For more than 20 years, Fulgence Kayishema, one of the most wanted fugitives from the Rwandan genocide, has evaded authorities who say he orchestrated the deaths of more than 2,000 Tutsis during the massacre.
He remained at large, hiding among refugees in various countries and masquerading behind various aliases.
This week, the police finally caught up with him in South Africa.
Mr. Kayishema, 61, was arrested on Wednesday at a grape farm outside Cape Town, authorities said. It took a multinational team, including the South African police and the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, casting a wide net to catch him.
Mr. Kayishema has been one of the court’s most wanted fugitives since his indictment in 2001. Unlike the high-ranking politicians or generals already prosecuted as the masterminds of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Mr. Kayishema had a direct hand in the murders, according to Serge Brammertz, the court’s chief prosecutor. According to the indictment, Mr. Kayishema was the chief inspector of police in 1994, overseeing and participating in the days-long massacre of civilians.
“Not only was he organizing and planning, he was involved himself,” said Brammertz.
Mr. Kayishema faces multiple genocide charges and will now be extradited to Tanzania, where he will be tried by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
When killings began to spread across Rwanda in April 1994, more than 2,000 Tutsi women, children and elderly civilians sought refuge at Nyange Parish Church in Kivumu Commune, west of the capital, Kigali. The Catholic church was quickly surrounded by the Hutu Interahamwe militia. Instead of intervening, the officers helped the killers with Kayishema in charge, prosecutors say.
When killing with a machete took too long, Kayishema is believed to have obtained gasoline which he and others threw into the church before throwing grenades through the windows, prosecutors said. He and his accomplices drove a bulldozer over the church, crushing any survivors. He then oversaw the digging of mass graves on the church grounds, the charges say.
“He really took advantage of his position to really prepare and commit these massive crimes,” Brammertz said.
Aloys Rwamasirabo was one of the few people who survived the attack. He remembers running for his life in the darkness, but his nine children and three sisters were among those killed in the church. Now 67, he feared he would never see justice. He wants the authorities to bring Mr. Kayishema back to Kivumu commune, so he can see the empty space where the church used to be and assess what happened.
“What I am certain of is that my children, sisters and other church friends are about to receive justice,” he said.
After the genocide, Kayishema went into hiding, living in camps among the vulnerable and displaced while manipulating the asylum process in several countries, according to prosecutors. He fled Rwanda in 1994, crossing with his family to the Democratic Republic of Congo. He then left for neighboring Tanzania, assuming the identity of a Burundian asylum seeker, moving between two camps.
Several years later, he and his family traveled to the east coast of Africa, seeking asylum in Mozambique, finally arriving in the kingdom of Eswatini in 1998. The small landlocked kingdom was a stepping stone to neighboring South Africa, where Kayishema spent the two next decades building a new life.
To evade authorities, he created several aliases, scrambling passports and visas of at least four identities known to authorities, including a Malawi national. It was so effective that he was granted asylum status in two different countries, South Africa and Eswatini, in the same year. At the time of his arrest, he was known as Donatien Nibasunba, a citizen of Burundi.
A network of Rwandan exiles is believed to have facilitated their movements, specifically members of the now-disbanded Rwandan Armed Forces and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, an armed group accused of atrocities. In Cape Town, Mr. Kayishema worked as a security guard in a mall parking lot. The company he worked for belonged to one of those groups, Brammertz said.
But that net would also prove his downfall. Investigators used phone records, financial statements and international travel to narrow their search. By “shaking the tree” of his close associates and people of interest, authorities were able to track the fugitive to a modest one-room house where he lived as a laborer on a grape farm in Paarl, a small wine town on the outskirts of the City. from Cape. , said Mr. Brammertz.
The operation took place in recent days, after years of what Mr. Brammertz said it was a slow response from South Africa and Eswatini.
In one case, South African authorities said they could not act because Kayishema had been granted refugee status, according to Brammertz’s 2020 report to the UN Security Council. On another occasion, Mr. Kayishema simply disappeared.
In the last 10 months, however, South African authorities have assigned a team of 20 people to the case. They were part of the coalition that tracked and detained him. South African police say the fugitive will face charges for violating South Africa’s immigration laws.
Mr. Kayishema was one of several men indicted on charges linked to the massacre. Others were captured, while at least two died. The church’s priest, Athanase Seromba, is serving a life sentence for his role in the massacre, while a pharmacist named Gaspard Kanyarukiga is serving 30 years. Félicien Kabuga, a wealthy businessman who had been on the run for 23 years, has been on trial since last year. Mr. Kabuga is accused of inciting genocide through his radio station, as well as providing weapons and financial support to Interahamwe militias.
“It is very likely that this will be the last major arrest of a fugitive by us,” said Brammertz.
Arafat Mugabo contributed reporting from Kigali, Rwanda.