Célestin Ugirashebuja was born in 1953. He is the former mayor of Kigona and member of the National Revolutionary Movement for Democracy.
Ugirashebuja allegedly participated in five massacres perpetrated in the context of the 1994 genocide. Some witnesses have reported that he had his own Interahamwe unit (an extremist Hutu militia group) which, during the second week of April 1994, patrolled the commune, pillaging and raping women. He also reportedly organised meetings in order to prepare the massacres and to incite the Hutu population to kill the Tutsis.
He fled Rwanda for Great Britain in 2001, claiming a refugee status.
Célestin Ugirashebuja was arrested by the British police on 28 December 2006, at the same time as three other Rwandans, Vincent Bajinya, Emmanuel Nteziryayo and Charles Munyaneza, as a result of an extradition request from the Rwandan government issued officially in November 2006.
The international arrest warrant included charges of murder and organization or incitement to commit genocide of Tutsis between 1 January 1994 and 12 December 1994.
Ugirashebuja was placed in temporary detention until his extradition hearing before the Court of Westminster on 26 January 2007 took place. He denied all the charges raised against him.
The Magistrate`s court decided on 6 June 2008 to extradite the four men to face charges in Rwanda. On 8 April 2009, the High Court reversed the decision stating that there was a substantial risk that the right to a fair trial of those four persons would not be observed if they were returned to Rwanda. The court therefore ordered their release.
On 30 May 2013, following a new extradition request by the Rwandan authorities, the UK police arrested Emmanuel Nteziryayo, Charles Munyaneza, Vincent Borwn (Bajinya), Celestin Ugirashebuja and Charles Mutabaruka. On 21 December 2015, a British court denied once again the extradition request from the Rwandan government. This decision emphasized that guarantees of a fair trial and the respect of fundamental rights are not sufficiently guaranteed by the Rwandan legislation despite its previous progress. Extradition hearings before the High Court started on 28 November 2016 and led to a repeated denial of the extradition request.
In January 2018, Rwandan Prosecutor General Jean Bosco Mutangana and Prosecutor Jean Bosco Siboyintore, Head of the Genocide Suspects Tracking Unit, travelled to London to request the United Kingdom to open an investigation against the five individuals suspected of having participated in the 1994 genocide. They recalled the obligation of the United Kingdom to try or extradite such individuals. As a result, the War Crimes Unit reported that it was assessing the available evidence.
On 9 April 2019, British police announced that allegations against Ugirashebuja and other four individuals were being examined. Minister of State for Security and Economic Crime Ben Wallace announce that investigations concerning those five individuals might take up to five years. However, he also told members of Parliament that the UK government would provide all the necessary resources available so that justice can be served. He announced that officers were sent to Rwanda to investigate on the ground.
In September 2020, the suspects were voluntarily questioned by police. None were arrested.
UK parliamentarians formed an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on 21 April 2021 to “look into matters relating to the presence of alleged Rwandan war criminals in the UK and the prosecution of those who participated in the Rwandan genocide”.
On 26 April 2021, the Rwandan Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Johnston Busingye, held virtual discussions with the APPG, noting that “Rwanda does not seek revenge” and will not “prejudge the 5 suspects, whether they are innocent or guilty will be decided by the courts. All [Rwanda] seek[s] is that due process is followed and that justice, so far delayed, does not end up denied.”
The decision by the High Court of 8 April 2009 is thought to be the first time when an English court has ever blocked an extradition request from a foreign government on the ground that it would violate Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which safeguards the right to a fair trial. The European Court of Human Rights (27 October 2011, Ahorugeze v. Sweden) and the ICTR (16 December 2011, Jean Uwinkindi v. The Prosecutor) judged that Rwandan authorities provided sufficient guarantees concerning the right to a fair trial.
Rwanda has been historically inhabited by three groups, known as Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. Between April and July 1994, the country was torn apart by a bloody genocide, during which extremist Hutus 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 largely outnumbered the genocidaires and the international community notoriously failed to respond otherwise at the relevant period.
THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL TRIBUNAL FOR RWANDA (ICTR)
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. The Resolution established the ad hoc International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), located in Arusha, Tanzania.
The Tribunal’s function was to prosecute perpetrators of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed between 1 January and 31 December 1994 in the territory of Rwanda, by Rwandan citizens and those committed in neighbouring states. During its existence, 93 persons have been indicted by the ICTR, the Tribunal was officially closed in 2015.
Some proceedings are however still ongoing before the so-called International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (or “the Mechanism”). The Mechanism was established by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1966 (2010) and took over the remaining functions of both the ICTR and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The Mechanism has been functioning since 1 July 2012 in parallel with the Tribunals and nowadays as an exclusive institution. It gradually took over the functions of the ICTR and 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 protection of witnesses.
THE GACACA COURTS
In 1998, discussions began under the direction of the President of the Republic of Rwanda. Paul Kagame, 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 the 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.