Just days after the arrest in France of Félicien Kabuga, one of the Rwandan genocide’s alleged masterminds, came the announcement that the remains of another – Augustin Bizimana, the minister of defense at the time of the killings – were identified in a grave in Pointe-Noire, Republic of Congo.
That Bizimana will not face his day in court is a loss for survivors and relatives of victims of the genocide. He is thought to have died around August 2000.
In 1998, Bizimana was indicted on 13 counts of genocide and other related crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
A hardliner for the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (Mouvement révolutionnaire national pour le développement, MRND), the ruling party, Bizimana was outside Rwanda when the Rwandan president’s plane was shot down on April 6, 1994, triggering the start of three months of ethnic slaughter. But he returned home after a few days and is accused of having coordinated the murders of Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, ten United Nations peacekeepers, and countless Tutsi civilians throughout the country.
With Bizimana’s death confirmed and with Kabuga now in custody, the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT), which was established after the ICTR closed, is pursuing one final major fugitive alleged to have had a hand in planning the genocide: Protais Mpiranya, the commander of the army’s presidential guard. Human Rights Watch senior adviser Alison Des Forges documented how Mpiranya was implicated in leading militia members and ordinary civilians in the killings.
Bizimana’s death means survivors of the genocide are robbed of their chance to see him face the grave accusations against him and to have their day in court. Kabuga’s reckoning is all the more crucial to survivors because of it and efforts should be redoubled to bring Mpiranya to book, lest he too evades justice.