By Ben Barugahare
On March 25, 2021, the Muhanga intermediate court in the southern province of Rwanda pronounced a life sentence against Gérard Urayeneza and his two co-defendants for complicity in the crime of genocide and concealment of evidence or information on the genocide. This conviction comes up 27 years after the genocide, even though the convict never left his village and was himself the prey of extremist Hutu in 1994. An astonishing situation, knowing that the Gacaca court trials were held on the hills where the victims and the accused lived during the genocide and that he had never been accused of anything. Having introduced appeal against this verdict before the High Court; a good number of witnesses who charged him are discharging him. Is Urayeneza really guilty? Isn’t this trial political bordering on politics?The present analysis strives to respond to such interrogations.
How did Urayeneza behave during genocide?
Gérard Urayeneza is a Hutu married to a Tutsi woman, Justine Urayeneza, with whom he had 4 children. Gérard himself is a mixture, like a good number of Rwandans. His mother was Tutsi, however Rwandan patriarchal society considers him to be a Hutu. In 1994, they were already living in Gitwe in their current residence, located a few meters from the Gitwe Adventist health center below the Gitwe Adventist College (current Murama cell, Bweramana sector, Ruhango district). During the genocide Gérard Urayeneza encountered difficulties in hiding not only his wife, who was in danger of being killed, but also part of his in-laws, who are ethnic Tutsi. He also hid and rescued Tutsi teachers from ESAPAG. Before the genocide, Gérard Urayeneza had strained relations with the local authorities, including Esdras Mpamo, an MRND executive and burgomaster of the neighboring commune of Masango, who wanted to have him replaced by his son-in-law as the legal representative of APAG. During the genocide, the threats intensified. On several occasions, Mr. Mpamo, relying on the fact that Mr. Urayeneza was married to a Tutsi woman, went to search his home, believing that Tutsi were hiding there. But his wife and other members of his family were in hiding in Kibonde, a hill not far from Gitwe. After the Genocide, Gérard never fled abroad. He stayed in Gitwe and restarted ESAPAG when schools opened after the genocide. The Gacaca trials took place without Gérard Urayeneza ever really being worried. On the other hand, a certain Charles Muhayimana, who at the time of the Gacaca was director of APADE, a school in Kigali competing with ESAPAG, and founder of the “Friends of children” school, lodged a complaint against Gérard Urayeneza. on the grounds that he would have killed one of his acquaintances. This complaint was dismissed. Indeed, at the end of the false accusations delivered by Charles Muhayimana during the Gacaca session, Pastor Josué Rusine, himself a genocide survivor, raised all doubts as to the possible guilt of Mr. Urayeneza. Indeed, he asserted that the person Muhayimana spoke of was part of his family and was not dead, but that she lived in Bujumbura. Astonishingly, Charles Muhayimana has never been prosecuted for unjustly accusing Gérard Urayeneza. And now, why this life sentence 27 years after the genocide, for a person who has never left his village or his country?
Such a sentence cannot be imposed without raising the question of its legitimacy. On March 25, 2021, the Muhanga intermediate court handed down the life sentence for Gérard Urayeneza and his two co-defendants. Mr. Urayeneza was arrested in June 2020 along with some senior officials from Gitwe University hospital. Some of these executives are themselves genocide survivors.
This sentencing went viral among the residents of Gitwe, who mostly work in APAG institutions (Gitwe University, ESAPAG, and Gitwe Hospital). Urayeneza is a popular man in the region. Whether Tutsi or Hutu, all were shocked by his conviction. It must be said that Gitwe is a remote region, without access by asphalt road, which has been brought to light thanks the actions of APAG.
Moreover, the RIB (Rwanda Investigation Bureau) sent two trucks of soldiers to Gitwe the day after the court’s decision was read, for fear of a revolt by the population against this decision which, for observers, falls within the remit of the false accusation.
In June 2020, 26 years after the genocide, remains of human bodies were discovered in mass graves located under the construction of the fence at Gitwe hospital. After this gruesome discovery, the bodies were exhumed for decent burial. However, the memorial sites near Gitwe, particularly the Nkomero and Ruhango sites, refused these bodies on the grounds that they were not Tutsi.Indeed, several inhabitants of this region report that they were victims killed by RPF troops on their arrival in Gitwe. For fear of the ruling RPF, no one had ever mentioned the presence of these bodies there. Paradoxically, It was therefore for having “concealed” the presence of these bodies in particular that Gérard Urayeneza was sentenced to life imprisonment. However, the refusal of these human remains by the Tutsi genocide memorial sites highlights several problems.
Primo, it reinforces the hypothesis put forward by several inhabitants of the region that the bodies exhumed in the mass grave of the Gitwe hospital are not bodies of Tutsi killed during the genocide, but of victims killed by the RPF.
Secundo, facts do help to understand that the accusations made against Gérard Urayeneza are false. Moreover, his lawyers had raised this hypothesis during the legal proceedings by mentioning the fighting in Gitwe between the RPF army and the EX-FAR (former Rwandan armed forces).
Tertio, it is inconceivable that no one has ever told of the bodies of Tutsi being there even while the killings were taking place in full view. It is not possible to silence the entire population about the presence of victims of the genocide. It should also be mentioned that even the Gacaca trials in this region were held a few meters from Gitwe hospital, at the Bienvenue center, and that no one ever spoke of Tutsi victims there.
Finally, Gérard Urayeneza and his co-defendants had requested DNA tests for the people who had filed a complaint as civil parties and who wanted compensation, people who appeared 26 years after the genocide and who demanded billions of francs in compensation and compensation for damage. The Muhanga intermediate court did not accept this request, without giving any valid reason seemingly to prevent the reversal of its decision while it is often dictated.
It all started with the closure of his university followed by his imprisonment bordering on politics. But what are the real reasons of such a persecution?
-Refusing the RPF control
Gérard Urayeneza has paid a heavy price for his popularity and for his love for the education and health of the people of his region. Wanting to appropriate control of private universities, in 2013, the RPF, through its officials from the Ministry of Education, asked Gérard Urayeneza to allow businessmen close to the regime to have financial participation in the University of Gitwe. Urayeneza refused the offer, explaining that the UG belonged to the parents’ association APAG. This refusal had displeased the cadres of the RPF, many people believe that this refusal was the origin of his problems. Other private universities had accepted this operation, with the best-known example of the founder of the Independent University of Kigali (ULK), Professor Rwigamba Balinda who, after adhering to this RPF approach, was appointed senator.
Gérard Urayeneza’s problems began with the sabotage of Gitwe University, with the blocking in 2019 of the enrollments of first and second year medical students on the grounds that there was not enough material in the laboratories and internships for students. Despite everything, the UG was forced to continue paying the foreign professors they had recruited, which caused a significant financial loss for the UG, estimated at 1.5 billion Rwandan francs, or about one million of euros.
These accusations of the UG’s lack of resources are obvious lies to many observers. Immaculate Ingabire, the very influential head of Transparency International Rwanda was astonished that: “The problem of the University of Gitwe was not the material, nor the laboratory, nor the incompetent teachers, but the HEC (High Education Commission) explained that these were secrets that the Rwandan education ministry did not want to reveal “.
Transparency Rwanda has carried out several investigations into the case and Ms. Ingabire says it is an education scandal and that the President of the Republic should be informed. Gérard Urayeneza had the opportunity to speak about this problem in the Senate but in vain.Subsequently, the Ministry of Education decided to permanently close the Faculty of Medicine and the Laboratory at Gitwe University. Some Adventists contacted explained to us that it could be an unhealthy competition led by Pastor Hesron Byiringiro who currently heads the association of Adventist churches in Rwanda. A staunch supporter of the RPF since his years of study in the United States and close to President Paul Kagame, the pastor is now more politician than religious. In 2019, he wanted to open a medical school at the Adventist University of Central Africa (UAAC) in Kigali.
–Never without us in your business
As the Rwandan regime daily interferes in business, Urayeneza is perceived as a wealthy businessman but who seems lonely because he refuses to integrate the officials of the regime; the closure of his university and his life imprisonment were indicators of the revenge exercised by the regime as punishment for his refusal to integrate them into his lucrative affairs.This practice is common in Rwanda where any sum greater than five million is justified and when a project is profitable, the officials of the regime should benefit from it if not they put the batons in the redheads.This happened to many traders whose names are hereby kept silent for their safety and those who did not comply paid the same price as our Urayeneza. Indeed, the Kigali regime requires that rich people avail huge sums for the RPF fund and its influential officials must get shares in all prolific enterprises if not the owners of such industries face serious measures such as being submitted to taxes estimated in billions; closure of their business, jail and assassination is not excluded.
Appeal before the High Court: retraction and contradictions of testimonies
Before the high court, the former prosecution witness unexpectedly discharge the defendant. One witness who alleged that he saw Urayeneza holding a gun retracts denying the previous charge due to having been bribed by a woman dismissed from the Gitwe University who consequently became a visceral enemy of the accused and having ties with the dignitaries of the regime; another declares not having seen him in the areas; another clarifies that the accused could not be involved in the killings because he had the heavy duty of hiding his Tutsi wife away from the murderers. This behavior of witnesses who had charged Urayeneza evidences undoubtedly that he is purely and simply innocent.
There is no doubt that the charges against Gérard Urayeneza are manufactured in a sort of reprisals, examples of these trials resembling plays are unfortunately commonplace in Rwandan justice. The High Court facing this contradictory testimonies may release the defendant in accordance with the benefit of doubt to the accused provided by the article 111 of the Rwandan law relating to criminal procedure which establishes that If the proceedings conducted as completely as possible do not enable judges to find reliable evidence proving beyond reasonable doubt that the accused committed the offence, judges order his or her acquittal. Obviously this will be possible if the judge is independent; it is to be hoped that the regime will stop the persecution of the accused among other indicators, his university has recently reopened with all its faculties.