Fulgence Kayishema, suspected of having played a key role in the 1994 Tutsi genocide in Rwanda, was tried in court in Cape Town on Friday, two days after his arrest on a South African farm, after being on the run for twenty-two years.
The former fugitive is charged by international justice with genocide, complicity in genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and crimes against humanity.
Mr. Kayishema, 62, who until his arrest was one of the last four fugitives wanted for their role in the genocide that led to the deaths of 800,000 Rwandans, most of them Tutsi, at the hands of Hutu extremists, appeared impassive in the dock.
A stocky figure wrapped in a blue parka, bald and wearing thin glasses, the sixty-year-old, surrounded by armed officers wearing helmets and bullet-proof waistcoats, admitted that he was the man wanted by the courts and the international police. He had been using the name Donatien Nibashumba.
Spotted on a farm in Paarl, some 60 km from Cape Town, he was arrested on Wednesday with the help of Interpol in South Africa, UN prosecutors announced on Thursday. "A powerful message showing that those suspected of committing such crimes cannot escape justice", according to the UN chief's spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric.
To cover his tracks for the investigators, he is said to have benefited from the help of relatives and members of the former Rwandan Armed Forces and Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda, as well as people who adhere to the genocidal ideology of Hutu Power.
"Planning and execution"
Fulgence Kayishema was a judicial police inspector during the genocide in Rwanda. He was "one of the world's most wanted fugitives for genocide", according to the international justice system.
The accused "directly participated in the planning and execution" of the massacre of more than 2,000 Tutsi refugees in the Nyange church, in the Kivumu commune (north-east), "in particular by procuring and distributing petrol to set fire to the church with the refugees inside", according to the UN prosecutors.
"When this failed, Mr Kayishema and others used a bulldozer to cause the church to collapse, burying and killing the refugees inside," the indictment said.
In the days that followed, he also allegedly helped to supervise the macabre transfer of the church's corpses to mass graves.
The ICTR has convicted a total of 62 people. Others, such as Augustin Bizimana, one of the main architects of the genocide, died without facing international justice.
The trial of Félicien Kabuga, the alleged financier of the genocide, opened in September 2022, but was suspended in March while it was decided whether he was healthy enough to remain in the dock.
The association of genocide survivors, Ibuka, which has been very active in the search to arrest those responsible, said it hoped that during the trial of Fulgence Kayishema, "the wheels of justice will not experience the kind of delays that the Kabuga trial did".
Three fugitives are still wanted by international justice for their alleged role in the Rwandan genocide.