The trial of Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) soldiers and civilians accused of raping three women after beating them up has kicked off in Kigali with the prosecution asking the military high court to detain the suspects pending further investigation.
The seven suspects appeared before the Military High Court in Kanombe on May 11, 2020 are accused of six counts which include formation of a terror group, rape, theft, battering civilians with intent, and forceful entry in citizens’ homes without a warrant and abandoning the patrol duties in which they abused their work guidelines.
The case involves five non-commissioned soldiers; all with the rank of Private. They were identified as Pvt Patrick Ndayishimiye (the patrol leader), Pvt. Fidele Nishinwe, Pvt. François Gatete, Pvt. John Gahirwa and Pvt. Theoneste Twagirimana.
The case also involved two civilians that were termed as accomplices namely Donat ‘Rajab’ Ntakaziraho and Mukamulisa Diane who are also commissioned community based night patrols officials in Kangondo 1 cell where the alleged crimes happened on different dates in the month of March, 2020.
During the 5-hour hearing on a 30-days detention hearing, six suspects were present in court and all denied charges leveled against them with consultation of their defense lawyer, Moses Sebudandi.
Only one suspect- Diane Mukamulisa was missing on grounds of her maternal rights to take care of her new born baby.
Military prosecution led by Captain JB Maniraguha presented evidence from the victim’s testimonies and investigation reports conducted by the military teams on several incidents in which the suspects are accused of the six counts.
The prosecution said that both Patrick Ndayishimiye (the patrol leader) and Fidele Nishinwe were directly involved in committing all six charges especially raping three women at different occasions, and being involved in physically assault of suspects in a place where they were not assigned duty.
Prosecution said that Patrick Ndayishimiye is the one who led the group to commit these crimes and some of his colleagues testified against him on physically assaulting and harming Joseph Niyobuhungiro and Ngabonziza Shema who were found in the houses of the female victims.
“Patrick also has a criminal record of theft and was just recently in 2018 released after serving a one year sentence. In his affidavit he methodically confesses and narrates how he raped one, Madeleine Uwamariya- all this was testified by his colleagues (Gahirwa John and Gatete François),” prosecution said.
Adding that his counterpart Nishimwe, also raped two women, starting with Chantal Uwamariya and Angelique Cyuzuzo on two separate occasions.
“We have testimonies of citizens who were able to identify the two suspects during an identification parade that was done soon after,” Prosecutor Maniriguha said.
On other suspects Donat ‘Rajab’ Ntakaziraho and Mukamulisa, Pvt. Twagirimana Theoneste, the Prosecutor Captain Maniriguha said that they were present during the crimes and concealed information about what had transpired.
The prosecutor asked the court that the suspects should be detained for 30 days pending further investigation, though, he said, they already have enough testimony that pins the suspects during an in depth trial in the days to come.
The accused Ndayishimiye and Nishimwe defended themselves saying that they have never been assigned to the Kangondo zone and on the said dates in which the citizens accuse them of committing the crimes, they were in the Kami Barracks on other duties.
“In the month of March I didn’t get assigned in Kangondo but I used to passby the area doing surveillance work. I am surprised the prosecution says it was me who committed the crimes yet the description of the uniforms and soldiers identified by residents doesn’t match my description,” Patrick Ndayishimiye said.
He added that during the patrols he used to be assigned to the areas of Batsinda and Utexrwa where he worked with some of the many other soldiers who are not in court.
In his defense, Nishimwe also said that he does not know the area and never stepped in Kangondo zone.
“ I only knew the name when I was arrested and paraded among suspects who were accused of committing these crimes. I am innocent,” Nishimwe said.
Their defense attorney, Sebudandi intervened saying that the prosecution accusations are not in line with the penal code and also that the fact of being present during a crime doesn’t make one an accomplice unless they assisted in one way or the other.
“For example the so-called terror group would be valid if there was intent or purpose and evidence that the accused had met and planned on their actions. We cannot call some of my clients as accomplices just because they were there,” Sebudandi said.
On the case of rape, he said he agrees with the investigation (testimonies) collected by the prosecution but there must be more evidence to prove this happened.
The lawyer dismissed the theft charges saying that there must be more evidence to show it really happened.
From that background, he asked the court to immediately release one suspect, Twagirimana Theoneste because “there is nothing leveled on him either in testimonies of victims or evidence of prosecution.”
This thinking was also backed by one of the suspects, Donat ‘Rajab’ Ntakaziraho who told court that Twagirimana actually was the only soldier who tried to stop his patrol commander (Ndayishimiye Patrick) from beating citizens but in vain.
“That tall soldier (Twagirimana ) is innocent. He asked Ndayishimiye why he was canning citizens with no reason but this didn’t make any difference,” Ntakaziraho said.
After listening to all sides and requests of both prosecution and defense team, Military Judge Major Gerald Muhigirwa assisted by three other judges ruled that the reading of the case outcomes will be pronounced on Wednesday, May, 13.