coronavirus travel restrictions.
Bizimana, who came from the same region as Kabuga, was appointed defense minister in 1993, months before the genocide started. He is accused of ordering the killing of Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana and 10 Belgian U.N. peacekeepers, and of supervising the killing of Tutsis in the provinces of Gisenyi, Ruhengeri, Butare, Kibuye and Cyangugu.
Uwilingiyimana was meant to be acting president after President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane was shot down over the capital, Kigali, sparking the 100-day genocide.
Bizimana was indicted by the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in 1998, facing 13 counts including complicity in genocide, extermination, murder, rape and torture.
With the arrest of Kabuga and the confirmation of Bizimana’s death, the Office of the Prosecutor has now accounted for two of the three major fugitives indicted by the tribunal.
The remaining one is Protais Mpiranya, former commander of the Presidential Guard of the Rwandan Armed Forces.