(New York) - The arrest of General Augustin Bizimungu, chief of staff of the former Rwandan army, marks an important step in delivering justice for the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda, Human Rights Watch said today. The military officer, discovered in Angola among a number of demobilized rebels of National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), will be transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) for prosecution.
During the genocide, soldiers and national policemen under Bizimungu’s command directed the massacre of tens of thousands of Tutsi civilians who had taken refuge in churches, hospitals and schools. Soldiers and policemen also ordered civilian officials and ordinary citizens to join in hunting down and killing the Tutsi and punished them if they failed to do so.
“Delivering justice for a genocide is a slow and enormous undertaking,” said Alison Des Forges, senior adviser to the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “That was true for the Holocaust and it is true for Rwanda. What’s important is to persist — both in tracking the accused and in ensuring their prosecution.”
Commenting on the conflict between the current Rwandan government and the ICTR, which has blocked the work of the tribunal, Des Forges said, “It’s essential for the U.N. Security Council to resolve this issue. There’s no point in arresting people unless you know you can bring them to trial.”
As a relatively young military officer, Augustin Bizimungu was proposed as chief of staff by Col. Theoneste Bagosora, a major decision-maker in Rwandan military circles at the start of the genocide. Initially rejected by other officers, Bizimungu was subsequently named to replace another officer who was deemed not rigorous enough in exterminating the Tutsi minority.
Col. Bagosora is also in the hands of the ICTR and will be tried in early September.