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Rwandan Generals Accused of War Crimes in UN Employ

Lt. Gen. Patrick Nyamvumba, force commander for the United Nations - African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), speaks during a plenary session of the African Land Forces Summit, May 12 (Barbara Romano/US Army)
Lt. Gen. Patrick Nyamvumba, force commander for the United Nations – African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), speaks during a plenary session of the African Land Forces Summit, May 12 (Barbara Romano/US Army)

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Why did the United Nations choose men alleged to have supervised death squads to head peacekeeping forces in Darfur and Mali? The activities of Lieutenant General Patrick Nyamvumba and Major General Jean Bosco Kazura in eastern Rwanda shed light on what their victorious army did during the 1994 genocide and for years to come.

  • Nyamvumba’s battalion hunted down massive numbers of Hutu civilians, killing and burning them in Akagera Park, according to a dozen former RPA soldiers and other witnesses
  • His deputy commander during the genocide, Jean Bosco Kazura, helped comb the countryside, eliminating thousands of men, women and children, soldiers allege
  • A UN court had sufficient evidence to indict Nyamvumba but declined to do so, a UN official says
  • Highly secretive and organized killings were ordered by RPF leader Paul Kagame, a lengthy investigation has found
  • The UN says it is now taking the information seriously and assessing it

BRUSSELS – Joseph Matata, a Rwandan farmer who became a human rights activist, was in Belgium in April 1994 when the genocide began.  But his children and ethnic Tutsi wife were at home in Murambi, a village on Rwanda’s eastern border. At dawn on April 12, a militia of Hutu extremists known as the Interahamwe arrived at their house looking for blood. The attackers quickly forced the family outdoors and sliced his wife’s back with a machete. They then went after Matata’s 12-year-old daughter, cutting her neck and face. The girl fell to the ground and lapsed into a coma. A Hutu neighbor named John intervened as the militia started beating three other children with clubs. When the attackers thought they’d killed two Tutsis, they decided to move on.

With the help of a local gendarme who knew the family, John managed to get Matata’s wife and daughter to the nearest hospital, while his remaining children found refuge with another neighbor who kept them safe by paying off marauding bands of killers.

A week later, the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA)—a Tutsi rebel army that routed Hutu extremists and seized power—swept into Murambi and brought Matata’s wife and daughter to a more equipped hospital in neighboring Gahini, a village in the commune of Rukara, on the shores of Lake Muhazi.

“For that, I have to thank the RPF,” Matata said dryly at a restaurant in central Brussels, referring to the Rwandan Patriotic Front, (RPF) the political wing of the RPA and current ruling party of Rwanda.

When the RPF formed an emergency coalition government in late July at the end of the genocide, flights resumed to the country and Matata was finally able to get home. He headed straight to Gahini to pick up his wife and daughter, who had temporarily moved into a house near the hospital that had nursed them back to health.

It was then that Matata heard a litany of other horrors that had occurred in Gahini and in villages throughout the prefectures of Kibungo and Byumba. Civilians began to tell him stories about systematic killings of Hutus perpetrated by the RPA, the victorious army that had supposedly halted the genocide.

“I was grateful to the RPF for helping my family but I couldn’t ignore what I was hearing,” Matata said, unable to finish the same glass of Leffe beer over our three-hour encounter.  “As someone who believed in human rights I felt obliged to investigate the allegations.”

In the 1970s and early 1980s, Matata—a voluble yet linguistically precise man—worked at the National Bank of Rwanda in Kigali and became critical of the former Hutu regime and one-party rule of President Juvenal Habyarimana. He later moved to Murambi and opened an agricultural business. In November 1990, when the RPA first invaded northern Rwanda from Uganda, he was accused of aiding the RPF, a charge he denied, and was briefly thrown in jail. By 1991, he became a founding member of ARDHO, the Rwandan Association for the Defense of Human Rights, and would later head CLIIR, the Brussels-based Centre to Fight Impunity and Injustice in Rwanda, where he’s become a tireless chronicler of the complex, unrepentantly violent history of Rwanda.

The 58-year-old Rwandan of mixed ethnicity stages weekly protests outside the Rwandan embassy in Brussels and issues missives condemning disappearances and arrests in his homeland, incidents largely ignored by organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. He has become, among Belgium’s curious sanctum of Rwandan exiles, a lawful Zorro-like figure and a one-man support network for Hutus and Tutsis behind bars or in flight.

Matata did not last long in Rwanda under the Rwandan Patriotic Front, whose power was just beginning to flourish amid the ruins of war in July 1994. Within days of his return from Belgium to Rwanda, he interviewed dozens of villagers in Gahini and other sectors, many who would later disappear. He also visited 10 mass graves in the towns of Muhazi, Kayonza and Kabarondo. Some of the bodies of Hutus in those graves were later burned or brought to mass graves containing Tutsis killed by the Interahamwe before the RPA arrived.

A witness that assisted him with the probe was one of Matata’s former employees on a farm he owned in Murambi. This man, a Tutsi, had the ghastly job of transporting corpses for the RPA in a fougonnette—a kind of African taxi minibus—to mass graves.

“This man worked for the RPA. He had to carry corpses in a vehicle the RPA had seized. The work was done quickly,” Matata said.

“He was traumatized. Sometimes the victims loaded into the taxi weren’t even dead. They would still be moaning and crying.”

The employee in question—whom Matata described as a sensitive person—eventually had problems with the RPF and was forced to flee the country.

In Matata’s initial investigation, witnesses described how the RPA combed the hillside. “The RPA hunted people down like they would rabbit or other prey. The soldiers did clean-up operations in the hills. They went from house to house, shooting people.” Sometimes they used grenades, he said.

Some people hid in banana groves or escaped to the adjacent forest, the Akagera National Park.

“Quite a few victims would see the soldiers coming and throw themselves into the lake and drown.”

The RPA also used another method—one of entrapment—to kill larger groups of people.

“They asked people to gather in certain areas, in schools and markets. Those who showed up at these meetings were given cooking equipment, clothes and food. These people were told to spread the word about other meetings. When larger groups of people showed up the RPA used grenades or guns to kill them.”

Matata contends the RPA called Hutus to meetings and slaughtered them in other areas of the country as well. “The massacres were intensive and massive.”

Matata was unable to complete a full investigation in Kibungo—with names and numbers of victims—because his life was threatened on several occasions. Within weeks he returned to Kigali and was forced in early 1995 to leave Rwanda for good. Nevertheless, his truncated work was eventually bolstered by the findings of a man named Robert Gersony.

Gersony, a consultant with extensive experience in African war zones, was hired by the United Nations to conduct a survey on the feasibility of Rwandan refugees returning to their homes after the genocide. Like many who descended on Rwanda in the aftermath of genocide, Gersony and his team were initially sympathetic to the RPF, and were granted access to 91 sites in more than 40 communes around the country. They conducted interviews with 200 individuals and held another 100 small group discussions.

Criminal Paul Kagame