A Rwandan farmer accused of killing thousands of Tutsis in southwest Rwanda , recently appeared for the first time before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha.
Munyakazi John Yusuf faces charges related to genocide in the provinces of Cyangugu and Kibuye provinces. Prosecutors claim he is responsible for massacres in the parish of Shangi where over eight thousand bodies were found in a mass grave. Survivors later named it after him.
Accused of genocide and of extermination as a crime against humanity, Munyakazi has pleaded not guilty to both charges “Both the allegations in count one and two are false. I didn’t do anything alleged there. I will give full explanation when my trial begins” he told the court.
Before the genocide, Munyakazi was a farmer in the small town of Bugarama in south west Rwanda . After the genocide, he fled to Kamayola in the eastern part of neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.
According to Rwanda ‘s legal authorities his name often comes up in Gacaca hearings, the traditional village courts now processing cases against thousands of genocide suspects.
“He planned all the attacks” says Mukarugambwa Hawa, president of a local Gacaca court “He was the leader of Interahamwe militia here. His home was the head office. The militia who went out to kill got on the buses in front of his house and on return they disembarked from there”
Mukarugambwa also believes Munyakazi is responsible for the death of her father and uncle. She says under Munyakazi’s order, they were cut with machetes and their bodies thrown in a river.
Mukarugambwa’s husband Butoyi Masoud says Munyakazi also harassed him for having chosen a Tutsi to be his wife. He says Munyakazi demanded three hundred thousand francs to spare his life, so he sold his house to raise the bribe.
Munyakazi has two wives. His first wife, Mukaruhunga Ashur lives with her grand daughters. She says Munyakazi is innocent. “My husband was a strong believer in Islam. All the neighbours know that he was very active in religious activities. He prayed a lot and helped many people including the sick. He participated in a lot of religious activities”
Munyakazi helped to build the oldest mosque in his home town in the early 80’s. But some of the people who saw him as a devout Muslim at that time, now see him very differently.
Sheikh Tubanambazi Hamis the Imam of Bugarama town in the southwest of Rwanda says he was shocked to see him change all of a sudden. “Frankly speaking, the way he behaved was not in line with Islamic beliefs” says the cleric. “He took up the leadership of the genociders! Bearing in mind that our religion does not accept such, we consider him somebody who did evil. All the Muslims here see him as somebody who betrayed our religion as well as God because he entered that militia group”
Musengayire Ezra narrowly escaped death during a massacre in Cyangugu. He now works for the survivors association, IBUKA.
He says Yusuf was like a father to him “He did me all that a father can do to a son. But I accuse him of genocide because he participated in it and led the people here into it” he remarks.
Some of the genocide suspects who know Munyakazi well say he should not deny the charges. Kayibanda Narcise who is in Gikongoro prison confessed to his crimes. He accuses Munyakazi of genocide. “ I know Munyakazi Yusuf as somebody who massacred Tutsis because of their ethnic background” he says. “He sensitized many people and trained them to kill Tutsis. I know fully well that Yusuf is a killer because I committed the crime with him. He was my boss. He gave me instructions and I obeyed until the end of genocide”
Munyakazi’s trial is expected to begin at the ICTR in the next few months. So far, the court has concluded twenty cases, with twenty-four yet to begin.