Four Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) officers who are charged with the killing of several clergymen in Kabgayi in 1994, yesterday appeared for the second time before the Military Tribunal.
The quartet which includes Brig. Gen. Wilson Gumisiriza, were arrested in connection with the murder of 15 catholic clergymen who included bishops in the now Southern Province.
During the hearing that was presided over by Brig. Gen. Steven Kalyango, who is also the tribunal’s Vice President, Gumisiriza maintained his plea of innocence to the crime of complicity in the killing of the clerics who had been evacuated from Kabgayi Diocese.
Together with Maj. Wilson Ukwishaka, the then commander of the soldiers who allegedly commited the crimes, the two are charged with complicity to murder as a war crime as stipulated in the Geneva Convention.
Gumisiriza, who was the Intelligence Officer (IO) of the Operational Brigade that was operating in that sector at the time, led the evacuation mission of the clerics who were later killed at a Catholic parish called Gakirazo.
The priests were killed by some members of the then Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA), two of whom, Capt. John Butera and Capt. (Rtd) Dieudonée Rukeba have pleaded guilty.
Military Prosecutor Capt. Kayijuka Ngabo said that there had been an early warning that the priests would be harmed especially because they were being referred to as Interahamwe by refugees who were in that area.
“As the commander of that operation, he should have known that such utterances by these refugees would intoxicate the soldiers who were there at the time to later turn around and harm the priests,” Kayijuka told court in Nyamirambo yesterday. He added that the commanders would have done something to avert the killings.
On their initial appearance Tuesday, both Butera and Rukeba said that they were angered by the fact that a colleague called Deo Nyagatare had found his entire family killed where the clerics were.
In his defence, however, Gumisiriza said that all he did was to evacuate the priests from the war zone and hand them over to their fellow clergymen who were at the parish.
“How would I sense that a soldier who was not even there at the time I dropped them off would eventually turn and kill them long after I had left?” pleaded the General.
Athanase Rutabingwa, his attorney also contested the scenario presented by the prosecutor arguing that it was presumption of knowledge.
“What other form of protection would he give the priests other than appointing soldiers to guard the parish? Was there any other befitting force than RPA soldiers?” Rutabingwa retorted.
The trial was adjourned to September 2 and witnesses are expected to be called by both State and the Defence. The officers were arrested on June 11 following a joint investigation between Rwandan prosecution and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).