Celestin Ugirashebuja

Celestin Ugirashebuja

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Address:

Gatefield Close, Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex

Early life:

Celestin Ugirashebuja was born in 1953 in Kigoma commune, in the (former) central Rwandan prefecture of Gitarama. With recent administrative reforms, in present day Rwanda this is Ruhango district, Ruhango sector, Rwoga cell, Rwoga village.

His parents were Paul Mutwa and Frasia Nyirabashi.

He attended Secondary School at the Ecole Technique Officielle de Kigali (ETO) in Kicukiro, Kigali [now known as IPRC Kicukiro] but left before completing his studies. He began working at a post office in Kigali. In July 1973 the defence minister and head of the army Juvenal Habyarimana from the north west of Rwanda seized power in a coup, unseating President Gregoire Kayibanda who formed the base of his support from the central area of Rwanda around Gitarama from where Ugirashebuja came from. In a highly unusual move, the young and poorly educated Ugirashebuja was ‘plucked’ from obscurity by Habyarimana’s head of Internal Security, Theoneste Lizinde, and appointed bourgmeister of his home commune of Kigoma by the President in xxxxx at the age of just xxx. The rationale for Ugirashebuja received such promotion, despite him having no full secondary education or administrative experience, was to assist promoting Habyarimana’s new MRND party in a region that was still underscored with opposition from loyalists of the former President Kayibanda’s regime.

Over the next two decades Ugirashebuja continued to play a dominant role as one of the President’s most loyal local administrators. His long-time personal ties to the top of the regime meant Ugirashebuja’s administrative superior, the Prefect of Gitarama, had to be ‘. Ugirashebuja’s wife, who was close to the president when he first seized power, was alleged to be a real source of influence in her own right in a country where proximity to power translated into personal wealth and authority.

Allegations of complicity in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi:

As one of the oldest appointed bourgmeister, and a man who had proved his loyalty over many years to MRND, Habyarimana and the ideology of his party, Ugirashebuja had a great deal of power in the local area (commune) where his control over issues of security were unchallenged. Responsible for collecting taxes, having his own staff to enforce laws and regulations and able to hire and fire police and security, Ugirashebuja could both arm or disarm militia as well as order roadblocks to enforce security if it was felt necessary.

During the months of the genocide (April – July) witnesses alleged that Ugirashebuja, held a meeting of the conseillers and responsables – local administrators under his authority – in his commune office and instructed them to set up road blocks and bring any ‘inyenzi’ (literally ‘cockroaches’ as they were called by Hutu extremists) to him. The commune policemen who were under his direct control played an important part in the killing. It is alleged he went to such roadblocks that had ordered been set up with the objective of finding out how many Tutsis had been killed.

Ugirashebuja urged people attending meetings to kill Tutsis. He gave instructions so that certain Tutsis were to be tricked to come out of hiding so they could be killed, and he ordered that bodies of Tutsis should be moved so that they would not be seen by foreigners. He is alleged to have assisted in the planning and implementation of massacres in this local commune area, and distributed guns.

In May 1994 witnesses said they saw Ugirashebuja address a crowd of around 300 people where urged them to destroy property belonging to Tutsis.

Post genocide:

Ugirashebuja fled to Zaire (now DRC) after the defeat of the genocidal interim regime and its army/militia in early July 1994. From there he made his way to Kenya. His family joined him here in January 1995.

From September 1994 to July 1997 Ugirashebuja studied for a theology degree in Kenya.

Life in UK:

In September 1997 Ugirashebuja arrived in the UK with assistance from residents in Frinton, Essex who had been volunteering in Rwanda. He settled in Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex. Ugirashebuja enrolled at the Colchester Institute to study Information Technology. He worked as a volunteer carer at what was the Anna Victoria nursing home in Frinton, Essex and attended St Mary’s Parish Church, Frinton.

On 31 July 2006 The Independent newspaper alleged that Ugirashebuja had participated in the genocide (Cahal Milmo, ‘Man wanted for Rwanda genocide living unchallenged in Britain’, The Independent, 31 July 2006, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/man-wanted-for-rwanda-genocide-living-unchallenged-in-britain-410030.html)

In December 2006 Ugirashebuja was arrested in Walton-on-the-Naze, Frinton, Essex, by UK police, acting on a request by the Rwandan government. who requested his extradition for trial on suspicion of murder and for planning or incitement to commit genocide of Tutsis between 1 January 1994 and 12 December 1994. Three other Rwandans were arrested at the same time (Charles Munyaneza, Vincent Bajinya (Brown) and Emmanuel Nteziryayo). The accused were held in Belmarsh prison, South London, while the extradition case was heard at Westminster Magistrates Court (September 2007 – May 2008) before District Judge Evans. Ugirashebuja had a number of very senior barristers acting for his defence including now Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer, Edward H. Fitzgerald, Rachel Kapila, Patrick C. Hill and Rebecca J. Wright. Legal aid fees were at least £183,000.

Ugirashebuja provided the court with no documentary evidence of how he had travelled to the UK, his theology degree that it was claimed had been awarded to him in Kenya, or of the whereabouts of his children.

On 6 June 2008 the Court issued a judgement in favour of extradition. On 1 August the Secretary of State approved the extradition.

On 8 April 2009, the High Court reversed this ruling and denied extradition on the basis that the four accused would not receive a fair trial in Rwanda. Ugirashebuja was released back to his home in Essex.

Four years later, on 29 May 2013, Ugirashebuja was re-arrested, and initially imprisoned in Belmarsh along with Charles Munyaneza, Vincent Bajinya (Brown), Emmanuel Nteziryayo and Celestin Mutabaruka after a new extradition request by Rwanda. This time the men were released on bail after two weeks while the lengthy legal case proceeded, with Ugirashebuja having to report daily to the police station in Clacton as part of the bail conditions. An anonymous friend put up £25,000 bail money. Legal aid fees for Ugirashebuja for this second extradition case were at least £324,000.

On 21 December 2015, after two and a half years of legal hearing and rulings, the extradition request was again refused, due to a concern with possible fairness of any trial the accused may receive in Rwanda. The Rwandan government appealed against this ruling at the High Court of Justice (Queen’s bench). On 28 July 2017 – a decade after the original extradition case began – a final judgement was made in favour of the defendants and barring their extradition though finding there was a prima facie case that Ugirashebuja and the other four accused should face in a court of law.

In January 2018, Rwandan Prosecutor General Jean Bosco Mutangana and Prosecutor Jean Bosco Siboyintore, Head of the Genocide Suspects Tracking Unit, travelled to London to request the United Kingdom to open an investigation against the five individuals suspected of having participated in the 1994 genocide. They recalled the obligation of the United Kingdom to try or extradite such individuals.

On 9 April 2019, the Met Police anti-terrorism unit (S.O.15) reported that it was assessing the available evidence with a view to opening a full investigation. Minister of State for Security and Economic Crime Ben Wallace announced that investigations concerning those five individuals might take up to five years. However, he told members of the Parliament that the UK government would provide all necessary resources at its disposal so that justice could be served. He announced that police officers were sent to Rwanda to investigate on the ground.

In September 2020, four of the five suspects, including Ugirashebuja, were voluntarily questioned by police over suspicion of genocide and crimes against humanity. None were arrested. Met police have continued with their investigations (to the present) with no outcome yet announced.

The continuing delay and a failure to take any action – in keeping with the UK’s dire record of bringing to justice alleged genocidaire and war criminals living openly in its communities – resulted in members of the UK parliament deciding to reform their group. On 21 April 2021, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) announced it would “look into matters relating to the presence of alleged Rwandan war criminals in the UK and the prosecution of those who participated in the Rwandan genocide”.

On 26 April 2021, the Rwandan Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Johnston Busingye, held virtual discussions with the APPG, noting that “Rwanda does not seek revenge” and will not “prejudge the 5 suspects, whether they are innocent or guilty will be decided by the courts. All [Rwanda] seek[s] is that due process is followed and that justice, so far delayed, does not end up denied.”

Ugirashebuja is married to wife Marie José Nikuze and has four children.

Resources (PDFs):

Independent: Man wanted for Rwanda genocide living unchallenged in Britain 31 July 2006
East Anglian Times: Rwanda suspect speaks of support 26 Jan 2007
Essex Gazette: Ugirashebuja – Straw says genocide suspect may face UK trial 7 May 2009
Independent: Legacy of genocide alive well and living in Britain 9 July 2009
Daily Mail: Rwanda genocide suspect working at a seaside care home 19 Feb 2011
East African: Call to arrest all genocide suspects 7 June 2013
KT Press: UK ‘denying’ Rwandans justice 13 Aug 2017
Lawofnations blog: UK extradition refusal legal analysis 10 Oct 2017
The Sun: Genocide suspects run up 5 million legal bill 8 Sept 2018
Aegis Trust/Urumuri: survivors letter to Home Secretary 9 Dec 2018
Daily Mirror: Police Question Rwandan suspects about Rwandan atrocities 15 Nov 2020
Daily Mail: Scotland Yard detectives travel to Rwanda in genocide probe 21 Jan 2023