Arsene Shalom Ntahobali

31.05.2016 ( Last modified: 22.07.2016 )
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Arsène Shalom Ntahobali was born in 1970 in Tel Aviv, Israel. He is the son of Pauline Nyiramasuhuko (Minister for the Family and Women’s Affairs) and Maurice Ntahobali (former President of the Rwandan National Assembly, Minister for Higher Education and Rector of the National University of Butare). At the time of the alleged events, he was a student at the Rwandan National University in Butare. He was also the leader of a unit of the Interahamwe (Hutu extremist militiamen). In this position, he exercised authority and control over the Interahamwe in the Butare prefecture.

From the end of 1990 until July 1994, Ntahobali was said to have adhered to, and participated in the detailed development of a plan aimed at exterminating the Tutsi. Amongst other elements, this plan included recourse to hatred and ethnic violence, the training and distribution of arms to militias as well as the drafting of lists of people to be eliminated. In the accomplishment of this plan, he was accused of having planned, ordered and participated in the massacres.

Between April and July 1994, a roadblock was set up nearby the Ntahobali’s home in Butare. The latter, together with his mother, mounted the guard over this roadblock. During this entire period, with military help, this roadblock was used as a means to identify, abduct and murder Tutsi.

Between 19 April and end of June 1994, Ntahobali and his mother, accompanied by the Interahamwe and the military, reportedly went to the offices of the prefecture on several occasions to pick up Tutsi. Those who tried to resist were assaulted and in some instances killed on the spot. As for the others, they were taken away to different places in the prefecture, and in particular to the forest close to the Rwandan Evangelical School, where they were executed. Just before they were transported away, the victims were often forced by Ntahobali and his mother to take off their clothes completely before being forced into the vehicles.

From April to July 1994, Ntahobali allegedly roamed throughout the Butare prefecture to hunt for Tutsis. As soon as the victims had been located, he was said to have forcibly taken them to various different sites where they were executed.

During April and May 1994, Ntahobali, Joseph Kanyabashi (Mayor of the commune of Ngoma) and André Rwamakuba (Minister for National Education in the Interim Government), together with soldiers and Interahamwe militia under their control, allegedly went to the University Hospital of Butare where they selected, abducted and murdered Tutsis who had gone there to find refuge and receive medical aid. Around 25 April 1994, Ntahobali was reported to have raped a Tutsi woman at the University Hospital of Butare.

In mid-June 1994, Ntahobali and Alphonse Nteziryayo (Military Police Commander and newly appointed Préfet of Butare) were said to have tried to prevent the evacuation from Butare of around 300 orphans and the adults accompanying them. Ignoring the protests of the employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the local authorities, they were reported to have selected around 40 adults who were forced to remain in Rwanda.

Furthermore, in addition to the cruel treatment meted out to members of the Tutsi population during this period, Ntahobali, together with a number of accomplices, was accused of having participated in the abduction and rape of Tutsi women.

In July 1994, in the face of the advancing FPR (Front Patriotique Rwandais, an opposition group consisting mainly of Tutsi refugees and led by Paul Kagame), Ntahobali fled Rwanda in the direction of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). After going into hiding in a refugee camp in the DRC, he finally made his way to Kenya, where he lived as a fugitive for almost three years. On 24 July 1997, he was arrested in a grocery store which he managed in Nairobi, Kenya, and transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).


legal procedure

Arsène Shalom Ntahobali, on request of the Chief Prosecutor of the ICTR, was arrested on 24 July 1997 in the grocery store which he managed in Nairobi, Kenya. He was transferred on the same day to the prison quarters of the United Nations in Arusha, Tanzania.

Ntahobali was accused of “complicity to commit genocide”, “genocide”, or alternatively “complicity in genocide”, as well as “murder as a crime against humanity”, “extermination as a crime against humanity”, “rape as a crime against humanity”, “persecutions on political racial and religious grounds as a crime against humanity”, “inhumane acts as a crime against humanity” and various war crimes. He pleaded not guilty with regard to all of these charges.

On 6 October 1999, the ICTR, on request of the Prosecutor, ordered a combined trial for Ntahobali and five other persons accused of crimes committed in the Butare prefecture of Rwanda in 1994. The five co-accused are his mother Pauline Nyiramasuhuko (Minister for the Family and Woman’s Affairs), Joseph Kanyabashi (Mayor of Ngoma), Sylvain Nsabimana (Préfet of Butare), Alphonse Nteziryayo (Military Police Commander and Préfet of Butare) and Elie Ndayambaje (Mayor of Muganza).

The trial entitled “the collective trial of the Butare group” or “Butare Six” commenced on 12 June 2001 before the Second Trial Chamber of the ICTR.

The closing arguments began on 20 April 2009. The longest and the largest trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda ended on 1 May 2009 after parties concluded their closing arguments.

On 24 June 2011, Ntahobali was sentenced to life imprisonment after being found guilty of genocide, extermination, rape, persecution, murder and inhuman acts.

The Appeals Chamber delivered its judgment on 14 December 2015, reducing Ntahobali’s sentence to 47 years of imprisonment. The Appeals Chamber ruled that his right to be tried without undue delay had been violated. It accepted that the Trial Chamber erred in convicting him for persecution as a crime against humanity since the crimes had not been committed on one of the three discriminatory grounds enumerated in the Statute of the ICTR. It also reversed Ntahobali’s criminal responsibility for a number of events. The Appeals Chamber however dismissed Nyiramasuhuko’s appeal in all other respects.



The « Butare Six » trial is the longest and also the most costly trial in the history of international criminal justice. The proceedings were particularly lengthy not least because of difficulties with certain witnesses and the extreme length of examinations. Several expert witnesses spent a month on the stand. During the Defence case, conflicts of interest between the accused added to the lengthiness of the proceedings.


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.