Tharcisse Renzaho

08.05.2016 ( Last modified: 13.06.2016 )
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Tharcisse Renzaho was born in 1944 in the Gaseta sector of the Kigarama commune, which is situated in the Kibungo prefecture of Rwanda.

Tharcisse Renzaho received his education as a military engineer in various military academies in Germany, France and Belgium. He took up politics in 1990, and was appointed préfet of the prefecture of Kigali City. At that same time, he held the position of President of the Civil Defence Committee for Kigali City. His de facto and de jure authority was extensive and covered the mayors, the sector councillors, administrative personnel, gendarmes, cantonal police, the Interahamwe, the militias and armed civilians. In his position as Colonel in the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR), Renzaho was a senior officer who wielded control over the armed forces placed under his command.

Towards 7 April 1994, and on a regular basis thereafter, Tharcisse Renzaho was said to have given out orders during meetings, orders which were also broadcast by air over Radio Rwanda, and which were directed at the military, gendarmes, militias, local citizens and demobilised soldiers, requiring them to set up and man roadblocks with the intent of intercepting, identifying and then killing Tutsis.

Towards 9 April 1994 in Kanombe (prefecture of Kigali-City), the Interahamwe militias broke into houses belonging to the Tutsis, killing them in the presence of Tharcisse Renzaho, who, despite his position as high level civil servant, reportedly did not put up any opposition.

Towards 30 April 1994, Renzaho was said to have dismissed sector councillors Jean-Baptiste Rudasingwa and Celestin Sezibera, since both of them were opposed to the murder of Tutsis. Based on reports, they were subsequently replaced by councillors in favour of the massacres.

According to the prosecutor, towards 18 April 1994, Renzaho, accompanied by Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, ordered the detention of around 40 people, for the most part, Tutsis, at the CELA (Centre for the Study of African Languages). On 22 April 1994, in the company of Odette Nyirabagenzi and Angeline Mukandutiye, he was reported to have issued an order to bring out and kill around sixty Tutsi men detained in the CELA. On 14 June 1994, whilst in the company of these two women, he was said to have ordered the killing of around sixty Tutsi boys at the church of Saint Paul and on 17 June 1994 to have ordered the attack on the refugees in the church of the Holy Family, where many Tutsis were massacred.

According to the indictment, Renzaho, on several occasions, ordered and participated personally in the distribution of firearms.

In May 1994, he furnished several Kalashnikov rifles to Bishop Samuel Musabyimana rifles which were delivered by Major Nyirahakizimana. These rifles were subsequently distributed to the militias who used them to massacre Tutsis.

Between April and June 1994, Renzaho was suspected of sending out Interahamwe militias with precise instructions to kill certain selected persons. Amongst those selected was the journalist André Kameya, a strong critic of the interim government.

From April to July 1994, according to the indictment, Tharcisse Renzaho facilitated the delivery of arms, vouchers, official permits, safe-conducts and foodstuffs in order to provide support to the Interahamwe militias.

On the fall of the interim government in July 1994, after the military victory of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, Tharcisse Renzaho fled into exile.

In 1997, he escaped a police trap laid conjointly by the Kenyan police and the ICTR investigators. In December 2005 he gave the slip to an operation organised by the ICTR which was aimed at arresting certain ex officers of the FAR who had gone into hiding in Zambia.

Tharcisse Renzaho was finally arrested on 26 September 2002 in the Democratic Republic of Congo(DRC). On 29 September 2002, he was turned over to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

legal procedure

Tharcisse Renzaho was handed over to the ICTR on 29 September 2002 following his arrest in the DRC.

On 11 November 2002, the ICTR Prosecutor filed a preliminary indictment against him which listed three counts of indictment:
1. genocide (Art. 2 § 3 ICTR Statute);
2. alternatively, complicity to commit genocide (Art. 2 § 3 ICTR Statute),
3. murder as a crime against humanity (Art. 3 ICTR Statute).

At his initial court appearance on 21 November 2002, Tharcisse Renzaho pleaded not guilty.

On 18 March 2005, the Second Trial Chamber of the ICTR granted the request of the Prosecutor aimed at modifying the preliminary indictment in view of the developments in case law and the discovery of new elements which were not available at the time the initial indictment was established.

The Prosecutor modified the indictment by adding three new counts:

4. rape as a crime against humanity (Art. 3 ICTR Statute);
5. violence to life, health and physical or mental well-being of persons in particular for murder in addition to cruel treatment such as torture, mutilations or all forms of corporal violence as a violation of Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions and of Additional Protocol II (Art. 4 ICTR Statute);
6. outrages upon personal dignity in particular humiliating and degrading treatment such as torture, rape, forced prostitution and all forms of indecent assault as a violation of Art. 3 common to the Geneva Conventions and of Additional Protocol II (Art. 4 ICTR Statute).

On 3 June 2005, at his second appearance before the Second Trial Chamber of the ICTR, Tharcisse Renzaho pleaded not guilty with respect to the totality of the above charges.

His trial began on 8 January 2007

The Prosecution closed its case on 6 March 2007, whereas the Defence closed its case on 6 September 2007. In all, the parties had presented 53 witnesses in the course of 49 days of trial.

On 14 and 15 February 2008, the parties presented their closing arguments. The Prosecution asked the Chamber to find Renzaho guilty and requested a life sentence for him. The Defence team argued that Renzaho had neither the power nor the means to control the situation in Kigali-Ville. It submitted that the Prosecution had not proven the allegations and requested that he be acquitted.

Renzaho was found guilty of crimes against humanity and genocide and sentenced to life imprisonment on 14 July 2009.

On 1 April 2011, the Appeals Chamber of the ICTR confirmed the life imprisonment sentence imposed on Col. Tharicisse Renzaho.


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.