Etienne Nzabonimana was born in 1950. At the time of the alleged events, he was a beer wholesaler in Kibungo, in the south east of Rwanda. Around 50,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in this prefecture between 6 and 22 April 1994. Nzabonimana is the half-brother of Samuel Ndashyikirwa (see “related cases”), also accused in the same affair.
According to the indictment, Etienne Nzabonimana was a man of substantial means and social prestige who had close relationships with the local authorities, especially with Colonel Rwagafilita and the Member of Parliament, Mutabaruka, both of whom were suspected of being the organisers of, and the main force behind, the massacres throughout the prefecture.
In addition to killings which took place in isolated areas, massacres were also perpetrated in public places (church halls, commune offices) where Tutsis and moderate Hutus believed they had found a safe haven. It is noteworthy that these people were killed by militias with the support of the local authorities and certain local bigwigs, amongst which were the two accused according to the public prosecutor.
According to witnesses, Etienne Nzabonimana, a member of the National Republican Movement for Development (MRND-French acronym), was one of the leaders of the “Kibungo Club” which was reported to have already made preparations months before the genocide, for the extermination of the Tutsis and their Hutu opponents. It was said to have done so by providing arms caches and by making available training grounds for the militias. As soon as the genocide was underway, it was reported to have taken part in meetings to prepare the next killings. This was reportedly done through their contacts with Colonel Rwagafilita and the parliamentarian Mutabaruka, considered to be the two main organisers of the massacres in the Kibungo prefecture. Witnesses testified that vans belonging to accused were used to ferry the Interahamwe militias (an extremist wing of the MRND) to the parish halls or the commune offices where the killings were to take place.
On their return, these militias were provided with beer from accused’s shops. Other witnesses recounted that they had even seen Etienne Nzabonimana oversee certain of these massacres or that he had distributed machetes and grenades to the Interahamwe.
Etienne Nzabonimana denied any implication whatsoever in the genocide, asserting that he had been at home behind closed doors until 22 April and had had no knowledge of the killings until after he had fled Rwanda. He deemed himself to be a victim of covetous people who had levelled accusations against him in order to gain possession of his belongings.
Etienne Nzabonimana was arrested on 14 October 2002 in Schaerbeek where he was living after having fled Rwanda.