Francois-Xavier Nzuwonemeye

31.05.2016 ( Last modified: 10.06.2016 )
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François-Xavier Nzuwonemeye was born on 30 August 1955 in Musasa commune in the prefecture of Kigali-rural, Rwanda. In 1993, he exercised the function of Commander of the 42nd Battalion. He was subsequently appointed Commander of the Reconnaissance Battalion within the Rwandan army. He held this post until July 1994. In this capacity, he exercised authority over all the units of this battalion.

Based on the indictment, from late 1990 until July 1994, Nzuwonemeye conspired with others to work out a plan with intent to exterminate the civilian Tutsi population and eliminate members of the opposition. The components of this plan consisted of, amongst other things, recourse to hatred and ethnic violence, the training of and distribution of weapons to militiamen as well as the preparation of lists of people to be eliminated. In executing the plan, he is said to have organised, ordered and participated in the massacres of the Tutsi population.

In order to implement the plan to exterminate the Tutsi and members of the opposition, the military and civilian authorities, from the end of 1992, distributed weapons to the militias and certain members of the civilian population. Due to the widespread availability of arms in the Kigali-town prefecture, UNAMAR (United Nations Mission for Assistance in Rwanda) set up a disarmament programme, known as “Kigali Weapon-Secure Area” (KWSA). This programme came into force at the beginning of 1994.

In order to avoid control by UNAMAR under its disarmament programme, Nzuwonemeye reportedly had several armoured vehicles and several jeeps equipped with machine guns of the Reconnaissance Battalion, hidden in Gisenyi and at the Presidential residence in Kiyovu. These armoured vehicles were used as early as the night of 6 April 1994, to reinforce roadblocks set up by soldiers and to surround the residence of the Prime Minister.

UNAMAR was perceived by certain Hutu extremists as an obstacle to their extermination plans. They therefore adopted a strategy aimed at provoking the Belgian military which had the most efficient and well equipped contingent in UNAMAR. Over time their objective was to force them to leave the country.

During the night of 6 April 1994, Belgian soldiers received the order to go to the home of the Prime Minister, Agathe Uwilingiyamana, in order to escort her to the National Radio where she was scheduled to make a speech. On arrival at her residence around 5 am, they were attacked by soldiers of the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR), amongst which were units of the Presidential Guard, of the Para Commando Battalion and Squadron A of the Reconnaissance Battalion led by Captain Innocent Sagahutu under the command of Nzuwonemeye. They were subsequently disarmed and held prisoner together with five Ghanaian soldiers who were responsible for ensuring the safety of the Prime Minister. Despite having negotiated their surrender with a promise to be taken to a UNAMAR base, the Belgian and Ghanaian soldiers were taken to a camp in Kigali where they were attacked and beaten by Rwandan soldiers, including elements of the Reconnaissance Battalion led by Nzuwonemeye, and this in full view of officers of the Rwandan Army .Whereas the Ghanaian soldiers were set free, four of the Belgian soldiers were put to death on the spot. The six other Belgian soldiers held out against several attacks for a period of a few hours before finally being killed.

On leaving the Kigali camp site, Nzuwonemeye, was then said to have gone to the meeting at the Higher Military School only a hundred metres from there, whilst the attacks against the Belgian soldiers continued and after four of them had already been killed. He reportedly continued with his meeting until around noon. On 13 April 1994, in consideration of the death of 10 of its soldiers, Belgium decided to withdraw its contingent from Rwanda.

During the morning of 7 April 1994, the Prime Minister, Madame Agathe Uwilingiyimana was tracked down, arrested, sexually assaulted and then killed by elements of the Rwandan Army, in particular, those of the Presidential Guard. Nzuwonemeye was said to have ordered some of his soldiers to lend a hand to the Presidential Guard to assassinate the Prime Minister. Concurrently, members of these same units confined and killed important opposition leaders and prominent figures in the Tutsi community.

From April to July 1994, officers of the Army General Staff, one of which was Nzuwonemeye, participated in daily briefings at which they were informed of the massacres of the civilian Tutsi population and the moderate Hutu.

From April to July 1994, by virtue of their positions, their statements, the orders they issued and their actions, Nzuwonemeye, as well as General Augustin Bizimungu, General Augustin Ndindiliyimana, Major Protais Mpiranya and Captain Innocent Sagahutu, exercised authority over members of the Rwandan Armed Forces, their officers and militiamen. From 6 April 1994, these soldiers, gendarmes and militiamen, perpetrated massacres against the Tutsi population and the moderate Hutu and committed other crimes such as rape and sexual assault in addition to other crimes of a sexual nature, which were widespread throughout the entire territory of Rwanda and had the full knowledge of Nzuwonemeye, Bizimungu, Ndindiliyimana, Mpiranya, and Sagahutu.

From April to July 1994, in all regions of the country, members of the Tutsi population who were fleeing from the massacres taking place on their hillsides, sought refuge in locations they believed would be safe, often on the recommendation of the local civil and military authorities. In many of these places, despite the promise that they would be protected by the local civil and military authorities, the refugees were attacked, abducted and massacred by soldiers, gendarmes and militiamen often on the orders, or with the connivance, of those same authorities. Furthermore, in many of those locations, soldiers and militiamen abducted, killed and raped or sexually assaulted Tutsi women. François-Xavier Nzuwonemeye, in his capacity as, Commander of the Reconnaissance Battalion within the Rwandan Army knew, or had reasons to know, that his subordinates were about to commit or had already committed such crimes and did nothing to prevent these crimes or punish the perpetrators.

Knowing that massacres of the civilian population were being committed, the political and military authorities, one of which being Nzuwonemeye, took no initiatives or measures to stop them. On the contrary, they refused to intervene to control and appeal to the population as long as a cease fire had not been signed.

In 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 by Paul Kagame), Nzuwonemeye fled Rwanda.

On 15 February 2000, he was arrested in Montauban in the south west of France.

legal procedure

François-Xavier Nzuwonemeye was arrested at the behest of the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on 15 February 2000 in Montauban in the south west of France. On 23 May 2000, he was transferred to the United Nations prison quarters in Arusha, Tanzania.

At his initial court appearance on 25 May 2000, Nzuwonemeye pleaded not guilty to all of the eleven Counts with which he was charged.

Nzuwonemeye was accused of “conspiracy to commit genocide”, of “genocide” or alternatively of “complicity in genocide”. He was also accused of “assassination as a crime against humanity”, of “extermination as a crime against humanity”, of “rape as a crime against humanity”, of “persecution on political, racial or religious grounds as a crime against humanity” and of “other inhumane acts as a crime against humanity”. Lastly, he was also accused of “killing and of violence to health and to the physical and mental well-being of persons as part of an internal armed conflict as a serious violation of Art 3 common to the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol II” as well as “violence to life, health and physical well-being of persons as part of an internal armed conflict and particularly the killing of the ten Belgian soldiers from UNAMAR, as a as a serious violation of Art 3 common to the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol II”.

The ICTR, on request of the Chief Prosecutor, ordered a combined trial for Nzuwonemeye and three other officers of the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) accused of crimes committed in different locations throughout Rwanda in 1994. The three other co-accused are: Augustin Bizimungu (Chief of Staff of the Rwandan Army), Augustin Ndindiliyimana (Chief of Staff of the National Gendarmerie and Innocent Sagahutu(Second-in-Command of the Reconnaissance Battalion of the Rwandan Army).

The trial of Nzuwonemeye and his co-accused, known as “Military Trial 11” opened on 20 September 2004 before the Second Trial Chamber of the ICTR.

On 17 May 2011, the Trial Chamber II found the defendant guilty on 1 count of crimes against humanity (count 4, murder) and 1 count of violation of Art.3 common to the Geneva Conventions and of Additional Protocol II (counts 7, murder).

The Trial Chamber II also found the defendant not guilty of conspiracy to commit genocide (count 1), murder as a crime against humanity (count 6) and rape as a violation of Art.3 common to the Geneva Conventions and of Additional Protocol II.

The defendant was sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment.The accusation and defense announced that they would appeal the sentence. Both the Defence and the Prosecution filed a notice of appeal on 20 July 2011.

The Appeal Chamber has

established that Nzuwonemeye was not responsible as a superior. There is no

evidence to prove that he could have known that the soldiers under his command

were involved in the attack against the Blue Helmets and that he failed to take

punitive measures.

Regarding the murder of the

former Prime Minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, the Appeal Chamber established

that considering the available evidence if a battalion of scout soldiers were

indeed sent next to the residence of the Prime Minister, here is nothing to

prove that the objective of this deployment was to kill Uwilingiyimana.

The Appeal Chamber therefore

acquitted Nzuwonemeye on all counts and ordered his immediate release after 14

years in preventive detention.


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.

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