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Long-sought former Hutu militia leader captured

By Tim Lister, CNN
The Hutu militia, known as the Interahamwe, was responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in Rwanda in the 1990s.
The Hutu militia, known as the Interahamwe, was responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in Rwanda in the 1990s.
  • Bernard Munyagishari is accused of genocide and crimes against humanity, including rape
  • He was detained in an operation led by Congolese troops, the tribunal for Rwanda says
  • The tribunals for Rwanda and for the former Yugoslavia are both making progress
  • Rwanda
  • Ratko Mladic

(CNN) -- One of the most notorious leaders of the Rwandan Hutu militia in the 1990s has been apprehended in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) announced Thursday.

Bernard Munyagishari was wanted by the tribunal on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, including rape.

The announcement of his capture was almost a side note in the struggle to bring to justice those indicted for crimes against humanity, coming as it did on the same day that Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic was apprehended after a more-than-15-year manhunt.

Mladic: Commander turned fugitive

In the spring of 1994, the international community was preoccupied with the Bosnian Serbs' campaign of ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, a campaign that would culminate the following year in a massacre at Srebrenica. But at the same time, thousands of miles away, Hutu militia were beginning a rampage across Rwanda, unhindered by any international intervention. Munyagishari was allegedly one of their leaders.

The militia, known as the Interahamwe, was responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in Rwanda as they set about a campaign of genocide against ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutu. An estimated 800,000 people were killed in three months of massacres and arbitrary executions.

Munyagishari was detained in an operation led by Congolese troops in a remote and forested area of north Kivu, the ICTR said. He is currently being held in Goma in Congo, awaiting transfer to the tribunal, which is based in Arusha in Tanzania.

According to an indictment published in 2005, Munyagishari led the Interahamwe in the district of Gisenye. It alleges that long before the genocide occurred, Munyagishari was training and distributing weapons to Interahamwe groups to enable them "more efficiently to attack and kill the Tutsis and Hutu opponents."

Early in 1994 he is alleged to have spread rumors that Tutsi were poisoning the water supply and "masterminded a virulent hate campaign against the Tutsis."

In April 1994, the indictment alleges, Munyagishari "selected Tutsis and ordered his Interahamwe to take them to be killed and buried at the 'Commune Rouge,'" an infamous cemetery in Gisenye. He also created a special militia "to rape Tutsi women and girls before killing them" and was allegedly involved in an attack on a Catholic church where many Tutsis had taken refuge.

That attack took place in the same week that US F-16 jets attacked the positions of Mladic's forces as they lay siege to the Bosnian town of Gorazde.

For years it seemed that both the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the ICTR were destined to be expensive failures, unable to bring those accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity to justice. There was also widespread criticism of the ICTR for its perceived failure to prosecute those accused of crimes of sexual violence.

But as the years have passed, the political landscape has changed and hiding places have shrunk. The old generation of Serbian hardliners has lost influence and the young republic has eyes on joining the European Union. In central Africa, after years of antagonism, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have begun cooperating on a range of issues, from trade to tackling the militia rife in eastern Congo.

Such tribunals are expensive. Both the ICTR and the Yugoslav tribunal cost more than $130 million a year to sustain. And they move slowly as evidence is collected and translated, defense teams assembled and the scope of international law tested.

Both courts have focused on bringing to justice the alleged architects of atrocities rather than the foot soldiers, in a calculated message to any who might contemplate such strategies in the future. And in the view of Antonio Cassese, the former president of the Yugoslav tribunal, "Justice is an indispensable ingredient of the process of national reconciliation. ... It breaks the cycle of violence, hatred and extra-judicial retribution.'

Eventually some of the most wanted figures from both Rwanda's genocide and the civil war in the former Yugoslavia -- not all of them Serbs by any means -- have been brought to trial.

At the ICTR, 32 cases have been completed and nine accused remain at large. A further 22 cases are currently being heard. At The Hague, the Yugoslav tribunal has charged more than 160 people, including heads of government and high-level military figures. More than 60 have been convicted and more than 40 are in various stages of proceedings.

Add to that list: Ratko Mladic and Bernard Munyagishari.