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.