Suspected Gatagara mass murderer roams the streets of Rome

Survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, their families and friends, Saturday, gathered at the Centre for the Handicapped in Gatagara, in Nyanza District, to accord a decent burial to 38 newly found remains of loved ones. To date, 4,338 victims are buried at the Gatagara grounds as more remains continue to be unearthed.
Survivors of Gatagara and the centre for the handicapped remember the gruesome killings of 1994 (Photo T. Kisambira)
Survivors of Gatagara and the centre for the handicapped remember the gruesome killings of 1994 (Photo T. Kisambira)

Survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, their families and friends, Saturday, gathered at the Centre for the Handicapped in Gatagara, in Nyanza District, to accord a decent burial to 38 newly found remains of loved ones.

To date, 4,338 victims are buried at the Gatagara grounds as more remains continue to be unearthed.

In 1994, the Brothers of Charity compound in Gatagara comprised a home for the poor, a hostel for the physically handicapped, the congregation of the Sisters of Bizeramariya and a secondary school.

Young handicapped Tutsi children, Tutsi staff, and others who sought refuge there were massacred during a mass execution that ensued on April 24, 1994.

Survivors told The New Times that the victims were brutally killed as the institution’s administrators acted as co-conspirators. Many facilitated the killings – drawing lists of the Tutsi and collaborating with the Interahamwe.
 Survivors established that a man accused of organising the slaughter at the centre - Brother Jean-Baptiste Rutihunza, is believed to be living in Italy.

The alleged mass murderer lives at the General House of the Brothers of Charity in the capital, Rome, where he works as a receptionist. He is the first person that visitors to the head office of this international religious congregation, most probably, encounter first.

In 1994, he was the legal representative for the Brothers of Charity’s centre in Gatagara, and its head. At the time, Rutihunza is said to have been a loyal member of the then ruling MRND party.

He, and others, allegedly helped to organise the killings in Gatagara and stood by as Tutsi staff and disabled children were abducted and killed.

He purportedly organised meetings together with Célestin Ugirashebuja, former mayor of Kigoma Commune in the South Province.

Ugirashebuja is among four genocide suspects living free in the UK. Early this year, he worked at the Anna Victoria Nursing Home in Frinton-on-Sea, Essex.

During the genocide, Rutihunza allegedly worked with Ugirashebuja to establish a ‘security committee’ meant to identify and kill the Tutsi.

Meetings were purportedly held at the centre or at Ugirashebuja’s home. Rutihunza is personally said to have provided daily updates on lists of the Tutsi to the Interahamwe.

The New Times learnt that when the Rwanda Patriotic Army captured the area, Rutihunza fled to the DRC and settled in Bukavu, where together with fellow Brothers, he formed a Brothers of Charity convent. After the destruction of the refugee camps in eastern DRC, in 1996, Rutihunza fled to Tanzania.

He reportedly first arrived in Italy in 1997.
When in 1998, the media in Italy linked him to the Genocide, he relocated to Ivory Coast, where, his fellow Brothers allegedly convinced him that he was at greater risk of arrest.

In 1999, he travelled to Belgium where he worked at two convents - Ronse and Moerzeke.

He is said to have lived at the convent of Ronse clandestinely, receiving few visitors only by appointment. His name never appeared on the Brothers’ list.

It was during his stay at Moerzeke (where he lived until 2007) that his name reappeared in a Belgian magazine, Vif l’Express.

The Brothers of Charity then allegedly arranged for him to flee.

In 2008, they transferred him to his current address – Rome, the residence of the congregation’s Superior General and the seat of the Catholic Church.

Survivors find Rutihunza’s presence in Rome, terrifying, but avoid speaking about it openly, for fear of possible reprisals.

As the midday sun pierced on Saturday, mourners broke down in distress. Survivors in the area are beneficiaries of varied services at the Gatagara centre. The institution provides treatment, hospitalisation and rehabilitation of physically handicapped children and adults, as well as primary education. Coupled with these is a secondary school and vocational training opportunities.

Gitagara residents will never forget what befell them in 1994. The handicapped children that now enjoy institutional care are a reminder of the past. Survivors are reluctant to talk about their experiences. Is it for fear of retribution for telling their story?

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