Eliezer Niyitegeka was born on 12 March 1951 in Gitabura, in Gisovu commune, Kibuye prefecture, Rwanda. After studying journalism in Romania, Niyitegeka became first a journalist and presenter with Radio Rwanda and and subsequently a Member of Parliament, then executive in a textile company and businessman. In 1991, with the coming of multi party democracy to Rwanda, he was one of the founding members of the opposition party, the Democratic Republican Movement (MDR). From 1991 till 1994, he was President of the MDR in Kibuye prefecture. Niyitegeka also held a seat in the national political headquarters of his party.
On 9 April 1994, he was appointed Minister of Information in the Interim Government. He held this position until the time he fled Rwanda in mid-July 1994.In this capacity, he was responsible for government policies adopted in the information sector. He exercised authority and control over all the institutions and staff members under his ministry. He also participated in the drafting of the legislation passed by the Interim Government.
On 10 April 1994 in Gosovu, Niyitegega and three soldiers went ahead with an operation involving the transport of weapons. On or about 16 April 1994, Niyitegeka enlisted the gendarmerie in order to carry out an attack against the Tutsis who had sought refuge in the Mubuga church.
On 13 April 1994, Niyitegeka was in Rugarama in the Bisesero region accompanied by armed attackers to whom he gave the order to massacre the Tutsis, following which an attack was effectively carried out.
On one day between 17 and 30 April 1994, at 9.30 in the morning and again between 10.30 and midday, Niyitegeka took part in two large scale attacks and was at the head of 6000 assailants, which included soldiers, policemen and the Interahamwe(an extremist Hutu militia), who launched these attacks against the Tutsi refugees in the hillside above Muyira. Niyitegeka himself fired on these Tutsi refugees during the attacks.
Between end April and early May 1994, from 8.30/9.00 a.m. until 15.00 hrs, Niyitegeka participated as leader of a large scale attack carried out by armed assailants against Tutsi refugees in Kivumu, Bisesero. He himself fired on the Tutsi refugees.
On 13 May 1994, between 7-10 a.m., as well as on the following day, Niyitageka took part as the leader in a large scale attack launched by thousands of armed assailants against the Tutsi refugees in the hillside above Muyira. He issued instructions to the attackers, showing them where to go and how best to attack the refugees. He himself fired on the Tutsi refugees. Thousands of Tutsis lost their lives in this attack.
On the evening of 13 May 1994, Niyetegeka held a meeting in Kucyapa at which a stop was put to the massacres programmed for the following day and instead preparations were made for mass killings of the Tutsis in Bisesero, who numbered up to 60 000. There were almost 5 000 people present at this gathering. Using a megaphone, Niytigeka thanked the assailants for participating in the previous attacks and congratulated them. He told them to share out the personal affairs and cattle which belonged to the Tutsis and to eat sufficient meat in order to return the following day with renewed strength to continue the killings.
On 20 May 1994, along the Gisovu-Kibuyu roadside, Niyitegeka shot and killed a young girl of around 13-15 years of age.
On or about 10 June 1994, between 9.00 and 10.00 a.m., Niyitegeka attended a meeting in Kibuye prefecture in the company of Ruzindana, Kayishema and others, with the intent to plan massacres of the Tutsis in Bisesero. During this meeting he promised to furnish weapons in order to accomplish these massacres. The next week, Niyitegeka held a follow up meeting at which the weapons to be used for the planned killings in Bisesero were distributed. Niyitegeka also outlined a plan describing the plan of attack to be conducted the following day against the Tutsis who had sought refuge in Kiziba camp in the Kibuye prefecture. He designated the leaders who would be in charge of five groups of assailants who would launch their attacks at five different points. This plan was put into action the following day during the attack led by Niyitegeka and carried out against the Tutsis in Kiziba, in the Bisesero region of Kibuye. This attack resulted in numerous victims amongst the Tutsi refugees.
On one occasion in June 1994, around 17.00 hrs, Niyitegeka spoke at a gathering held at the prefecture’s office in Kibuye in the presence of Kayishema, Ruzindana, several Interahamwe militiamen and others. He told the audience that he had come to help them unite their efforts in order to overcome the Tutsis and promised the assistance of at least 100 Interahamwe so that the attacks against the Tutsis could be successfully carried out.
On or about 17 June 1994, Nyitegeka held a meeting at the Kibuye prefecture during which he distributed weapons to assault groups to be used against the Tutsis in Bisesero and he outlined a plan of attack to be followed the next day. He encouraged the people present to take part in the attack, asked the mayors to tell all the able bodied men to participate in the killing of Tutsis and announced that he, personally, would be present during the attack.
Around 18 June 1994, between 11.00 and 15/16.00 hrs, Niyitegeka led an attack of armed assailants against the Tutsis who had sought refuge in Kiziba, Bisesero during which he fired on these Tutsi refugees. Niyitegeka himself shot and killed an old man and a young Tutsi boy.
In the evening, Niyitegeka attended a meeting in the canteen of the Kibuye prefecture’s offices, during which he promised to make available the gendarmerie to participate in an attack scheduled for the following day. He urged the mayors and others to do everything in their power to ensure that people would take part in the attacks in order that all of the Tutsis from Bisesero would be killed. The attack took place the following day as foreseen.
On 22 June 1994, after 15.00hrs, Nyitegeka led an attack against Tutsis who had taken refuge on the Kazirandimwe hillside. The attackers flushed out Assiel Kabanda, a well known Tutsi merchant whom they had been trying to find for several days. Niyitegeka and the other assailants were more than pleased to have captured him and showed how happy they were when Kabanda was killed, decapitated, castrated and had his skull pierced through from one ear to the other with a stake. His genitals were attached to a spike and put on public view. Although Niyitegeka had not personally killed Kabanda, he was part of the group which carried out these crimes and demonstrated his pleasure when these acts were committed.
On 28 June 1994, close to the Technical Training College, in a public place, Niyitegeka ordered the Interahamwe to undress a Tutsi woman who had just been shot to death, to fetch a piece of wood, to sharpen it at the end and to then insert it into the woman’s genitalia. This order was then carried out by the Interahamwe in conformity with Niyitegeka’s instructions.
In mid-July 1994, faced with the advance of the troops of the FPR (Rwandan Patriotic Front, an opposition movement composed essentially of Tutsi refugees and led byPaul Kagame), Niyitegeka fled Rwanda in the direction of the Democratic Republic of Congo. On 9 February 1999, he was arrested in Nairobi, Kenya.
Eliezer Niyitegeka was arrested at the request of the Chief Prosecutor of the ICTR on 9 February 1999 in Nairobi, Kenya. On 11 February 1999, he was transferred to the United Nations prison quarters in Arusha, Tanzania.
At his initial court appearance before the Third Trial Chamber on 15 April 1999, Niyitegeka pleaded not guilty to the six counts with which he was charged. On 3 July 2000, after a modification to his bill of indictment, Niyitegeka again pleaded not guilty to the 10 counts with which he was then charged. His bill of indictment was once again modified in December 2002. His trial opened on 17 June 2002. During his closing speech, the counsel for the prosecution withdrew counts 9 and 10 which charged Niyitegeka with various war crimes, recognising that insufficient proof had been supplied during the trial to support these charges. Finally, after hearing 24 witnesses and after a trial lasting 33 days, the court adjourned on 28 February 2003to consider its verdict.
On 16 May 2003, the First Trial Chamber of the ICTR handed down its judgement and found Eliezer Niyitegeka -by a unanimous verdict- guilty of: “genocide” (1st count), of “conspiracy to commit genocide” (3rd count), of “direct and public incitation to commit genocide” (4th count) of “murder as a crime against humanity” (5th count), of “extermination as a crime against humanity” (6th count) and of “other inhumane acts as a crime against humanity” (8th count). Niyitegeka was found not guilty of “complicity in genocide” (2nd count) and not guilty of “rape as a crime against humanity” (7th count).
Niyitegeka was sentenced to life imprisonment, the maximum penalty provided for by the ICTR. He appealed his verdict, but on 9 July 2004, the Appeals Chamber confirmed, in its entirety, the verdict and the sentence imposed on Niyitegeku by the First Trial Chamber.
On 7 December 2008, he was transferred to Mali where he will serve out the remainder of his sentence.
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.
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, 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.
THE GACACA COURTS
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 Kagameannounced the official end of Gacaca courts’ activity.