Alfred Musema

31.05.2016 ( Last modified: 08.06.2016 )
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Alfred Musema was born on 22 August 1949, in the administrative district of Byumba in Rwanda. In 1968 he entered the Faculty of Agronomy at the State University of Gembloux, in Belgium, where he obtained his diploma in 1974.Following this, Musema then embarked on a career in the Ministry of Agriculture in Rwanda.

In 1984, by presidential decree, he was appointed Director of the state-owned tea factory in Gisovu in the district of Kibuye. In this position, he exercised de facto authority and de jure control over his employees at the tea factory. As such, he had the legal authority to prevent the use of vehicles, uniforms or other possessions of the factory in carrying out the subsequent massacres, or to sanction anyone using them for this purpose. In addition, Musema was a member of the “Prefectural Council” of Byumba and the “Technical Committee” of Butare commune. As a member of both organisations, he was expected to deal with socio-economic questions and problems of development.

Musema was said to have played a decisive role in the extermination of Tutsi refugees who in 1994 fled to the hilly region of Bisesero in the district of Kibuye. The massacres in that region went on continuously during the months between April and June 1994, and caused tens of thousands of deaths.

On 26 April 1994, Musema reportedly directed and participated in an attack on the hillside at Gitwa. He was said to have arrived there on board one of the tea factory’s vehicles, to have participated in a large-scale attack against the Tutsis who had taken refuge there and to have fired shots into the crowd of refugees. He was accompanied by employees of the Gisovu tea factory.

Another attack against Tutsis was launched between 27 April and 3 May 1994 on the Rwirambo hill. Musema, armed with a rifle, together with other assailants and members of the Interahamwe (an extremist Hutu militia) arrived at the scene in vehicles, four of which belonged to the tea factory.

In mid-May 1994, several attacks, in which Musema reportedly took part, were launched against Tutsi refugees in the region of Bisesero:

-For example, on 13 and 14 May, and on another date which remains uncertain, three attacks against more than 40’000 Tutsi refugees on the Muyira hill were undertaken. Amongst the leaders was said to be Musema, who was at the forefront of the attackers from Gisovu. The assailants, some of whom were uniformed employees of the tea factory, arrived in a convoy of vehicles belonging to the tea factory. Musema was armed with a rifle, which he was reported to have used in the attack. Tens of thousands of Tutsis lost their lives in this attack; only 10’000 survived.

-Also in mid-May 1994, Musema was reported to have participated in an attack on the Mutaba hill, in which he was accompanied by employees of the tea factory. The factory’s vehicles were used to transport the assailants to the scene of the attack. Musema was said to have stayed at the scene during the whole attack and afterwards to have left with the other attackers.

At the end of May 1994, Musema was alleged to have taken part in an attack at the Nyakavumu cave. He was reported to be part of a convoy which included vehicles belonging to the tea factory, and which served to transport factory workers to the cave. During the attack Musema was said to have ordered the assailants to barricade the cave’s entry with wood and to set it on fire. More than 300 civilian Tutsis who had fled into the cave lost their lives.

In July 1994, confronted with the approach of the FPR (Front Patriotique Rwandais,or Rwanda Patriotic Front, an opposition movement made up mostly of Tutsi refugees and led by Paul Kagame), Musema fled Rwanda. Together with his family he arrived in Switzerland at the end of 1994, and applied for asylum. Over time, he was recognized and denounced by an organisation for the defence of victims of the Rwandan genocide On 9 February 1995, the Swiss military judiciary ordered the opening of an inquiry with respect to Alfred Musema. On 11 February 1995, he was arrested in a home for asylum seekers in Lausanne.

legal procedure

On 9 February 1995, the Attorney General of the Swiss Armed Forces ordered an enquiry with respect to Alfred Musema. On 11 February 1995 he was arrested in a home for asylum seekers in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Criminal proceedings were subsequently opened by the Swiss military judiciary. This was the first instance of a country other than Rwanda applying its domestic law to a presumed perpetrator of the Rwandan genocide. On 12 March 1996, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) asked the Swiss authorities to decline jurisdiction for war crimes in the case of Musema in its favour– a request which was acceded to by the military court of cassation on 8 July 1996. The Swiss Federal Court confirmed this decision on 28 April 1997. On 20 May 1997, Musema was transferred to the United Nations’ prison complex in Arusha, Tanzania.

At his first court appearance on 18 November 1997, Musema pleaded not guilty to all 9 counts of indictment. After amendment of the indictment on 20 November 1998, he again pleaded not guilty, as he did once again on 6 May 1999, after a second amendment to his indictment. His trial was opened on 25 January 1999. After hearing a great number of witnesses and after 39 days of sittings, the chamber retired to consider its verdict on 28 June 1999.

On 27 January 2000, the first Trial Chamber pronounced its judgment and unanimously declared Alfed Musema guilty of: count 1(genocide), count 5 (extermination as a crime against humanity), and count 7 (rape as a crime against humanity).

Musema was acquitted of crimes of war, “other inhumane acts” as crimes against humanity, and murder as a crime against humanity. He was condemned to life imprisonment, the maximum penalty provided for under the ICTR statute.

Musema appealed this verdict. On 16 November 2001, on the basis of new evidence presented, the Appeals Chamber acquitted him of count 7( rape as a crime against humanity) However, it confirmed the rest of the Trial Chamber’s judgment, including the sentence.

On 9 December 2001, Musema was transferred to Mali to serve his sentence.


This was the first case in which a country other than Rwanda had applied its domestic law to a presumed perpetrator of the Rwandan genocide.


Rwanda has been historically inhabited by three distinct social groups, known as Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. Between April and July 1994 the country was torn apart by a bloody genocide, during which extremist Hutu people targeted Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) was powerless against those committing the genocide, as the peacekeeping troops were outnumbered.


In hopes of facilitating the process of national reconciliation and to promote peace in the country, on 8 November 1994 the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 955, establishing the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), located in Arusha, Tanzania.

The Tribunal’s function is to prosecute perpetrators of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed between 1 January and 31 December 1994 in Rwanda. Since its inception, 92 persons have been indicted in front of the ICTR. Some proceedings are however still ongoing.

The ICTR is primed to close down in 2015.

Regarding what will happen to the functions and activities that will outlive the ICTR, the UN Security Council established the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (or “the Mechanism”), in Resolution 1966 (2010), to take over the remaining functions of both the ICTR and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The Mechanism, which has been functioning since 1 July 2012, has already taken over some of the ongoing functions of the ICTR, including the enforcement of sentences of those convicted and sentenced by the Tribunal, the tracking, arrest and prosecution of fugitives earmarked for trial at the Mechanism, and the care and protection of witnesses.


In 1998, discussions began under the direction of the President of the Republic of Rwanda about the possible use of traditional courts to support the ordinary Rwandan judicial system and the ICTR. A commission was created to study this possibility, and its report provided the basis of the Organic Law of 26 January 2001, which created the Gacaca Courts.

These courts were in charge of trying the low and middle-level perpetrators of the genocide, apart from the “planners” who should have been tried before national courts. The Gacaca courts were composed of elected popular assemblies, made up of non-professional judges. The composition and functioning of such courts raised several concerns about the respect of fair trial guarantees.

According to Rwandan authorities, during their functioning, the Gacaca courts tried almost two million people. On 18 June 2012 Rwandan President Paul Kagame announced the official end of Gacaca courts’ activity.