Onesphore Rwabukombe was born on 1 January 1957 in Kiyombe, in the region of Byumba in Rwanda. He belongs to the Hutu ethnic group.
In 1994, Rwabukombe was a member of the local executive committee of the Rwandan governing party MRND (Mouvement Républicain National pour la Démocratie et le Développement) and mayor of the Muvumba commune in the north of Rwanda.
During the genocide against the Tutsi ethnic minority, between April and July 1994, Rwabukombe was alleged to have incited the Hutu residents of Muvumba to kill Tutsis and was said to have actively participated in the killings in the nearby Murambi district.
In particular, he was accused of being responsible for the death of more than 3’730 people when, on 11 April 1994, he reportedly participated in the massacre in the Kiziguro church. Some 1’200 persons, who had sought refuge in the church, are claimed to have been killed with firearms and other objects following his instructions.
Moreover, he was also accused of having supervised the massacre in the Kabarondo church, on 13 April 1994, during which all the men were induced to come outside of the church and killed with arrows and similar weapons. Subsequently, community police and militias attacked the women, children and older people who had remained in the church, with grenades and other firearms.
Furthermore, it is reported that Rwabukombe ordered the massacre in the Kibungu church (today Ngoma) on 15 April 1994. Around 11’170 persons are believed to have died during this massacre.
In 2002 Rwabukombe left for Germany where he was granted refugee status.
Rwabukombe was on the list of persons wanted by Interpol, since 2007. In 2007, the Rwandan justice authorities transferred an international arrest warrant to Germany. In March 2008, the German Office of the Federal Prosecutor started investigations and Rwabukombe was arrested in Gelnhausen. Following this arrest, Rwanda sent an extradition request, but in November 2008 Germany decided to refuse the extradition request because there were doubts as to whether he would receive a fair trial in Rwanda. Rwabukombe was therefore released.
He was arrested again on 22 December 2008, but set free anew on 14 May 2009, this time because the evidence, according to the German Federal Court of Justice, was not sufficient. From this point on, the Office of the Federal Prosecutor intensified its investigations.
On 21 July 2010 a new arrest warrant was issued. On 26 July 2010, Rwabukombe was arrested near Frankfurt am Main and placed in pre-trial custody.
On 29 July 2010 Rwabukombe was charged under the German penal code with genocide, murder and abetting murder by the Higher Regional Court of Frankfurt am Main.
On 8 December 2010, the Higher Regional Court of Frankfurt am Main confirmed the charges against Rwabukombe and his trial was opened on 18 January 2011. However, not enough credible evidence was collected in regards to the massacres in Kibungo and Kabarondo. The Court therefore reduced the charges against Rwabukombe limiting it to the massacre in the church of Kiziguro.
The trial was slowed down, due to the fact that several witnesses withdrew their testimony or made contradictory statements. In addition to that, the Court feared that some witnesses were manipulated prior to their testimony.
On 18 February 2014 Rwabukombe was convicted to 14 years in prison for aiding and abetting genocide.
The appellate judgment on 21 May 2015 largely upheld the first instance judgment, but reversed the decision on Rwabukombe’s individual criminal liability and sent the issue to re-trial. Following the indications by the appeals court, the Higher Regional Court of Frankfurt convicted Rwabukombe of committing genocide and sentenced him to life imprisonment on 29 December 2015.
Rwabukombe’s defence lawyers and the civil party lawyer appealed this decision.
The trial against Onesphore Rwambukombe was the first trial in Germany related to the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda.
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 Kagame announced the official end of Gacaca courts’ activity.