United Nations investigators are launching a new effort to track down one of the most notorious killers in the Rwandan genocide who they believe is hiding in Zimbabwe.
Protais Mpiranya, former commander of the presidential guard of the Rwandan army, has been on the run for 27 years charged with war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
Investigators have made repeated attempts to convince local authorities in Harare to hand over the 60-year-old fugitive to face trial.
The ex-soldier is top of a list of remaining fugitives indicted by an international tribunal into the 1994 killings, which left 800,000 people dead in Rwanda, mostly from the Tutsi ethnic minority but also some Hutus.
Mpiranya had been second on the wanted list before the arrest of Félicien Kabuga, a former businessman alleged to have helped finance the genocide, on the outskirts of Paris in May.
The US war crimes reward programme has offered a $5m (£3.6m) reward for information leading to Mpiranya’s arrest.
Serge Brammertz, the prosecutor of the body charged with tracking down the fugitive alleged criminals, which is known as the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT), said he was hoping to capitalise on the detention of Kabuga to corner Mpiranya.
Kabuga now faces charges of playing a key role in the genocide, and if convicted he is likely to spend the rest of his life in prison.
“We hope that the arrest of Kabuga would generate momentum and we are hoping to use this to get Mpiranya,” Brammertz said.
Officials from the IRMCT travelled to Zimbabwe months after President Robert Mugabe was forced from power in November 2017 in the hope that the new government would prove more helpful than the former regime. There has been no progress, however, and a new request for assistance is to be made this month.
Brammertz said hopes had been boosted by an agreement on legal cooperation on criminal matters signed last month by Zimbabwe and Rwanda.
“Because of his military background it is very possible that [Mpiranya] still enjoys protection from senior military officers,” Brammertz told the Guardian.
“We think he … is still quite active, still doing business and until recently has been moving around in east and central Africa, possibly between Zimbabwe, the DRC and South Africa.”
Relations between governments of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda have improved recently, and this could limit options for the fugitive if Zimbabwe becomes unsafe. DRC may now offer a less secure haven for the fugitive, investigators said.
“As commander of the presidential guard we consider [Mpiranya] as being one of the main perpetrators of the genocide,” Brammertz said.
As early as December 2010, UN investigators reported to the UN Security Council that Mpiranya had connections with Zimbabwe and lived there for long periods.
In 2012, under pressure from Kigali, Zimbabwean authorities admitted that the fugitive could be on their territory and pledged to find him “dead or alive”. His alleged presence in Zimbabwe was discussed in parliament, and local media listed possible aliases and addresses associated with him.
However, last year Brammertz informed the UN Security Council that despite “credible evidence” of the whereabouts of key fugitives, the lack of cooperation from governments remained a challenge, particularly in east and southern Africa. (Source: The Guardian)