The search for more than twenty years of one of the most wanted fugitives in the world

For more than twenty years, the Rwandan authorities have been trying to track down the main perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in the country, Protais Mpiranya. Mpiranya was the commander of the Presidential Guard: at the end of the civil war he had fled and there was no news of him. The search ended just a few weeks ago, when the tomb he was buried in under the pseudonym Sambao Ndome was discovered in Harare, Zimbabwe.

After the discovery of the tomb, the identity of the burial was verified and it was discovered that he was Mpiranya and died in 2006 from complications of tuberculosis from which he suffered. Mpiranya was accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity and was among the world’s most wanted fugitives, most notably among the 93 indicted by the international tribunal established by the United Nations in 1994 to determine responsibility for the Rwandan genocide.

The cause of the genocide was the downing of the plane carrying the President of Rwanda, Juvenal Habyarimana, and the President of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira, both ethnic Hutus, which happened on April 6, 1994. After that incident, hatred erupted between the Hutus, the “moderate” Hutus and the Tutsi minority led to The massacre of at least 800,000 people, mainly at the expense of the Tutsis but also at the expense of many “moderate” Hutus. As head of the Presidential Guard, Mpiranya gave his men lists of people to be killed, including their family members, and played a major role in the atrocities that followed. The research team that uncovered Mpiranya’s death was organized to solve cases that remained unsolved after the closure of the international court that had conducted the research until then in 2015.

For a long time, the leader of the group, Serge Brammertz, and his collaborators were convinced that Mpiranya was still alive, and they traced numerous unpromising evidence or testimonies that led them to different countries of the African continent. Brammertz said speaking with guardian. The file in it was full of information regarding his affairs in various countries, and he seemed very active. My predecessors focused on those tracks, and I probably did the same in the beginning.”

From 2015 onwards, the group reviewed the entire investigation in Mpiranya, double-checking the data, interviewing all witnesses again, examining each hypothesis and questioning their beliefs. They started from the only certain fact that Mpiranya was in the Congo in 2002, and from there they tried to reconstruct every detail of his life, trying to think like him and assume his actions. Despite the efforts, the research has been slow and hasn’t made much progress, at least a few months ago.

There is little information on this point of investigation. It is known that in September 2021, the research group acquired a computer, which was recovered in an unspecified European country. Inside the computer, they found hundreds of photos and several emails referring to Mpiranya and her family, according to the information in the possession of the investigators. Some of the photos dating back to 2006 depicted the funeral. There were also images of the sarcophagus and the body resembling Mpiranya.

In the computer, the investigators also found a hand-drawn drawing of a tombstone, which may have served as a model for the cemetery: it was the crucial detail, because the tombstone was for Sambao Ndome, born on the same day Mpiranya on May 30, 1956. In Greenville Cemetery, on the morning of 7 February, the group identified the grave, almost invisible in the tall grass. One team member said, “I remember the moment my colleague called us saying ‘I found her!’ “We just stood there looking at it, it was just as we expected it to be. All the hard work, the ups and downs, led to that moment.”

The Zimbabwean authorities then granted the group permission to exhume Mpiranya’s body for investigation. On April 27, investigators, a United Nations coroner and three local investigators went to the grave to take a sample of the body. The campaign was accompanied by 20 policemen, who attracted great interest from the population, who gathered in a small crowd around the cemetery.

The research work of Brammertz and his collaborators is not over yet, they are looking for five other accused of genocide. According to Brammertz, the discovery of Mpiranya could increase pressure on the governments of countries whose tracks have covered so far. “Our goal is to arrest the fugitives,” Brammertz said. But they also have to hold their responsibilities accountable one way or another […]. The fact that this person died means that he can no longer harm him, that he is not living his life as a fugitive somewhere, while his life is trying to rebuild theirs.

– Read also: The day the Rwandan genocide began

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