Wanted 1994 Rwandan genocide fugitive confirmed dead in Harare

AMSTERDAM, Holland – Protais Mpiranya, one of the last remaining fugitives sought over the 1994 Rwandan genocide, has been confirmed dead and the case against him has been closed, the prosecutor of the successor court to the UN Rwanda tribunal said on Thursday.

An international investigation concluded that Mpiranya died on October 5, 2006, in the Zimbabwean capital Harare.

His body was exhumed last month at the request of UN investigators, and Mpiranya’s identity was confirmed by DNA analysis on Tuesday.

He was alleged to have been a senior leader of the 1994 Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi population and was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in 2000.

But his death, like much of his life, had been swathed in secrecy by his family and supporters. Mpiranya had been living in Zimbabwe under an assumed identity for four years, despite its government’s insistence that he was not in the country.

The investigation that followed his trail all the way to the grave in Granville cemetery on the southern edge of Harare found he had arrived on a Zimbabwean military plane and had been in frequent contact during his stay with Zimbabwean officials in the then president Robert Mugabe’s regime who were well aware of his identity as a valued ally in the second Congo war of 1998-2003.

As a fugitive, Mpiranya had outlasted the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, established in 1994 to bring the genocidaires to justice after the genocide that killed up to 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. It had indicted him on eight counts, including genocide and crimes against humanity, but was unable to find him to make him stand trial.

After the tribunal closed in 2015, a “residual mechanism” was set up to wrap up old cases, and part of that mechanism was a small tracking team under Brammertz’s command as chief prosecutor.

At 7AM on February 7, members of the team arrived at the cemetery, where the graves were invisible beneath head-high grass. It took two and a half hours to find what they were looking for: a black headstone in memory of a Sambao Ndume whose date of birth matched Mpiranya’s, May 30, 1956.

A team member recalled the discovery of the grave: “There was that moment when my colleague called out: ‘Found it!’ And we all just stood there looking at it. It was exactly as we thought it would be,” he said. “All that hard work, the ups and the downs, it had led to this moment.”

The French inscription on the tombstone read: “Here rests forever one who loved his fatherland, his people and his family, more than his own life.” Below that, a crude depiction of a warrior with bow and arrow was carved with the message: “Dad RIP”.

Mpiranya was was also deemed responsible for the murders of, among others, Rwandan Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana and 10 Belgian United Nations peacekeepers.

“For the victims of his crimes, Mpiranya was a feared and notorious fugitive,” Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz said in a statement. “Confirming his death provides the solace of knowing that he cannot cause further harm.”

There are now only five outstanding fugitives under the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT)’ jurisdiction. The IRMCT is still prosecuting the remaining cases in the Rwandan genocide, such as the trial of Felicien Kabuga.

Former U.N. tribunals for war crimes in Rwanda and Yugoslavia have been rolled over into a successor court that has offices in The Hague, Netherlands, and in Arusha, Tanzania. – Reuters

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