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Genocide in Rwanda: Munyemana says he tried to “save” Tutsis

Genocide in Rwanda: Munyemana says he tried to “save” Tutsis
Sosthene Munyemana, a Rwandan doctor, arrives at the Palais de Justice   -  
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Christophe Ena/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.


He stays straight in his boots. Tried in Paris on his possible involvement in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, former doctor Sosthène Munyemana assured Wednesday that far from having wanted to kill Tutsi, he had tried to "save" them.

Since Monday, he has been answering a barrage of questions before the Paris court on the merits of the accusations against him, which he has contested from the start.

Standing at the bar from morning to late in the evening, Sosthène Munyemana, 68, gives his version of events, point by point, without wavering.

In this procedure, opened 28 years ago, he is accused in particular of having held, during part of the genocide, the key to the Tumba sector office, in the prefecture of Butare (southern Rwanda), and of having locked up Tutsi, who were then taken to other places and executed.

“The sector office constituted a refuge for people who had nowhere to hide,” the accused told the court.

Having “learned that people who took refuge around the sector office were killed on the night of April 21 to 22 (…), that girls were raped, I took the initiative of informing” the sector advisor François Bwanakeye, he explains.

The latter sends him the key to the office the next day. “From that moment on, I opened the door to the refugees gathered around the sector office. ”

The advisor came the next day and called the mayor Joseph Kanyabashi, who "sent a team to look for these people". “I thought they were going to be kept safe since Kanyabashi promised it to Bwanakeye,” argues the accused.

Joseph Kanyabashi was definitively sentenced in 2015 by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to 20 years of criminal imprisonment for incitement to genocide.

In total, between April 23 and May 15, the date on which he said he returned the key, Sosthène Munyemana opened the office door four times to Tutsi in distress. Out of the fifty people who passed through the sector office, only one managed to escape at the time of his transfer. The others were never seen alive again.

Confronted with the testimonies of relatives of the victims, who accuse him of having left the Tutsi without water or food, the former doctor refutes: "there was a pane of a broken window and the people could be fed or had something to drink ".

“I intended to save these people. I responded to my heart by doing at least what was possible for me,” he continues. “I didn’t expect these people to be killed where they were brought. It’s a shame,” he breathes.

“Were you fooled?”, asks the president of the Assize Court, Marc Sommerer_. “It’s possible that I was abused,” replies Sosthène Munyemana. The magistrate pointed out to him that what happened in Tumba was a “copy and paste” of what was happening in the rest of the country, where Tutsi were gathered in administrative places or even churches before being killed.

Does he understand that he could have “appeared as an administrative link” in the genocidal chain? “From the start, I intervene as a citizen”, opposes the accused. “I see my objective as saving people,” he maintains. “I never thought there would be another plan, another scheme. ” “You were naive with a big heart,” retorts the president.

At the end of the afternoon, and while until now, he has not lost his calm, Sosthène Munyemana lets emotion shine through by evoking an episode from this period, where his daughter, then a child, had been threatened by militiamen.

“I also experienced difficult times,” he said, his voice strangled and his eyes red while admitting that these ordeals were not at the “same level” as those experienced by the Tutsi. “I’m creating a shell for myself, I know it. ”

The trial is scheduled until December 19.

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