On June 30, Rwanda’s Minister of National Unity and Civic Engagement Dr Jean Damascène Bizimana was the main witness of the day at the Paris Criminal Court, against Laurent Bucyibaruta, former prefet of Gikongoro prefecture during the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi.
Bucyibaruta has been appearing for a good part of two months over Genocide crimes he is alleged to have committed in Gikongoro. After the Genocide, he fled to neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo(DRC) and later on managed to fly to France.
Dr. Bizimana who happens to be originated from Gikongoro lost 84 family members including his parents and siblings in the Genocide according to his testimony.
He explained the background of the hatred against Tutsi in Rwanda. He said that after finishing his high school in 1982, he returned to his Cyanika town to contribute to his country development as a teacher where he got an opportunity to work closely with Father Joseph Niyomugabo.
In 1988, he had understood that the injustice against the Tutsi was beyond bearing and thus, he thought becoming a priest would help fight it.
That very year, he enrolled in Major Seminary in Bukavu, but during the holiday early October 1990, police officers from Karama commune where Cyanika belongs came to check his home, saying that they had got evidences that they were accomplices of Rwanda Patriotic Army(RPA) Inkotanyi.
Inkotanyi, largely Rwandan refugees who had fled persecution in Rwanda since 1959, attacked Rwanda since October 1, 1990 from neighboring Uganda, seeking to reclaim the right to their motherland.
“The police officers stole Rwf 20,000 from us saying it is the money we wanted to send to RPA,” Bizimana said.
Bizimana returned to school, but coming back the following year, the chaos, he said, had increased.
He had to pursue his education in Suisse and then Burkina Faso preparing entry into the congregation of White Fathers-Les Pères Blancs, but he kept in touch with family.
“During Christmas holidays in 1993, things had worsened with grenades throwing here and there, attacks of Tutsi families,…I hurried to return to Burkina Faso but continued to get news from father Joseph Niyomugabo of Cyanika and my cousin Aloys Katabarwa, then driver of Prefet Bucyibaruta,” he said.
Bucyibaruta and the Genocide Against Tutsi
After showing the context of his birthplace before the Genocide, Bizimana explained the story of Bucyibaruta’s transfer from Kibungo prefecture to Gikongoro in 1992.
He claimed that opposition parties of the time, including Social Democratic Party(PSD) whose president from the area, and Democratic Party’s Movement(MDR) had gained supremacy in detriment of the ruling party – National Mouvement for Democracy and Development(MRND).
“They needed someone who would restore good relation of the party and the people who despised prefet Joseph Habiyambere from Gisenyi. Bucyibaruta was the best bet because he was ready to do what MRND wanted,” Bizimana said while Bucyibaruta responded that it was just an appointment and had nothing to do with preparing the Genocide.
To support this assertion, Bizimana said that Bucyibaruta, while in Kibungo, took many Tutsi to jail calling them RPA accomplices-ibyitso- and on top of that, under his rule, some Tutsi were killed. He shared names.
Between April 7-14,1994, Bizimana who was in Burkina Faso tried to talk to Father Joseph Niyomugabo of Cyanika on phone to get news about the situation in Rwanda.
He would also talk to the wife of Aloys Katabarwa. The later, a Tutsi, was a driver of Bucyibaruta.
On April 8,1994, Bizimana learnt from them, that Tutsi had started to gather at Cyanika parish, and they included his parents while on the other side, Interahamwe militia were looting and torching their houses.
They were working on order of sous prefet Ndengeyintwari of Karaba who convened a meeting to incite the hutu extremists to killing the Tutsi.
He was in the company of Captain Sebuhura, the assistant commander of Gendermerie in Gikongoro.
This name of Sebuhura is recurrent in all testimonies of prosecution and civil parties. They claim that, Sebuhura was part of the killing machine. It is alleged that his boss, Major Bizimungu had delegated him for work in those days, because he was sick. For the first time, Bizimana’s testimony explained what was wrong with Bizimungu; he had HIV/AIDS, “at later stage,” he said to the surprise of everyone in Paris court.
Bucyibaruta received this testimony with bad taste because he always wants to dissociate himself with Sebuhura. He always seeks to convince the court that he worked with Major Bizimungu, not his deputy.
On April 10, Bizimana understood something about Bucyibaruta.
“When I talked to Father Niyomugabo, he told me that he called Bucyibaruta to tell him about the prevailing situation and bad living conditions of the Tutsi who were gathered at Cyanika Parish. He told me that he couldn’t offer any help because he was just concerned with the death of President Habyarimana. Nshinshikajwe n’iby’urupfu rwa Habyarimana ntacyo nakumarira. Irwaneho (find your way out),” he said.
On that very day, Bucyibaruta would have made a stopover at Cyanika Parish where he repeated the same hopeless message to Father Niyomugabo.
He was on his way to Karaba sous prefecture, five minutes’ drive down the road, and, Bizimana learnt from a direct witness, that Bucyibaruta chaired a meeting with officials of the area.
He might have told them that tutsi had to be concentrated on one place and that they should mount roadblocks that would arrest and kill any Tutsi. In that meeting, it was also decided that the Tutsi shouldn’t get any food supply, and to make the matter worse, they cut water pipes.
April 10, 1994 was probably the last time Bizimana was able to talk to his family during the Genocide because when he called on April 14, telephone network in the country was cut.
He talked to his mother who told him that the situation was bad and there were quite little chances to survive the massacre.
Bucyibaruta and his Tutsi driver
Before the Genocide, Katabarwa who happened to be the cousin to Bizimana, was the driver of Prefet Bucyibaruta and when the Genocide started. He continued serving.
On April 7, 1994, according to Bizimana, Katabarwa drove the wife of his boss to Kiziguro in Eastern Province, currently Gatsibo district. Previous witnesses said that the wife of Bucyibaruta was attending a funeral.
The following day, on their way back to Gikongoro, they were arrested at the level of Rwamagana, but the gendarmerie helped, and gave them body guards to escort them up to Gikongoro where they arrived safely.
Several defence witnesses base their argument to this event to show that Bucyibaruta himself was threatened and feared for the life of his wife, a Tutsi.
However, this might not necessarily clear the suspect. Once in Gikongoro, Katabarwa remained at Bucyibaruta’s and he was given a room in the house of the boss to stay there. The suspect agrees with Bizimana on this, the only disagreement comes in relation to the position of the room.
“The time he was in this house, Katabarwa would hear Bucyibaruta and his guests who mainly included captain Sebuhura and sometime Col Simba Aloys discuss issues of Tutsi,” he said.
“One day, they said that the Tutsi had to be gathered at Murambi, and they discussed a list of Tutsi that were killed and those remaining. Katabarwa was also on the ‘wanted’list.”
With this, he said, Katabarwa escaped and went to hide from A Hutu friend and secretary returned to his home by April 23rd. His wife, a Hutu had convinced Interahamwe that he had died. She kept the secret and reported to French contingents under operation Turquoise who came, rescued him and handed him to Inkotanyi.
Katabarwa died from a sickness in 1996 after he had told Bizimana the whole story in 1995.
However, Bucyibaruta does not agree that his driver ever heard what he was discussing with guests, because, “his room was really at distance from the living room.”
He said:” I never attempted to kill Katabarwa, I never discussed the list of Tutsi to be killed,” he said.
Bucyibaruta further refuted the allegation that Katabarwa escaped from his home, but said: “I told him to find a different hideout because killers had started suspecting that he was at my home.”
Bucyibaruta said, that Katabarwa “was escorted by my son. I was watching, keeping my dog for the fear that it could bark and alert killers.”
In previous hearing, reporters say to have seen Bucyibaruta dozing, but the testimony of Bizimana which included clear and precise venues, events and time, made everyone awake.
Bizimana’s tribute to his lost family
With what he saw while returning to Rwanda in 1995 and all that he learnt around the Genocide, Bizimana said he decided to change his mind and forgot about becoming a priest. He resigned in 1996 and his plea to quit was accepted.
“Because I was disappointed with the behavior of several priests during the Genocide,” he said.
He re-started a new education path with the school of law in France and obtained a PhD degree in 2004. He returned to the country to serve in different capacities.
The defence tried with all means to understand whether Bizimana’s interest to do research around the Genocide is in any way linked to his position in the cabinet and his job related to fight against the Genocide.
But he first showed them that the loss of his 84 family members was the first thing that compelled him to do research “to understand how they were killed and who was behind the killings.”
He said he started this research before he even got any position, when he was at school, struggling to raise his tuition fees.
He wrote his first book l’Eglise et le Genocide, the church and the Genocide, 2001 which he dedicated to the 84 family members victims of the tragedy.