Zimbabwe denies harbouring Rwanda genocide fugitive

HARARE – Zimbabwe has denied harbouring the most wanted Rwandan genocide fugitive Protais Mpiranya, who is now known to have died in the country in 2006.

Mpiranya’s body, buried under the alias Ndume Sambao, was exhumed from Granville cemetery in Harare by United Nations investigators and DNA confirmed his real identity.

Foreign minister Fredrick Shava said in a statement on Sunday: “As a law-abiding nation, Zimbabwe will never harbour criminals and welcomes findings from the DNA samples extracted from the fugitive.”

Shava said Zimbabwe “met all its obligations under the international law and fully cooperated with the UN Residual Mechanism” whose investigators have been tracking Mpiranya since he was indicted in 2000 by the International Criminal Tribunal for his role in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi minority tribe.

The body of Mpiranya, a former commander of the Rwandan presidential guard, lay buried under a stone slab bearing a false name, which UN investigators tracked down and identified with the help of a lead found on a confiscated computer – the hand-drawn design for Mpiranya’s tombstone.

His remains were exhumed last month at the request of UN investigators, and his identity was confirmed by DNA analysis on Tuesday last week.

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 who were well aware of his identity as a valued ally in the second Congo war of 1998-2003.

“From day one, Zimbabwe cooperated fully with the investigation team. Actually, the office of the UN Prosecutor responsible for tracking Rwandan fugitives and the Zimbabwean authorities established a joint task force to coordinate investigative activities and strengthen cooperation. The Zimbabwean authorities have consistently cooperated and adhered to the country’s international legal obligations,” Shava maintained.

Shava said he chaired an inter-departmental task force with a mandate to investigate leads on Mpiranya, culminating in a visit by the UN prosecutor who met Zimbabwe’s vice president Constantino Chiwenga.

“The government also shared the stage-by-stage investigation reports, summaries of interviews with suspects and documentary evidence from various sources as well as producing and submitting task force reports to the office of the UN prosecutor,” Shava insisted.

“Furthermore, it was the government of Zimbabwe that authorised and participated in the exhumation of Mpiranya’s remains when it was suspected that he was the one buried under a false name, Ndume Sambao.

“The government actually secured the grave, issued certificates to authorise the extraction of DNA samples and for them to be taken outside the country to the Netherlands Forensic Institute for analysis.

“The task force, including government pathologists and forensic experts, participated during the whole process. It was not possible for the UN Prosecutor’s Office to come, exhume and take the samples of a deceased person buried in Zimbabwe without government authority.”

Shava said Zimbabwe was assisting Rwanda bilaterally to extradite some fugitives allegedly hiding in the country.

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 Serge Brammertz’s command as chief prosecutor.

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