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SA and the UN could be closing in on Fulgence Kayishema, alleged Rwandan genocidaire

SA and the UN could be closing in on Fulgence Kayishema, alleged Rwandan genocidaire
Fugitive Fulgence Kayishema. (Photo: Supplied)

A dedicated multi-department South African investigative team working with the United Nations has made progress in tracking down Fulgence Kayishema, the most wanted alleged killer of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Fulgence Kayishema had been living in Cape Town until about December 2019 when he disappeared one jump ahead of the tardy South African authorities. 

After dragging its feet for three years, the South African government finally began cooperating earlier this year with the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) to try to find Kayishema. This court has the mission of completing the trials of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and for the former Yugoslavia.

This week the IRMCT’s chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz reported to the UN Security Council that only four fugitives indicted by the international court still remained at large.

“Our top priority is Fulgence Kayishema. Kayishema is indicted for the murders of more than 2,000 women, men, children and elderly refugees at Nyange Church in April 1994.

“As I have previously reported to you, since 2018, this investigation has been significantly impeded by challenges in obtaining cooperation from South Africa.


“However, I am pleased that cooperation with South Africa is now moving in a positive direction. Thanks to the support of the President of South Africa, a dedicated national investigative team was established to work directly with our Tracking Team at an operational level.

“The two teams have been regularly meeting and undertaking coordinated investigations over the last six months. Important results have already been achieved, and our investigation in South Africa is progressing quickly.”

Daily Maverick asked Brammertz’s office to elaborate on the progress, but it did not respond.

The court’s indictment of Kayishema said that as a local police inspector in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, he had played a leading role in the massacre on 16 April of about 2,000 Tutsis who had taken refuge in the Nyange church in western Rwanda. Hutu killers tossed hand grenades into the church and when the Tutsis continued to resist, Kayishema and other local leaders ordered a bulldozer to demolish the building, crushing to death most of the survivors, the indictment said. Remaining survivors were hunted down and killed.

Brammertz had told the UN Security Council in previous annual reports that early in 2018 his office had concluded, based on records and sources, that Kayishema was present in Cape Town. This had been confirmed by South African authorities via Interpol in August 2018. 

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“We immediately submitted an urgent request for assistance to South Africa seeking his prompt arrest.

“So we were surprised to be informed that because Kayishema had been granted refugee status in South Africa, he could not be handed over to the mechanism. This excuse was withdrawn months later, replaced with a new argument that South Africa lacked a legal basis to cooperate with the mechanism.”

Mechanism officials then pointed out to Pretoria that SA was obliged to arrest Kayishema as the arrest warrant had been issued under the mandatory Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.

“After 16 months of intense negotiations, in December 2019, South Africa finally submitted the UN arrest warrant for execution, which a local magistrate approved,” Brammertz said.

South African officials had then attempted to arrest Kayishema at his house in Cape Town and “not surprisingly, he was not there,” Brammertz told Daily Maverick late last year. 

Dogged chase

But Brammertz and his office did not give up the chase after the failed arrest. He said Pretoria could still provide valuable leads on discovering where Kayishema had fled to. This information could include his alias, his phone information, financial information and his refugee file.

Brammertz added that by seeking one fugitive, the tribunal also often identified persons of interest who were in some way linked to the fugitive.

But the investigation did not progress for more than a year. Miscommunications, delays and Home Affairs informing him that Kayishema’s refugee file and fingerprints had been lost, complicated the hunt.

Yet he did not quit. In September 2021, his office submitted an urgent request to Pretoria to establish an interdepartmental investigation team to work with the IRMCT trackers.

In November 2021, he visited Pretoria to take up the matter, meeting Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and officials of other departments. He was informed that International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor — who fully supported his request — had asked President Cyril Ramaphosa to discuss it in Cabinet.

This was the first time, it seemed, that the issue was getting the attention it needed at the highest levels of government.

It was not until April this year, though, that Pretoria informed his office that his request had been approved and an operational team had been established. This was followed by a visit in late May, during which Brammertz’s team and the SA operational team began sharing information and agreed on the next steps.

This increased cooperation now seems to have borne some fruit. DM


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