Rwandan genocide suspect Kayishema arrested in South Africa: U.N. tribunal

Reading Time: 2 minutes

A Rwandan man accused of ordering the killing of some 2,000 Tutsis who were seeking refuge in a church during the 1994 genocide has been arrested in South Africa, the United Nations tribunal for war crimes committed in Rwanda said on Thursday. Former police officer Fulgence Kayishema had been on the run since 2001, when the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) indicted him for genocide over his role in the destruction of the Nyange Catholic Church in Kibuye Prefecture.

“His arrest ensures that he will finally face justice for his alleged crimes,” says Serge Brammertz, prosecutor at the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT),which has replaced the ICTR since it wound up in 2008.

Kayishema is expected to be transferred to Rwanda for trial as the United Nations said in 2012 his case had been transferred to the Rwandan authorities. In her first comment on Kayishema’s arrest, Rwandan government spokesperson Yolande Makolo wrote on Twitter: “Finally.”

An estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and Hutu moderates were killed during Rwanda’s genocide, orchestrated by an extremist Hutu regime and meticulously executed by local officials and ordinary citizens in the rigidly hierarchical society. Kayishema has been on the U.S. State Department’s wanted list under the Rewards for Justice Programme, with a $5 million reward offered for his arrest. Brammertz said the investigation that led to his arrest spanned multiple countries in Africa and beyond, and was made possible through the support and cooperation of South African authorities.

In May 2020, another mastermind of the genocide, Felicien Kabuga, was arrested in France after 26 years on the run. Kayishema’s arrest means there are now only three fugitives indicted by the international tribunal whose whereabouts remain unknown, though Makolo said Rwanda considers that a greater number of suspects are still on the run.

“Nearly 30 years later, we have a long list of Rwandan genocide fugitives still at large in several countries around the world,” she told Reuters. We will continue to work with partner states and institutions to ensure that they are held to account for crimes committed in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi,” she said.