Fulgence Kayishema: One of Rwanda's most wanted genocide suspects arrested after 22 years on run

Fulgence Kayishema (left); thousands of Rwandan refugees wait to get food at a Congolese camp in 1994 (right) Credit: AP

One of the most wanted suspects in Rwanda’s genocide, a police officer accused of orchestrating the killing of more than 2,000 people, has been arrested after 22 years on the run.

Fulgence Kayishema was arrested on Wednesday in South Africa, the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT), which was set up by the United Nations, said.

Kayishema, who is believed to be in his early 60s, had assumed a false identity and gone by the name Donatien Nibashumba, South African police added.

He was captured in a joint operation by the tribunal’s fugitive tracking team and South African authorities following an investigation that had tracked him across several African countries, including Mozambique and Eswatini, since his indictment in 2001.

The United States had offered a $5 million (£4 million) reward for information leading to Kayishema’s arrest through its Rewards for Justice program. He was eventually captured at a vineyard in Paarl, a small town in a wine-making region about 30 miles east of Cape Town.

More than 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda’s genocide, which took place over the course of three months in 1994.

Kayishema, who is believed to be in his early 60s, had assumed a false identity. Credit: AP

It started when members of the Hutu ethnic group turned on the minority Tutsis, slaughtering them and moderate Hutus who tried to protect the oppressed.

“His arrest gives the survivors hope that other fugitives still at large will be arrested too,” said Naphtal Ahishakiye, the executive secretary of the Rwandan genocide survivor organisation Ibuka.

“A genocide crime is too grave to go unpunished.”

Kayishema was indicted by the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and charged with genocide, complicity in genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and crimes against humanity for killings and other crimes.

He had been at large since 2001, the tribunal said.

The tribunal said he is alleged to have organised the killings of more than 2,000 ethnic Tutsi refugees - men, women and children - at a Catholic church on April 15, 1994, during the first days of the genocide.

The indictment alleges Kayishema, who held the rank of police inspector at the time, directly participated in the planning and execution of the massacre by acquiring petrol to burn down the church with the people trapped inside.

When that failed, Kayishema and others used a bulldozer to knock down the church, burying and killing the refugees, which included young children but also many elderly men and women.

Kayishema and others then moved the bodies from the church grounds into mass graves over two days, the indictment alleges.

South African police said he would appear in a courtroom in Cape Town on Friday before likely being extradited to Rwanda.

The tribunal said it has now tracked down five suspects wanted in the Rwandan genocide since 2020.

It is still searching for three more fugitives, it added.

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