In a tragic turn of events, Lt Col Tharcisse Muvunyi, a former Rwandan military officer, passed away on Saturday, June 10, 2023 in Niamey, Niger. The 70-year-old had been residing in Niamey since late 2021 after being transferred by the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) along with seven other individuals who had either been acquitted or completed their sentences at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
Muvunyi had served his sentence for incitement to genocide and was legally eligible for release. However, his freedom was severely restricted in Niger, where he resided in a police-controlled residence along with the other transferees, without proper identification documents and limited freedom of movement. This dire living situation has drawn sharp criticism from their legal representatives, who argue that the individuals are effectively held in a form of detention despite no longer being convicted criminals.
According to his lawyer, Maitre Kadidiatou Hamadou, Muvunyi had been seeking to reunite with his family abroad but was unable to do so due to the restrictions imposed on him. The legal counsel also revealed that Muvunyi had been unwell for several days before his sudden demise. In May 2023, his roommates discovered him unconscious and rushed him to the hospital. Although he was released on May 10, 2023, his lawyer, Abbe Jolles, had subsequently requested medical treatment in England, but the United Nations did not respond to the plea.
The situation faced by Muvunyi and the other Rwandans stranded in Niger has drawn attention to their precarious circumstances. After spending years in Tanzania, awaiting a host country assigned by the United Nations, they finally arrived in Niger in late 2021. However, their legal representatives have highlighted the poor living conditions they endure in Niamey and called for their immediate reunion with their families.
Antoine Mukiza, whose elderly father remains in Niamey, expressed shock and deep concern for his well-being. He appealed to the highest authorities in Niger to facilitate the return of his father and the other six individuals to their families.
The Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hassoumi Massoudou, emphasized that the situation is contingent upon the United Nations mechanism. The Nigerien government awaits the identification of another host country, but several nations have already declined to accept the individuals.
The tragic death of Lt Col Tharcisse Muvunyi highlights the challenges faced by Rwandans involved in the ICTR, underscoring the need for urgent attention to their plight and a compassionate resolution to their protracted situation.