ARUSHA 21 May 2002 (Internews) Genocide suspect Leonidas Rusatira, who was arrested in Brussels on 15 May on a warrant issued by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), served as a colonel in the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) after the genocide, from January to November 1995.
Rusatira, who was a general in the former Rwanda Armed Forces (FAR), did not flee after the RPF’s victory in July 1994. He stayed in Gikongoro Province with hundreds of new army recruits and underwent training and integration into the RPA.
He left Rwanda in November 1995 and his name did not appear on Rwanda’s list of wanted genocide suspects until 1999. The former army officer now faces five counts of genocide and crimes against humanity. He is yet to be transferred to the United Nations Detention Facility (UNDF) in Arusha, the tribunal’s headquarters.
The ICTR Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) alleges that Rusatira ordered soldiers and militiamen to attack refugees at the Technical College in Kicukiro after United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) soldiers left the college.
Rusatira’s arrest follows a campaign by Africa Rights, a human rights organization, criticizing Belgium for harboring Rusatira.
In April 2002, Africa Rights issued a publication titled ‘Left to Die at ETO and Nyanza: The stories of Rwandan Civilians Abandoned by UN troops on 11 April 1994.’ On 19 April 2002, the human rights group issued a statement entitled ‘Who will take Responsibility for Rwanda’s Srebrenica’, which called for accountability for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
Reacting to Rusatira’s arrest, a Rwandan organization based in Brussels, the Center for the Fight against Impunity and Injustice in Rwanda, issued a communiqué on 17 May terming the arrest “a very grave error” and “a denial of justice against a just man.”
The communiqué, a copy of which was made available to Internews, quotes the reaction of UNAMIR commander for the Kigali sector, Colonel Luc Marchal, on 15 May, which was broadcast on Belgian Public Radio (RTBF). Marchal is quoted saying that Rusatira did not have the competence or the power to replace the UNAMIR soldiers who abandoned the technical school.
The statement by the Brussels-based organization states: “He [Marchal] has reaffirmed that as a commander of the l’Ecole Supérieure Militaire (ESM) [higher military school] since 1992, General Rusatira could not lead the military operations stipulated in the ICTR indictment,” adding that even survivors of the genocide saved by Rusatira are surprised at the arrest.
Rusatira left Rwanda following press reports and comments from genocide survivor groups that he may have been involved in the massacre at the technical college. While living in Belgium, Rusatira wrote to the Rwandan government to protest his being listed as a genocide suspect in 1999, four years after he left Kigali.
In a letter dated 8 February 2000, addressed to the prosecutor general of the Supreme Court in Rwanda and copied to the ICTR, Rusatira focuses on what he characterized as harassment by the Rwanda government for alleged political reasons, underlining that he had been investigated repeatedly with no concrete evidence found to charge him while he was serving under the RPA.
In the letter, a copy of which Internews obtained, Rusatira points out that all investigations carried out against him had been done by his own request. He cited a letter dated 10 February 1995 in which he asked the military prosecutor to investigate complaints by genocide survivor groups.
“This investigation was not only done by the ‘Auditorat Militaire’ (military prosecutor) and the DMI (Directorate of Military Intelligence) but also by an informal commission of the National Assembly of Transition, by the services of the Prime Minister, of the Ministry of the Internal Affairs, the Prefecture and the Gendarmerie…I was insistent about being heard because I knew that numerous other people had already been interrogated about me, the then Auditeur Militaire [military prosecutor], Captain Joseph Nzabanita, had answered me repeatedly that he didn’t have anything else to ask me in addition to the content of my letter of 10 February because the investigation had revealed no charges against me,” Rusatira says in the letter to the prosecutor.
Rusatira observes that at the end of the investigation, he was allowed to travel abroad in September 1995 with an official passport obtained on the intervention of the Cabinet Director, Lt- Col Andrew Rwigamba, who currently serves as the Military Prosecutor in Rwanda.
“It is also at this opportunity that my building was returned to me, on 26 October 1995, which is to say 15 months after my return from exile and nine months since the beginning of the investigation. Authorities have now seized this property again operating on the motive that, according to the letter of the prefect of 29 April 1996, I am absent from the country for unknown reasons,” states the letter.
Rusatira notes that the first genocide suspects’ list published on 30 November 1996, one year after his departure and 20 months after he initially requested an investigation, did not include his name.
“It is now (1999) in a list published three years after the first one that Kigali hastens to qualify me ‘génocidaire’,” he says. “Is it conceivable that a suspect for so serious a crime has been allowed, more than once, after an eight month multi-level investigation, to travel abroad while the government doesn’t get tired of asking for the extradition of the (…) suspects who live there?” Rusatira asks in the letter.
Moreover, Rusatira told the prosecutor that the only reason he returned to Rwanda so soon after the genocide was because he actively attempted to stop the killings and, unlike others in the former army, never felt threatened. “I returned home on July 29, 1994, with my family… I didn’t have any reason to worry, otherwise I would not have, ingenuously, come back on my own at the advent of the new regime…I was integrated into the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) on January 25, 1995, after a four-month internment at Gako [Kigali],” Rusatira told the Rwandan prosecutor.
“I didn’t save a multitude of people; I would have liked to be capable to save more; but there was a lot stronger than me on both sides of the war; and the impossible is impossible to overcome…” he continued in his letter.
Rusatira will be the first genocide suspect detained by the ICTR who has worked with the RPA at any point. A defense lawyer at the ICTR, who requested anonymity, told Internews that Rusatira has previously refused to appear as a defense witness for at least two suspects being tried at the court. “He would say that he does not want to be involved with anything to do with the ICTR. It’s a real irony,” said the lawyer.