A man dressed in pink sweeps the entrance to Kinshasa prison

Colonial building that housed genocidal murderers until 2018: Kigali Central Prison Photo: Peterik Wiggers/Panos Pictures/visum

One million victims, two million accused: the genocide against the Tutsi has not yet been fully resolved. The perpetrators also still live in Germany.

W.When Jean Bosco Siboyintore looks at the long list on the desk in front of him, he frowns. There are more than 1,000 Rwandan names: names of fugitive alleged perpetrators of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994. They are arranged by suspected countries of residence, including France, Belgium, the USA, Canada and even Australia and Germany.

“We are still searching for more than 1,000 perpetrators around the world,” explains Siboyintore. The chief investigator of the Rwandan prosecutor's office's genocide search unit looks out the large window of his office in a sleek new glass building in Kigali's government district. The capital of Rwanda, with its countless new glass towers, restaurants and hotels, is now one of the most modern metropolises in Africa.

However, 30 years after the genocide of more than a million people, the country still struggles with its dark past. Many perpetrators never faced justice. “Fortunately,” the prosecutor said, “serious crimes like genocide are not subject to statute of limitations.”

Siboyintore has been revising its lists since 2007. At that time the special department for international investigations had just been founded. Siboyintore sat with his three colleagues in a small office filled with files and handwritten witness statements. The stress was clearly visible on his face. His list of fugitives was much longer and few countries in the world were willing to cooperate with Rwandan prosecutors at the time.

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Only when Rwanda abolished the death penalty in 2007 did international cooperation gain momentum. There was a lot to do because it is one of the largest legal investigations ever conducted. Rwandan lawyers speak of a total of more than two million cases, a figure that no justice system in the world could easily handle. And in Rwanda, after the 1990 civil war and the 1994 genocide, the system completely collapsed.

Rwanda's judiciary then pragmatically divided the numerous perpetrators into three categories. Simple followers and those who had acted following orders were classified in the lowest category and brought before simple village courts, the so-called Gacaca courts. Gacaca (green meadow) is the traditional name for village gatherings in Rwanda. They were reactivated as village courts for dealing with the genocide, with lay judges. Internationally, this was criticized by human rights groups as contrary to the rule of law, but the only alternatives were impunity or detention without trial.

The afternoon of April 6, 1994. Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana returns to the capital Kigali after a summit meeting. As landing approaches, two rockets shoot down the plane, fired from a Presidential Guard position. The Rwandan army immediately sets up roadblocks and persecutes their political opponents, and in the following days the generals form a new government. Across the country, Rwanda's Tutsis are being massacred by the army and Hutu youth militias during raids and at gathering points such as churches: shot, dismembered and burned. Within a few weeks there were hundreds of thousands of deaths and, in the end, more than a million. The world watches absentmindedly.

On July 4, 1994 The Tutsi rebel movement RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) conquers Kigali and the killings stop. The RPF was founded in Uganda by exiled Rwandan Tutsis and invaded Rwanda in 1990. In a 1993 peace treaty, it was accepted into Rwanda's institutions and military, despite protests from radical Hutu forces. When Habyarimana promised that the treaty would be implemented, he was killed when a plane was shot down and the extermination of the Tutsis began. As the RPF advances, the genocidal army flees to the Congo, where remnants of it still remain; Many perpetrators find asylum abroad.

From 2007 to 2012, 12,000 such non-professional courts tried more than two million defendants. More than a million were convicted, mostly of “complicity” in genocide. As the prisons of that time were completely overcrowded, the perpetrators had the opportunity to openly confess their crimes before the assembled community, show the mass graves and ask for forgiveness from the relatives of their victims. They then received a reduced sentence and did community service.

The Gacaca town courts were closed in 2012. The process was then resumed in the ordinary courts. These concerned mainly the alleged perpetrators of the second category: officials at middle management levels who had carried out orders they had received from above in 1994. The prosecution received a “huge database of perpetrators convicted in absentia by the Gacaca courts.” , recalls Siboyintore: a total of 71,658 names. “We are working to find out how many of them are hiding in Rwanda, whether they have died or are still at large,” says Siboyintore.

The prosecutor now has a modern office, dozens of investigators work under him and, most importantly, the handwritten Gacaca files are slowly being digitized. This makes it easier to specifically search for names, crime scenes, and witnesses. In total, there are 49 million documents that are painstakingly scanned by hand and tagged with keywords so that researchers in other countries can access them digitally.

A complex job, but worth it. Accusations of genocide are raised again and again in Rwanda. And since he founded his department, Siboyintore has helped file 1,149 indictments in 33 countries around the world. Thirty defendants were extradited to Rwanda to stand trial in their home country, mainly from the Netherlands, the United States and Sweden. Another 29 alleged perpetrators went to court in other countries.

Time is running out for investigators.

“All the bigwigs who helped plan the genocide are now behind bars,” the prosecutor says satisfied. This is category 1: high-ranking politicians from 1994, army commanders at the time, newspaper and radio directors who are considered planners and those primarily responsible for calling for genocide. The UN Special Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), founded in 1995 in the Tanzanian city of Arusha, convicted 61 senior officials responsible for the genocide over 20 years. 14 defendants were acquitted.

In 2015, the ICTR was closed and pending cases were transferred to the Rwandan judiciary or a “transitional mechanism” whose offices are located in The Hague, Netherlands. The most recent Rwandan case heard there is that of Félicien Kabuga, one of Rwanda's richest businessmen before 1994 and a close confidant of then Hutu president Juvénal Habyarimana. He co-founded the incendiary “Mille Collines” radio station, which called for the mass murder of Tutsis, and, according to the indictment, provided money and vehicles to the Hutu militias who were largely responsible for the murder.

For a long time, Kabuga was at the top of Siboyintore's list. But it wasn't until 2020 that he was caught near Paris. The French authorities transferred him to The Hague. However, the transitional court declared in June 2023 that the man, now 90 years old, was unfit to stand trial. After all, he is still imprisoned in The Hague because no country wants to take him in. “We feel very relieved,” says Siboyintore. “We were afraid that he would die somewhere due to his old age without having to face trial.”

But the Kabuga case has shown that time is running out. Nowadays, in other countries the deaths of wanted persons are repeatedly declared and the files are archived. Not only the perpetrators, but also the witnesses age and their memory weakens. “And some countries still have a long list and many duties to do,” said the prosecutor.

At least there have been movements in cooperation with France, which supported the genocidal government in 1994 and denied its role for a long time. In February, France's top prosecutor was in Rwanda and promised closer cooperation with Siboyintore's unit. Siboyintore's list includes 47 cases in France, only 7 have been convicted, but France now wants to prosecute the remaining alleged perpetrators itself.

The perpetrators also live in Germany

The prosecutor is sure that most of the wanted people are still hiding in Rwanda's neighboring countries: 408 suspected genocide perpetrators are suspected in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 278 in Uganda, 63 in Malawi, 52 in Tanzania, 35 in Kenya and 40 in Belgium 23 in the United States. And 5 in Germany.

The Federal Prosecutor's Office in Karlsruhe has done its homework. Of the five people on Siboyintore's list, two were arrested. Former Rwandan mayor Onesphore Rwabukombe, who called on his citizens to participate in a massacre of hundreds of Tutsis who had fled to a church, was sentenced to life in prison by the Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt in 2015. Former university professor Jean Twagiramungu, who urged his students to join murderous militias in 1994, he was extradited from Germany to Rwanda in August 2017 and sentenced to 25 years in prison in February 2023.

“Today we are still grateful to the Germans for that,” says Siboyintore, pointing to his list under the keyword “Germany.” Three Rwandan names are still there. One is crossed out: He is said to have died, but Rwandan prosecutors have never seen a death certificate. Two more left. The German authorities assure the taz: investigations are ongoing.