Photos of victims of the 1994 genocide on display at the Kigali Genocide Memorial
Foto: Simon Wohlfahrt / DER SPIEGEL
In 1994, Hutu extremists slaughtered 800,000 Tutsi using nail-spiked clubs, machetes and other weapons. A UN unit led by Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz is still trying to track down those responsible, but it is a race against time.
https://www.spiegel.de/-By Heiner Hoffmann in Kigali, Rwanda
Forduard Maniraguha wanted to serve God, just as his parents had hoped. At 14, he became an assistant to the priest, an altar server and an errand boy. But in April 1994, God’s protective hand was absent in Maniraguha’s home village of Nyange. That month, the teen became a witness to a ghastly massacre, committed in his church. And the priest, the man he served, was a participant.
For several days ahead of the slaughter, Hutu extremists had been agitating against the Tutsi minority on the radio, disparaging them as “cockroaches.” In the cities and villages, hordes of Hutus set out with their machetes, their eyes full of hatred. Over the course of several weeks, radical Hutus butchered 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus who refused to participate. The orchestrated extermination became one of the most horrific crimes in the history of humankind.
And the village of Nyange was one of the killing fields. Starting on April 6, 1994, more than 2,000 Tutsis sought shelter in the church where Forduard Maniraguha served. The priest, a Hutu, had promised to protect them. He assembled lists of those present – death lists, as it would turn out. “I witnessed how they prepared the carnage,” Maniraguha recalls. “They” refers to the priests and to the local police inspector, Fulgence Kayishema.
What took place over the course of the subsequent days is well-documented: Militant Hutus under the leadership of Kayishema repeatedly attacked the church with hand grenades, nail-spiked clubs and machetes. In the end, 2,000 Tutsis were dead, including numerous women and children. “When they realized that some were still alive, they got ahold of a bulldozer and razed the church,” Maniraguha says. The images from those days in April 28 years ago still rob him of sleep. And he has developed a habit of frequently glancing back over his shoulder, as he did several times during our interview in a café in the Rwandan capital of Kigali.
Maniraguha is a Hutu, which is why he didn’t fall victim to the slaughter. He has testified as a witness in numerous court cases against the priest and the police inspector and has also provided testimony to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania. But he still hasn’t been able to find peace, because the main suspect in the Nyange killings, Fulgence Kayishema, is still at large, a fugitive since the end of the genocide. “He is a killer, a monster. He organized the murders and cold-bloodedly joined in,” says Maniraguha.
“He is now our top priority,” says Serge Brammertz. Originally from Belgium, Brammertz leads an eight-person UN team, called the Tracking Unit, which is charged with tracking down the last fugitives from Rwanda and bringing them to justice. DER SPIEGEL recently spent a week with the investigators in Kigali.
The unit’s success rate has been impressive. Since Brammertz took over leadership in 2016, they have been able to track down almost everyone on their list, including Félicien Kabuga, the suspected financial backer of the genocide. He had been on the run for more than 25 years.
Earlier this month, the investigators announced their latest breakthrough: They discovered the body of Protais Mpiranya, who had been buried under an assumed name somewhere in Zimbabwe. A hand-drawn sketch of his gravestone, scanned and uploaded to the computer of a Mpiranya relative, ultimately led the investigators to the grave. “The family members of his victims can now be certain that he no longer presents a danger,” says Brammertz. Now, Fulgence Kayishema has taken over the top spot on their most-wanted list. He is essentially their last major case.
The Rwanda headquarters of the UN investigators is located in an estate on a hill where a former mayor of Kigali used to live. There is no longer any water in the pool and the place is rather desolate, with the grounds full of white office containers. A huge conference table is in the politician’s former living room, and an oversized monitor hangs on the wall.
The screen is used for virtual meetings between the Kigali team and officials in The Hague and in Arusha. The locations are part of the Residual Mechanism, the name for the remaining team of investigators, state prosecutors and judges charged with unearthing as much as they can about the unfathomable crimes of genocide perpetrated in Rwanda. The team used to have hundreds of members, an entire UN tribunal, but with each passing year, the budget has grown smaller.
“Even almost 30 years after the genocide, we cannot stop tracking down suspects and bringing them into court,” says chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz, his voice filled with anger. It is a race against time: Many of the suspected perpetrators, like Félicien Kabuga, have grown old and frail, while others, like Protais Mpiranya, have long since died.
The investigators meet on the large monitor once a week to discuss “persons of interest,” those who have had contact with the fugitives, movement profiles and telephone connections. DER SPIEGEL isn’t permitted to discuss details from the investigations, but chief investigator Ewan Brown says: “Most of it is unglamorous analytical work. The rest is creativity.”
Brammertz has spent decades dealing with horrific crimes against humanity. As a federal prosecutor in Brussels in the late 1990s, he even tried cases from Rwanda. “I still haven’t forgotten the witness testimony from back then. The perpetrators didn’t see their victims as humans, but as vermin. From their perspective, killing them was a job like any other,” says Brammertz.
Until recently, the 60-year-old had been focusing his attentions on the crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia, specifically the genocide perpetrated in Srebrenica. He tracked down Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić and dragged them into court, where Brammertz frequently found himself looking into the eyes of defendants who had been accused of unimaginable atrocities. “Some were charismatic, eloquent. In court, they would use the same rhetoric they employed to manipulate their own people,” the prosecutor says. Never, he adds, did he detect any remorse.
By now, the final Yugoslavia trials have come to an end and Brammertz has shifted his focus to Rwanda. His unit, of course, will ultimately be shut down for good, as he well knows. Perhaps a non-governmental organization will then move into this villa with its waterless pool – there are, after all, plenty of them operating in the region. Until then, though, Brammertz remains focused on crossing as many names off his wanted list as possible.
When the UN investigator took charge of the unit in 2016, it still maintained a network of 85 informants, all of whom were being paid handsomely. Because they needed to justify that income, those informants frequently reported sightings of the fugitives – in England one day, in Kenya the next, and then back in France. None of it was true. “I got rid of almost all of them,” says Brammertz. Since then, the investigators have shifted their focus to hard data: What was the fugitive’s last known location? Who might still be in contact with them?
That strategy led to the 2020 arrest of Félicien Kabuga, the suspected financial backer of the genocide. Investigators acquired telephone data from numerous countries belonging to Kabuga’s relatives. They looked at the phone cells their mobile devices connected with and when those connections took place. “On their own, the datapoints were useless. But when we put them all together, we realized that all close relatives went to the same spot in Paris, one after the other,” Brammertz recalls.
They then took a look at rental contracts in the area, set up surveillance, and on May 16, 2020, they were able to make the arrest. Since then, Kabuga has been behind bars in The Hague, waiting for his trial to begin. Brammertz’s eyes light up when he talks about the day of the arrest. Nobody had thought that such a success was still possible 26 years after the genocide.
Sometimes, though, his investigators find themselves facing unnecessary procedural hurdles, and that infuriates Brammertz. In South Africa, for example, where his unit located the fugitive Fulgence Kayishema in 2019. The police inspector from the village of Nyange was enjoying a nice life in Cape Town, surrounded by his family, as the investigators learned. But when they submitted an application for his extradition, it was denied.
Only after months of back-and-forth did South African officials finally agree to Kayishema’s arrest and stormed the wanted man’s apartment. Not surprisingly, he was no longer there. “That really made me angry,” says Brammertz. Since then, he has vented his anger every year in the UN Security Council.
Just a few weeks ago, the prosecutor was again in South Africa with his team. There has been a bit of movement on the issue and the country now wants to assemble an investigative team of its own. But they’ll have to start again from scratch, because since the unsuccessful raid of Kayishema’s apartment, the suspect has gone underground. “We believe, though, that he is still in the region. That makes things a bit easier,” says Brammertz.
His next appointment in Kigali begins with a minute of silence. IBUKA, an association of genocide survivors, has invited him to a memorial on the outskirts of Kigali. In 1994, hundreds of people, all of whom would later be murdered, were driven to this spot after UN peacekeepers had hastily fled the country. “Part of my family was slaughtered at this spot,” says Égide Nkuranga, head of IBUKA.
“You can see here just how miserably the international community failed back then,” says Serge Brammertz. Nkuranga then leads him into a room in the basement, full of white tables on which historical documents from 1994 and the following years are spread out. A team of scholars is sorting through the mountain of loose notes and yellowing folders, preparing to digitize them and make them available on the internet. Brammertz also asks his team to examine the papers for possible evidence.
Notebooks from schoolchildren are stacked on one table, and researchers wearing rubber gloves are flipping through them. The notebooks are from 1994; the children had been asked to write down their experiences during the massacres. “They took my father in the middle of the night, killed him brutally and threw his body into the latrine,” wrote a seven-year-old boy. The table is full of such stories.
Upstairs, in the memorial site’s packed conference room, the mood grows more contentious. The survivors want to know how things are progressing. They can’t understand why Félicien Kabuga’s trial hasn’t started yet and why Fulgence Kayishema is still at large. Because the survivors of the genocide also know: Time is running out.