A lawyer representing the Rwandan community in Zimbabwe has described the death of Protais Mpirinya as a sad development and blow to investigations on what triggered the Rwanda genocide in 1994.
A United Nations forensic investigations team proved Mpiranya, who was accused of participating in the 1994 genocide in which almost a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, died in Harare in 2006, after being sheltered in the country for four years.
The UN team has been hunting for Mpirinya for the past 20 years amid allegations that Zimbabwe was not fully cooperating with investigators.
Protais Mpiranya was head of the presidential guard and was accused of ordering the murder of the then-Prime Minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana.
His officers also murdered the 10 Belgian UN peacekeepers guarding her.
Investigators tracked him down to Zimbabwe, where a recently exhumed grave confirmed he had died in 2006.
They found that Mpiranya had used various aliases whilst on the run to evade capture for over 12 years.
In the immediate aftermath of the genocide – in which about 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by ethnic Hutu extremists in 100 days – he moved to Cameroon.
Others accused of taking part in the genocide had fled over the border to the Democratic Republic of Congo, forming a rebel group known as the FDLR.
Mpiranya joined them in 1998, commanding a brigade that fought alongside Zimbabwe’s army, which had become embroiled in a conflict in DR Congo involving several nations often dubbed “Africa’s world war”.
He adopted the name Alain Hirwa and became known as “Commander Alain” – and was well respected by senior Zimbabwean officers, the investigation found.
It was allegedly his Zimbabwean allies who organised refuge for him in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, after his indictment was made public in 2002 by the international tribunal set up to bring to justice those responsible for the genocide.
He was charged with eight counts, including genocide, murder and rape, for “having instructed, supervised, encouraged, and assisted the crimes” carried out by the presidential guard.
Pindula News got in touch with Henry Paul Ingabire, a lawyer representing the Rwandan community in Zimbabwe, to get his views on the latest development.
Ingabire described the development as “a blow to investigations on the death of former Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana which ignited the genocide” against the Tutsi by extremists from the majority Hutus, against Tutsis and those Hutus who had opposed the government in the past or who had supported the peace accords.
On the evening of 6 April 1994, the aircraft carrying Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira, both Hutu, was shot down with surface-to-air missiles as their jet prepared to land in Kigali, Rwanda.
A French inquiry began four years later at the request of relatives of the French crew members who died.
A judge accused Tutsi rebels, led by the current president, Paul Kagame, of the attack; arrest warrants were issued for a number of people close to him but the charge was later dropped due to lack of evidence.
Ingabire said Mpiranya, as head of the presidential guard, was among the first to arrive at the scene of Habyarimana’s plane, therefore, he could have known what transpired and “that he is gone now, there is no hope to the case.”
Asked if it could be possible that the Zimbabwean government knew that Mpiranya was in the country, Ingabire said it was difficult to know considering that he had used different identities to avoid being caught.
He reiterated that Zimbabwe has been cooperating with the investigators all along adding that Mpiranya died an innocent man according to the law since he was not proven guilty.