Tharcisse Muvunyi

31.05.2016 ( Last modified: 27.02.2017 )
Trial Watch would like to remind its users that any person charged by national or international authorities is presumed innocent until proven guilty.


Tharcisse Muvunyi was born on 19 August 1953 in the Mukarange commune of the Byumba prefecture.

From 7 April 1994 until his departure from Rwanda, he held the post of Commander of the School for Non-Commissioned Officers (ESO). From his base in the Butare prefecture, lieutenant-colonel Muvunyi was the highest placed military officer in charge of security operations for both the prefectures of Butare and Gikongoro.

On 19 April 1994, the investiture ceremony for the new regional administrator, Sylvain Nsabimana, was attended by a large crowd. During this ceremony, the (interim) President Théodore Sindikubwabo delivered an inflammatory speech openly and explicitly calling the population of Butare to follow the example of other prefectures and commence the massacres. According to the prosecution, by their attendance at the ceremony and the fact that they did nothing to dissociate themselves from the declaration of the President of the Republic, lieutenant-colonel Tharcisse Muvunyi and others gave a clear signal to the population that they approved of these massacres.

Furthermore, according to the prosecution, following the visit of President Sindikubwabo, and in the exercise of his de jure and de facto authority over the officers and soldiers of the ESO, lieutenant-colonel Muvunyi called a meeting of all of the commissioned and non-commissioned officers of the School and informed them that the wishes of the President should be considered as orders which were to be obeyed.

On several occasions, he reportedly accompanied the new regional administrator under pretext of alerting the local population to the necessity of defending their country, but in reality to incite them to perpetrate massacres against the Tutsis.

Muvunyi is also said to have participated directly in the supply of arms, in particular grenades, and transportation means to carry out these attacks against the Tutsis.

Towards 24 April 1994, refugees from a school combine, including orphans evacuated from the Red Cross centre in Kacyiru (Kigali), were attacked by soldiers. The supervisor of the children was said to have asked for help from the ESO and to have spoken to lieutenant-colonel Muvunyi who reportedly refused to send any help during the massacre.

According to the prosecution, Muvunyi, as a member of the military structure in charge of ensuring the safety of civilians, neither ensured the safety nor the security of the refugees. On the contrary, in most cases, lieutenant-colonel Muvunyi and others “fomented, encouraged, facilitated and/or approved, amongst other things, murders, abductions and destruction of property by the Interahamwe and the military”.

On 30 April 1994, Muvunyi reportedly gave the order to seize the refugees sheltering in the convent in Beneberika. 25 persons were forcibly removed, including several children, and were never seen again.

Muvunyi was also accused of the murder of two holy fathers from the Monastery in Gihindamuyaua, of attacks against the University of Butare and its hospital, against the dispensary at Matyazo, the market square in the Kibilizi sector, the parishes of Ngoma, Kibeho and Nyumba, the general store of the Ngoma commune and its Muslim districts.

In various places in the Butare prefecture, “several women and girls were raped and were subject to sexual violence in these very same places or were forcibly taken or compelled to go to other places where they were raped or subjected to sexual violence on the part of the Interahamwe militia and soldiers from the Ngoma camp” according to the prosecution.

Again, according to the prosecution, “in most cases, the seriousness of these rapes was further acerbated in that they were gang rapes, carried out repeatedly, perpetrated on young virgins or young girls in front of their mothers or other family members. For the most part these acts of sexual violence ended up with the murder of the victim”.

In the majority of cases, it was Muvunyi who gave the order directly to the soldiers and militia to carry out the attacks. At all events, due to his position of authority and the generalised nature of the massacres, Muvunyi knew, or had reasons to know that these attacks were taking place, but took no steps to prevent them, to put a stop to them or to punish the perpetrators, according to the office of the prosecutor.

Muvunyi was arrested in London on 5 February 2000 and transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha on 30 October 2000.

legal procedure

The British police arrested Tharcisse Muvunyi on 5 February 2000 in London on the basis of an international arrest warrant sent the previous day to the British authorities.

Muvunyi had been living since 1998 in London, Great Britain, under the benefit of a grant of temporary asylum. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was informed of his presence there by the British newspaper the “Sunday Times”, which reported that he was living on social security in London, with his family.

After lodging an appeal against his extradition, which was turned down by the British judiciary, he was transferred to Arusha on 30 October 2000.

Tharcisse Muvunyi pleaded not guilty on his initial court appearance on 8 November 2000, before the ICTR.

The indictment charged him with 5 counts:
1. Genocide (Art. 2 § 3 ICTR Statute);
2. Alternatively, complicity in genocide (Art. 2 § 3 ICTR Statute);
3. Direct and public incitement to commit genocide (Art. 2 § 3 ICTR Statute);
4. Rape as a crime against humanity (Art. 3 ICTR Statute);
5. Other inhumane acts as crimes against humanity (Art. 3 ICTR Statute).

The trial began before the Second Trial Chamber of the ICTR on 28 February 2005.

On 12 September 2006, Muvunyi was found guilty, notably, of incitement to genocide. The Trial Chamber found that Muvunyi had been present in at least two places in the Southern Butare Prefecture in 1994 where he had called upon Hutu civilians to kill the Tutsi.

Muvunyi was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment.

Both the Prosecution and the Defence appealed the decision. During the Appeals hearing in March 2008, the Prosecutor requested the sentence to be changed to life imprisonment.

Muvunyi on the other hand asked to be acquitted.

On 29 August 2008, the Appeals Chamber annulled the sentence issued by the Trial Chamber and ordered a retrial with regards to one count in the indictment, namely “direct and public incitement to commit genocide” which concerned his speech during the genocide at the convention centre of Gikore in the Butare region.

The Appeals Chamber ordered Muvunyi to remain in custody while awaiting his retrial.

The retrial began on 17 June 2009.

On 11 February 2010, the ICTR condemned Muvunyi of direct and public incitement to genocide and sentenced him to 15 years imprisonment.

On 1 April 2011, the Appeals Chamber of the ICTR has confirmed the 15-year-jail term imposed on Muvunyi.

On 18 April 2011, having already served two thirds of his sentence, Muvunyi filed an application for early release. On 6 May 2012 the President of the ICTR, after having consulted with the Sentencing Chamber, accepted Muvunyi’s request and accordingly ordered his release.


On 29 August 2008, the Appeals Chamber annulled the sentence issued by the Trial Chamber and ordered a retrial with regards to one count in the indictment, namely “direct and public incitement to commit genocide” which concerned his speech during the genocide at the convention centre of Gikore in the Butare region.

This decision was the first of its kind in the ICTR’s history.

Muvunyi was the first person sentenced by the ICTR who, though having not plead guilty, benefited from early release.


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.

©2020 trialinternational.org | All rights reserved | Disclaimer | Statutes | Designed and Produced by ACW