Within two weeks of Gacaca restarting its operations in March, three of the community courts have summoned three high Rwandan dignitaries - Prime Minister Bernard Makuza, Minister of Defense General Marcel Gatsinzi, and the prefect of Ruhengeri province in northern Rwanda, Boniface Rucagu - to answer charges relating to the 1994 genocide. Gatsinzi and Rucagu are directly accused of taking part in the genocide. The appearance of these important Hutu officials, who became members of the governing Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), has sparked debate. Some see it as the determination of ordinary Rwandans to prise answers from everyone, even from prominent Hutus who have been successfully integrated into the government. Others see it as a ploy to tarnish the reputation of the few remaining Hutu leaders.
General Gatsinzi did not arrive like any other suspect. He appeared with all the trappings of his ministerial post in a grey, four-wheel Toyota Land Cruiser with heavily tinted windows and a Rwanda Defence Forces number plate. He was accompanied by the head of intelligence for Butare province, the prefect and a bodyguard who served him water over the course of the long hearings. A posse of MPs was waiting to greet him, and traffic policemen directed unusually heavy traffic. No fewer than 2,000 Butare residents had assembled on 30 March for this exceptional hearing in the vast football stadium. When Gatsinzi walked in, everyone, including the president of the court, bowed in due deference to authority. Unlike other witnesses, the general was not expected to stand. But that was all the respect granted that day to the man who was once chief of staff of the armed forces in the former regime from 7 to 15 April 1994, before joining the victorious RPF army in July 1994, and becoming defence minister in the new government.
Prior to April 1994, General Gatsinzi lived in Butare for four years where he was the director of the Ecole Des Sous Officiers (ESO), a noncommissioned officers' academy. It is alleged that during this period, both before and during the genocide, officers from the school participated in the killings, torture and rape of Tutsi civilians and that he did nothing to stop them. He is also accused of doing nothing to stop the massacres of civilians that took place near his residence. "I did not in any way participate in the genocide," General Gatsinzi told the court, during his four-hour testimony. He said that he had always done everything he could, and that any honest witness could confirm this. "People of Butare, if you remember, whenever I arrived in Butare people always said 'Now that he is here we are going to have peace for a while'. If they really tell the truth, they will remember this. Those who are here and were there at that time can vouch for that," he added.
Bagosora's "parallel structure"
The general told the court that during the short week that he had been head of the army in April 1994, no-one had been killed in Butare thanks to the strict instructions he had given to the soldiers. When asked how many people he knew had been killed in his area or by whom, he said that he had not conducted a census and so could not give an answer. When pressed, he admitted: "I could do nothing at the time. I couldn't help anyone as I was no longer in charge of the ESO. You need to ask my successor what happened." "Moreover they were also looking for me. I survived many assassination attempts when I was acting as the army's Chief of Staff. At one point my chauffeur asked to resign because it was getting too dangerous to drive me around," he added. The general said there was a parallel power structure operating at the time, led by Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, who is currently standing trial before the UN tribunal in Arusha. Gatsinzi's appearance was part of the preliminary proceedings in the case. According to court president Silver Mesentery, if allegations against the general persist and are backed up by statements from members of the population, Gatsinzi could be brought to trial sometime this year or next year. "We are still at the information gathering phase. So if people bring up allegations during the trial phase, then he will stand trial."
The Rucagu meeting
A former member of President Habyarimana's MRND party until 1993, Boniface Rucagu did not have a post in the April 1994 government. Since 1997, he has been prefect of the Ruhengeri region. The first allegations against him came not long after the genocide. He even featured on Rwanda's list of genocide suspects drawn up by the RPF. Certain survivor groups asserted that his appointment was a political measure aimed at winning over a province they believe to be in the grip of Hutu extremism. Although Rucagu was arrested several times, he was never brought to trial. Eventually the former president Pasteur Bizimungu (now in prison) and vice-president Paul Kagame declared that if Rucagu had committed any crimes the matter would be looked into by a court of law.
When the Gacaca session in his home sector of Nemba (Nyamugari District) began last month, the first thing that the judges did was to issue a summons for Rucagu to appear before them. Several witnesses came forward to implicate the prefect in murders, including Léonce Gakunzi. "Rucagu's car, the green Hilux is the one that was used to transport Interahamwe militia to meetings. The driver was called Tharcien. Sometimes it was driven by Rucagu himself. Also, all the Interahamwe who used to go around attacking people would rest in his home and drink a wine called Viki, which was made in his home," Leonce asserted before a crowd of spectators. Rucagu strenuously denied the accusations and told the court that he had risked his life repeatedly to save Tutsis, including the owner of a local bar. "I fought the Interahamwe down there as they returned from looting. I warned them that the MRND party would disown them," he explained. Rucagu challenged anyone to bring evidence of his direct participation in the genocide, saying he had done nothing of the sort. "Those who accuse me did not do so directly. They did not say that a meeting was held after which an official attacked and beat people up. [What I want] is for that official to be questioned and to say he did not do it alone, he was with MP Rucagu." Rucagu said if that such direct evidence materialised, then he would be ready to face trial and accept the punishment.
This is exactly what the witnesses proceeded to do. The most damaging accusations concerned a road block right outside the Rucagu's house, which Léonce Gakunzi says was manned by the same militia that would stop for a drink in the prefect's house. But when pushed, the witness could not establish a direct link between the road block, Rucagu and any deaths that he knew about. Another witness, Julienne Mukagakwaya, told the court that between 1990 and 1992 there were many massacres in the province at a time when Rucagu was the MP. At one time a group of refugees had gathered at the District Office. A meeting was being held there, attended by the prefect. "They decided that there were 'Ibyitso' (RPF accomplices) among the refugees and that they needed to sort them out. That's exactly what they did." "The torture those people suffered or the death of my uncle Shaban resulted from the decisions made at the meetings" she asserts.
Bernard Makuza, between friends
Prime Minister Bernard Makuza does not have half the troubles of Boniface Rucagu or Marcel Gatsinzi. Makuza's summons was intended to be more of a public relations affair, to show that senior government officials are participating in justice. He too arrived at his hearing in a sleek vehicle, but unlike General Gatsinzi, it was his personal Mercedes and he drove himself to the typical Gacaca hearing under the trees in Nyakabanda, where he lived during the genocide. He was not attended by bodyguards or an entourage. The prime minister is the former legal affairs advisor to the then Prime Minister of Rwanda Agathe Uwilingiyimana, who was assassinated on 7 April 1994. He said that his life had been at risk because killers kept coming to his house, and then Radio RTLM announced that people were hiding above ceiling boards. "The neighbours told me that it was dangerous for me to stay in the house. They advised me to come and stay with them where they were gathered in the neighbourhood," Makuza said. The place was a roadblock. This fact, along with his background (his father was a hardliner in the main Hutu party of the 1960s), might have raised suspicions. But none were voiced. Still nobody believes that Makuza played a role in the killings and he was not subjected to lengthy questioning. After his hearing, the prime minister caught up with old friends and bought drinks for his old neighbours.