KIGALI - The Executive Secretary of the National Services for Gacaca Jurisdictions has ordered the release of Genocide suspect, Mathias Nyagasaza on “compassionate” grounds.
The latest twist in the case, which has been dragging on for the past eight years, has raised eyebrows, with victims of the suspect crying foul.
75-year old Nyagasaza, a wealthy businessman and former politician in the Habyarimana regime, was arrested in 2002.
He was charged with organising and instigating the Genocide against the Tutsi, and in his capacity as the president of the then ruling MRND party in Gisenyi Prefecture. He took over the reins of the party from Leon Mugesera, after the latter fled to Canada following his 1992 incendiary speech calling on the population to kill the Tutsi and dump them in River Nyabarongo as a shortcut to their “origins” in Abyssinia (Ethiopia).
And Nyagasaza did not disappoint. A 1993 confidential report compiled by the security services at the time, headed by current Senator Augustin Iyamuremye, revealed that Nyagasaza worked around the clock to incite Interahamwe militia to exterminate the Bagogwe of Kibirira and neighbouring sectors. Indeed, there were almost no Tutsi survivors in these areas.
Nyagasaza’s tribulations with the courts is nothing new and he has always managed to wriggle out court decisions, to the extent that he has twice succeeded in causing a retrial in a very suspicious manner.
His political positions and the extent of his involvement in the Genocide qualified him to be placed in “Category 1” of genocide suspects, a category reserved for masterminds and those who demonstrated the highest zeal in the killings.
In the beginning, all Category 1 suspects were slated to be tried by ordinary courts, a decision that was later revised with Gacaca courts mandated to try them.
On December 12, 2008, the Shyira Gacaca courts found him guilty and sentenced him to life in prison. His appeal, taken to RukiIi II Gacaca court in Remera, Gasabo District, still found him guilty on March 13, 2009 and sentenced him to 19 years in prison. That is when drama began to unfold.
Mysteriously, the National Gacaca Jurisdictions annulled the court decisions and ordered a retrial. The trial was transferred to his home area, before the Kabaya Gacaca court that sat in Nanga, Nyabihu District. The court also found him guilty and sentenced him to life in prison.
Again the sentence was confirmed by the Kinyinya Gacaca court in Gasabo District, which, on May 27, 2010, sentenced him to life.
Very strangely, the National Gacaca Jurisdictions covertly scrapped the courts’ decisions and ordered a retrial. This time it was moved to Musanze District in the Northern Province. The decision makers at Gacaca headquarters did not even bother to inform Kinyinya Gacaca court that their verdicts had been thrown out.
“We are very surprised; we have just heard it from you. Why the secrecy”? Wondered a member of the Kinyinya Gacaca panel who requested not to be named.
The date for the trial was set for December 22, 2010, and again, more questions remain unanswered: Why was Nyagasaza informed of the date as far back as September 2, 2010 while the victims were only informed four days before the trial, without even honouring the seven days prescribed by law?
The victims are not afraid to voice out their suspicions that money, lots of it, is being used to oil Nyagasaza out of prison. It has been reported that the suspects family has been busy selling off most of their property, the latest being a building in Gisenyi town that was bought by a local bank for more than Rwf 100 million.
Nyagasaza’s powerful reach was to be manifested in the run up to Christmas. On December 20, 2010, he was admitted to Gisenyi Hospital suffering from some unnamed “medical complications”.
Two days later, on December 22, Mathias Nyagasaza’s son, Jean Pierre Twagiramungu, armed with a medical certificate from Gisenyi Hospital signed that very day, wrote to the Executive Secretary of the Gacaca Jurisdictions, requesting that his father be temporarily released to undergo treatment.
Next day, December 23, a letter signed by the Executive Secretary, Domitilla Mukantaganzwa. “advised” the appeals chamber of Muhoza Gacaca court in Musanze to release Nyagasaza to undergo treatment before his third trial.
Strangely, reliable sources at the national Gacaca headquarters, confirmed that Mukantaganzwa started her leave on December 20, 2010, and as it turns out, she signed Nyagasaza’s release order on December 23, 2010, three days into her leave!
No sooner had the ink dried on the signature, in the few following hours, the Muhoza Gacaca court emitted a release order signed by the president of the court, Kayitare G, the two vice presidents; Nsengimana Alex and Mutabazi Hamudu, the secretary, Uwimana Amina and another person.
The chairman of Ibuka, the Genocide survivors’ organization in Nyabihu, Joseph Bizimungu, has no doubt that powerful forces are pulling the strings to set free Mathias Nyagasaza.
“We are very convinced that Nyagasaza is using his fortune to defeat justice. Do not be surprised if he is released and flees the country,” said Bizimungu.
A Gisenyi prisons official equally questioned the decision to release Nyagasaza so he could seek treatment.
“This is unusual,” said the official who preferred anonymity.
“Prisons have a budget to treat sick inmates; you do not have to release them to seek medical help. We even transfer some complicated cases to King Faisal hospital in Kigali. So this release order continues to baffle me”.
52-year old Mukamana Dativa lost three children in the 1992 Bagogwe massacres, two years before the Genocide against the Tutsi.
“Nyagasaza even confessed in court that he had taken part in meetings to plan exterminate and throw us in Nyabarongo. But because he is rich, he can buy his way to freedom. What about our dead? Where is justice”? She asked, with a lot of anger in her voice.
“Will the voices of Genocide survivors be stifled by corrupt and insensitive people”? wondered a middle-aged man who only identified himself as Kabera.
“Nyagasaza was very notorious before and during the Genocide. His foot soldiers are in jail but he is assured of living out his retirement peacefully with his family. If this is not pure impunity, what is?”
Attempts to get a comment from Gacaca headquarters were fruitless as Mukantaganzwa was said to be on vacation outside the country. The person who usually stands in for her, Dusingizimana Gratien, was very conspicuous in being evasive.
When The New Times contacted him on Monday, he first said that he did not want speak on the phone as he could not be sure he was speaking to a journalist. When the journalist requested for a face-to-face meeting, the slippery Dusingizimana said he was out of town and would be back on Friday. What is there to hide? Why all this cloak-and-dagger stuff if the Nyagasaza soap opera is legitimate?
But the billion franc question remains: If reliable sources tell us that Mukantaganzwa went on leave on December 20, yet she signed the release “advice” on December 23, what was so unique about Nyagasaza’s case that the Gacaca Executive Secretary had to interrupt her holiday, to go back to office to ensure that the Genocide convict is released?