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The Hills of Bisesero

It is 28 years since the Rwandan genocide, and fugitive genocidaires may well have thought their chance of facing retribution was fading with the dwindling numbers of survivors. In November many of the charges against Félicién Kabuga, once one of Rwanda’s richest men, who imported and distributed 500,000 machetes in Rwanda  just before the killing began, were dropped through lack of evidence that hismachetes were specifically for that purpose. But, on December 16th, by finding Claude Muhayimana guilty of complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity, a Paris court reminded those still hiding that it’s not over whilst anyone remembers.

Muhayimana, just an ‘ordinary citizen’ according to his lawyers, once drove a hotel taxi in Kibuye. He was not a killer, but he facilitated a killing which stands out even in Rwandan history.

In the nearby Bisesero Hills lived Tutsi cattle breeders, the Abasesero, who had survived previous anti-Tutsi pogroms by fighting back with their traditional weapons. As the massacres began thousands of ordinary Tutsis took refuge with them. Eventually, on a hillside called Muyira they stood together in a desperate defence, and held off the génocidaires for three months. Finally, the government shipped in reinforcements, and Muhayimana drove them to and from work. A memorial now pays tribute to Bisesero’s heroic resistance, which ended with 1,500 living and 50,000 dead. Muyahimana fled to Rouen and has been a French citizen since 2010, living a quiet life as a city employee. He was brought to justice only thanks to Alain Gauthier a 72-year-old Frenchman who has devoted the last twenty years to finding genocidaires in France and bringing them to justice. With his Rwandan wife Dafroza he has been travelling to Rwanda, first in his work holidays and now in retirement, to find those who remember, and persuade them to remember and to testify. ‘It’s essential that those who have seen, and those who know, talk,’ he says. He found fifty witnesses to testify against Muhayimana. Bosco Ntabanganyimana, a survivor, says, ‘here, the image of Claude Muhayimana disembarking and re-embarking hordes of Interahamwe militiamen in a looted blue Daihatsu van is still alive. More than once, he stopped here after dropping off militiamen in Bisesero.’

Muyahimana’s lawyers claim he had no choice, but the court was unconvinced, pointing out that other drivers refused. Gauthier believes it has taken France too long to pursue fugitives like Muyahimana. Rwanda has made 48 extradition requests to France, but France’s highest court has always opposed them. Yet this, too, seems to be changing now. Last September France permitted the extradition of Félicien Kabuga to an international court, and earlier this year France, after a report commissioned by president Macron, France accepted ‘heavy and overwhelming responsibilities’ for its role in failing to prevent the genocide. Muhayimana’s fourteen year sentence is not only solace for those who cannot forget, it is also a reminder that an effective genocide relies on the support of ‘ordinary people’ and that nobody is too ordinary to be prosecuted, in France nor anywhere else.

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