Mathieu Ngirumpatse

08.05.2016 ( Last modified: 13.06.2016 )
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Mathieu Ngirumpatse was born in 1939 in the commune of Tare in Rwanda. At the time of the events, he was President of the National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development (MRND, the party of President Juvenal Habyarimana). In this position, he exercised authority over the Interahamwe militia (a youth militia group of the MRND). On 17 May 1994, he was appointed to the position of Director General for Foreign Affairs in the President’s Office.

From the end of 1990 onwards, Mathieu Ngirumpatse, in concert with several other members of the government in place in Rwanda, were said to have planned the extermination of the Tutsi population and the elimination of members of the opposition. In 1994 during the execution phase of this plan, Mathieu Ngirumpatse and his colleagues were reported to have organised, ordered and participated in massacres against Rwandan civilians.

Mathieu Ngirumpatse was arrested in Mali on 11 June 1998 and transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, on 17 July 1998.

legal procedure

Mathieu Ngirumpatse was arrested in Mali on 11 June 1998 and transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, on 17 July 1998.

At the outset, Mathieu Ngirumpatse was accused of the following 11 crimes:

– conspiracy to commit genocide (Art. 2 § 3 lit. b ICTR Statute), direct and public incitement to commit genocide (Art. 2 § 3 lit. c ICTR Statute), genocide (Art. 2 § 3 lit. b ICTR Statute) or alternatively complicity in genocide (Art. 2 § 3. lit. e ICTR Statute)
– crimes against humanity: murder (Art. 3 lit. a ICTR Statute), extermination (Art. 3 lit. b ICTR Statute), rape (Art. 3 lit. g ICTR Statute), persecution (Art. 3 lit. h ICTR Statute), inhumane acts (Art. 3 lit. l ICTR Statute)
– serious violations of Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions and of Additional Protocol II: murder (Art. 4 lit. a ICTR Statute), outrages against personal dignity (Art. 4 lit. e ICTR Statute).

At his initial court appearance on 7 April, Mathieu Ngirumpatse pleaded not guilty to the 11 crimes for which he was indicted.

On request of the Prosecutor, the ICTR ordered a combined trial for Mathieu Ngirumpatse and three other persons accused of crimes committed in different regions of Rwanda in 1994. The three co-accused are: Edouard Karemera (Interior Minister in the Interim Government), Joseph Nzirorera (Secretary General of the MRND and President of the National Council for Development) and André Rwamakuba (Minister for Primary and Secondary Education in the Interim Government).

The trial of Mathieu Ngirumpatse and his co-accused, often called the “Government Trial 1”, was opened on 27 November 2003 before the Third Trial Chamber of the ICTR.

Based on an amended indictment dated 18 February 2004, which withdrew four of the eleven counts, a further preliminary court appearance took place on 23 February 2004. Mathieu Ngirumpatse and his co accused boycotted the hearing. Based on the Regulations of the ICTR, the judges ruled that they had pleaded not guilty to the 7 counts with which they had been charged.

On 14 May 2004, the trial was suspended sine die, after the Senegalese judge Andresia Vaz, President of the Third Trial Chamber, withdrew from the case. This decision came after a request from the defence attorneys, demanding that judge Vaz be disqualified for “lack of impartiality”. The judge was said to be too close to a member of the prosecution team in this affair, a person who had reportedly been given lodging at her home.

The defence lawyers demanded a new trial, a possibility provided for in the Regulations of the ICTR in the case of there being a vacant seat amongst the judges. However on 24 May 2004, the two remaining judges decided to continue the trial with a substitute judge. The four co-accused decided to appeal this decision.

On 21 June 2004, the judges of the Appeals Chamber, considering that the two judges of the Third Trial Chamber should have allowed the parties to present their arguments before taking their decision of 24 May, sent the case back to them requesting that they take into account all arguments that the parties would like to introduce. On 16 July 2004, the two judges of the Trial Chamber, after hearing the arguments of both parties, decided to pursue the trial with a substitute judge. The co-accused again appealed this decision and on 28 September 2004, the ICTR Appeals Chamber repealed the decision to continue the trial with a substitute judge and decreed that the trial should be resumed from its point of departure. On 22 October 2004, the Appeals Chamber went even further by disqualifying the two remaining judges on the basis that they were felt to have made common cause with judge Vaz, knowing that she entertained good relations with a member of the Prosecutor’s office.

On the prosecutor’s request, the Trial Chamber separated Rwamakuba’s case from the joint case on 14 February 2005. Thus the prosecutor could introduce an amended indictment against the three remaining co-accused Nzirorera, Karemera and Ngirumpatse.

On 21 March 2005, the three accused pleaded not guilty to charges that they participated in the 1994 genocide at their further initial appearance before the newly reconstituted Trial Chamber III of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

The trial formally started on 19 September 2005. The state of health of Ngirumpatse has been the subject of several requests for provisional release which have all to date been denied.

During the trial, 120 witnesses were called, 46 for the prosecution and 74 for the defense 39 of whom for Ngirumpatse.

On 21 December 2011, Ngirumpatse was found guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes including rape and sexual violence that constitute acts of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced him to life imprisonment. His co-accused Edouard Karemera was also sentenced to life imprisonment, as for Nzirorera, he died on 1 June 2010.

Ngirumpatse declared he would appeal the decision.

Ngirumpatse appealed the decision from the first instance court. On 29 September 2014 the court of appeal for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda reversed several decisions from the first instance although the verdict of guilty was confirmed. The court of appeal confirmed Ngirumpatse’s sentence to life in prison.

Ngirumpatse will remain in the custody of the court until a country is designated where he will serve the rest 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.


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.