Elie Ndayambaje

31.05.2016 ( Last modified: 22.07.2016 )
Trial Watch rappelle que jusqu'à ce qu'une éventuelle condamnation soit entrée en force, toute personne accusée ou poursuivie par une juridiction nationale ou internationale est présumée innocente.


Elie Ndayambaje was born on 8 March 1958 in Cyumba in the commune of Kibayi, Butare prefecture, Rwanda. He was the mayor of Muganza commune in Butare prefecture from 1983 to 1992, and again from 22 June until July 1994, at which date he fled Rwanda. In this capacity he was the representative of the executive power at the communal level. He exercised authority over his subordinates and could requisition the communal police. Even during the period when he was no longer de jure mayor, he continued to exercise his authority over his former subordinates.

From end 1990 until July 1994, Ndayambaje was said to have adhered to, and participated in the detailed development of a plan aimed at exterminating the Tutsis. Amongst other elements, this plan included recourse to hatred and ethnic violence, the training of 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 is accused of having planned, ordered and participated in the massacres. From April to July 1994, Ndayambaje was said to have publicly incited the population to exterminate the Tutsi population.

Before and during the 1994 killings in Butare, Ndayambaje reportedly distributed weapons to the militiamen and to certain civilians with the aim of exterminating the Tutsi population and the moderate Hutus.

On 20 April 1994, Ndayambaje was alleged to have led the police forces to Gisagara where they joined the military in arresting refugees and taking them to the nearby hillside of Kabuye. They are then said to have separated the Tutsis from the other refugees and to have forced them to hand over their traditional tools. On 22 April 1994, Ndayambaje, accompanied by the communal police, gendarmerie, military and armed civilians, reportedly attacked these refugees. Numerous Tutsis were killed or wounded. During the following night, they surrounded the survivors in order to prevent them from escaping. On 23 and 24 April, the attacks against the refugees in Kabuye continued with Ndayambaje reportedly transporting the attackers to the site and furnishing them with weapons. Furthermore, Ndayambaje himself was reported to have thrown hand grenades into the crowd of refugees.

Between April and June 1994, Ndayambaje was said to have lent assistance to Alphonse Nteziryayo (Director of Civil Defence of Butare prefecture) fby supervising the training of the militiamen and in the distribution of arms to them.

In early 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), Ndayambaje fled Rwanda. On 28 June 1995, he was arrested in Belgium.

legal procedure

Elie Ndayambaje was arrested on 28 June 1995 in Belgium. The ICTR requested Belgium to decline jurisdiction and transfer the accused to be judged by the ICTR. On 8 November 1996, Ndayambaje was transferred to the United Nations prison quarters in Arusha, Tanzania.

Ndayambaje was accused of “conspiracy to commit genocide”, “genocide”, in addition to “direct and public incitement to commit genocide”, “murder as a crime against humanity”, “extermination as a crime against humanity”, “persecution on political, racial or religious grounds as a crime against humanity”, “inhumane acts as a crime against humanity” and war crimes. He pleaded not guilty to all those charges.

On 6 October 1999, the ICTR, on request of the Chief Prosecutor, ordered a combined trial for Ndayambaje and five other persons accused of crimes committed in the Butare prefecture of Rwanda in 1994. The five co-accused are: Pauline Nyiramasuhuko (Minister for the Family and Woman’s Development) and her son, Arsène Shalom Ntahobali (leader of a militia group), Sylvain Nsabimana (Préfet of Butare), Joseph Kanyabashi (Mayor of Ngoma) and Alphonse Nteziryayo (Police Commander and Mayor of Butare).

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 ended on 30 April 2009 with the Prosecutor requesting life imprisonment against the accused.

On 24 June 2011, Ndayambaje was sentenced to life imprisonment by the ICTR for direct and public incitement to commit genocide, genocide, extermination as a crime against humanity, and violence to life, health, and physical or mental well-being of persons as war crimes.

Ndayambaje, along with his five co-defendants, appealed the first instance verdict.

The Appeals Chamber delivered its judgment on 14 December 2015, reducing Ndayambaje’s sentence to 47 years of prison. The Appeals Chamber ruled that his right to be tried without undue delay had been violated. It found proprio motu that the Trial Chamber erred in convicting Ndayambaje 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 furthermore reversed Ndayambaje’s criminal responsibility for a number of events. The Appeals Chamber dismissed Ndayambaje’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.