Sosthène Munyemana was born in 1955 in Gitarama, in Rwanda. He was a gynaecologist in a university hospital in prefecture of Butare.
On 7 April 1994, when the massacres commenced, thousands of Tutsi refugees fled to Butare, which was traditionally known for its peaceful coexistence between the different communities present in the country.
On 7 April 1994, Munyemana allegedly made a speech in which he expressed his intention to exterminate the Tutsi community of Tumba. This speech allegedly encouraged the inhabitants of Tumba, especially Hutus, to locate the Tutsis in the city.
On 21 April 1994, Tumba witnessed the outbreak of systematic massacres. The first victims were intellectuals and Tutsi businessmen.
Munyemana allegedly participated directly in the attacks, but he also reportedly commanded a group of soldiers. Appointed as a team leader of the night watch, Munyemana held the list of families chosen to be attacked during nights. He is also suspected of distributing anmunition and of compiling the list of Tutsis to be exterminated by himself.
Moreover, between April and June 1994, Munyemana reportedly went regularly to his home commune of Rusambira to ensure that the Tutsi extermination campaign was going well.
At the end of June 1994, Munyemana fled Rwanda. In October 1994, he and his wife were employed by the University of Bordeaux, where he coordinated a working group on AIDS in Rwanda.
On 18 October 1995, four French and Rwandan citizens living in France, supported by three non-governmental organizations (the Collectif girondin pour le Rwanda, Survie and the International Federation for Human Rights, known as FIDH), filed a complaint against Munyemana in Bordeaux containing allegations of genocide, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and asked for his arrest. They also decided to become civil parties to the subsequent proceedings. In 2001 the investigation was transferred to Paris.
In 2006 Rwanda issued an arrest warrant against Munyemana on charges of “participation in war crimes and genocide”.
In January 2008 the French National Court for Asylum dismissed the asylum application of Munyemana. The French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless persons (OFPRA) stated that the application was not sincere and aimed at hiding a truth. Furthermore, there were reasonable grounds for considering that the applicant had committed genocide and crimes against humanity. Therefore, pursuant to Art 1(F)(a) of the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugee, he was excluded from such protection.
In October 2008, Munyemana was convicted in absentia by the Butare’s Gacaca, traditional Rwandan Courts. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for his crimes committed at the Butare hospital and to 30 years of imprisonment for the crimes committed in Tumba.
On 20 January 2010, he was arrested by the police in Bordeaux on the basis of the previous arrest warrant issued by Rwanda, which also asked for his extradition. Subsequently he was released on probation, waiting for his initial appearance in front of the Court of Appeal. On 19 October 2010, the Bordeaux Court of Appeal dismissed the Rwandan request for extradition on grounds of inaccuracy of the request. The Court also lifted the probation against Munyemana.
On 30 January 2011, the Collectif girondin pour le Rwanda organized a demonstration in front of the hospital where Munyemana works in France. Munyemana filed a complaint against the Collectif and on 8 November 2011, the Collectif was convicted by the Tribunal of Bordeaux for breach of presumption of innocence.
On 14 December 2011, Munyemana was indicted in Paris for genocide and crimes against humanity and put again under judicial control. On 9 May 2017, the investigating judge within the Paris Tribunal informed the parties that he had completed his investigation.
On 11 May 2018, the prosecutor of the French war crimes unit issued his final submission.
On 13 June 2018, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), together with the League of Human Rights (LDH) and the Collective of Civil Parties for Rwanda (CPCR) in their concluding observations demanded that Sosthenes Munyemana is brought to justice.
On 3 December 2018, the investigating judges referred the case to the competent criminal court. Munyemana appealed the referral in 2019.
Rwanda has been historically inhabited by three 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 largely outnumbered by the genocidaires and the international community notoriously failed to respond otherwise at the relevant period.
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. The Resolution established the ad hoc International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), located in Arusha, Tanzania.
The Tribunal’s function was to prosecute perpetrators of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed between 1 January and 31 December 1994 in the territory of Rwanda. During its existence, 93 persons have been indicted by the ICTR. The Tribunal was officially closed in 2015. Some proceedings are, however, still ongoing before the so-called International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (or “the Mechanism”). The Mechanism was established by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1966 (2010) and took over the remaining functions of both the ICTR and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The Mechanism has been functioning since 1 July 2012 in parallel with the Tribunals and nowadays as an exclusive institution. It gradually took over the functions of the ICTR and ICTR, including the enforcement of sentences of those convicted by the Tribunal, the tracking, arrest and prosecution of fugitives earmarked for trial at the Mechanism, and the 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 the 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 serious concerns about the respect of fair trial guarantees for the defendants before these courts.
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.