Jean-Marie Vianney Nzapfakumunsi – happily living in Essonne, France
Genocide in Rwanda: an officer accused of the Nyange massacre found in France
Théo Englebert in Kigali
[Article translated from the French, first published by Liberation.fr] (all rights reserved).
9 June 2023
Jean-Marie Vianney Nzapfakumunsi is suspected of having organised the extermination of 2,000 Tutsis in a church in 1994. On the spot, “Libé” gathered damning testimony against the ex-gendarme, who lives in Essonne, France.
In Rwanda, it’s a story that everyone knows. The bulldozer began by demolishing the first part of the church on 15 April 1994. It continued the next day until the afternoon, when the roof finally collapsed on the Tutsis. People then finished off the survivors with spears and machetes.” The man who recounts the scene – and witnessed it – is called Papias. At the time, he was employed in the parish of Nyange, in north-west Rwanda, where around 2,000 people were slaughtered.
Twenty-nine years later, on 24 May, a former policeman from the commune, Fulgence Kayishema, who was allegedly “directly involved in the planning and execution” of the Nyange massacre, according to United Nations prosecutors, was arrested in South Africa. This is the epilogue to a run of almost three decades. He should soon be extradited to stand trial in Rwanda, his native country, which received the transfer of his case in 2012. But the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which closed its doors three years later, had already sentenced the former prefect of the region in 1999 and the priest of Nyange in 2008 to life imprisonment, while the pharmacist and the burgomaster received 30 and 25 years in prison respectively in 2012 and 2013.
For several months, Libération has been investigating another leading character in the Nyange crime, suspected of being one of the main organisers: Jean-Marie Vianney Nzapfakumunsi. The 69-year-old is a former lieutenant-colonel in the gendarmerie and lives in France, where he has escaped prosecution. He currently lives in Essonne. After the genocide, he spent a year in Kinshasa, in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, and then two years in Cameroon, according to his own statements. He arrived in France in 1997. Nzapfakumunsi studied at the Paris Institute of Criminology between 2000 and 2004 and was employed for a time as a counsellor at a Pôle Emploi agency. France granted him asylum in May 2001, then citizenship in November 2004. When he was naturalised, he changed his surname to Munsy.
The former officer, who trained at the national gendarmerie school in Melun (Seine-et-Marne) between 1979 and 1980, testified for the defence in 2009 in the second major trial of Rwandan soldiers at the ICTR. [Note: his gave evidence in the defence of the former head of Rwandan Gendarmerie Augustin Ndindiliyimana] Then again, this year, in Paris, he testified before the Assize Court that is currently trying another Rwandan gendarme, Philippe Hategekimana, for “genocide, complicity in genocide, crimes against humanity, complicity in crimes against humanity and participation in a conspiracy to prepare the crimes of genocide”.
“It was he who brought and distributed the rifles”.
In Nyange, a memorial now stands on the site of the destroyed church where the Tutsis thought they would find refuge in April 1994, just a few hundred metres from the church. In Nyange, a memorial now stands on the site of the destroyed church where the Tutsis thought they would find refuge in April 1994, just a stone’s throw from the Nyabarongo river that runs through the land of a thousand hills. The commune lies 40 kilometres east of Lake Kivu, which separates Rwanda from the Democratic Republic of Congo. For the purposes of this investigation, Libération has visited the town four times since July 2021 and interviewed around ten witnesses.
In a bend in the mountainside, Aloys and Frodouard are chatting, leaning on the edge of the terrace of the modest cabaret La Bonne Adresse. Aloys chairs the local branch of Ibuka, the association that defends the memory of the survivors, while Frodouard was a teenager in 1994 and worked as a handyman at the Nyange convent. “Nzapfakumunsi is even more responsible for the massacre than those tried by the ICTR,” says Aloys, who lost his mother, three sisters and nine children during the genocide.
“He was the one who brought in and distributed the rifles, supervised the training of the young interahamwe [the Hutu militiamen who committed the massacres] and coordinated the genocide. It destroys us emotionally that he is not being prosecuted”, Frodouard agrees. In his view, the convent had become the epicentre of the organisation of the genocide in Nyange. “Nzapfakumunsi lived in the convent. He brought liquor to reward – to pay, as it were – the interahamwe who had killed. This alcohol was stored in the convent. It was he who then ordered the people to clean up and fill in the pits before giving them more beer”, he explains.
A few weeks later, as the sun was setting in Nyange, three people in their fifties were discreetly gathered at the edge of the small dirt track that runs down behind the church where they had arranged to meet. Sheltered by the eucalyptus trees, the trio have agreed to talk about the genocide, still a very sensitive subject in these hills. The name of Jean-Marie Vianney Nzapfakumunsi is also on everyone’s lips. Emmanuel, a man with an emaciated face who readily admits to “having killed”, constantly keeps his large hands clasped over his abdomen. During the genocide, Nzapfakumunsi came to live with his sister, whose neighbour I was,” he explains. Nzapfakumunsi commanded the gendarmes. He could have stopped what was happening if he had had the will to do so. Instead, the gendarmes supported us.”
Emmanuel had joined the “civil defence”, an administrative name used to conceal the real nature of the genocidal enterprise. I was trained to shoot guns by the gendarmes who accompanied Nzapfakumunsi,” he explains. You see, intellectuals didn’t often talk to us. But before demolishing the church, they held a meeting with Nzapfakumunsi to consult each other and give us instructions.”
According to the three witnesses, Jean-Marie Vianney Nzapfakumunsi played an important role in the “crisis committee” that met daily in Nyange. “These were meetings with intellectuals and leaders. Influential people who had returned from Kigali, because it was wartime. The word genocide was not yet used at the time. They made us aware that if the enemy won, they were going to kill us all”, recalls Ildephonse, the village vet. According to witnesses heard at the ICTR, Ildephonse himself was a member of these local “authorities” at the time, contrary to what he implies twenty-nine years later.
“We are the ones who killed here”.
Clean-shaven, Papias wears ochre-coloured trousers and a crisp white shirt. The former parish worker speaks in a soft voice. “It was Nzapfakumunsi who organised the meetings in the room reserved for the bishop. He declared that no Tutsi was going to escape. That they were going to be exterminated,” he says calmly. After that, Nzapfakumunsi did everything he could to destroy the church. The intervention of the gendarmes commanded by Nzapfakumunsi would prove decisive in giving the genocidaires the upper hand. “From the first day, the Tutsis who had gathered there tried to protect themselves by throwing stones. Seeing this, the gendarmes fired at them and threw grenades,” recounts veterinary surgeon Ildephonse. “When the grenades ran out, they went to get more from Nzapfakumunsi.”
The church was then literally besieged. “After a meeting of the crisis committee, they decided to turn off the water. After five days, the Tutsis really had no strength left to fight or protect themselves, and the interahamwe took advantage of this,” Papias reports. But when the time came to go into more detail about the massacre and the precise role played by each of them, the three witnesses were evasive. They evade the question or answer each other with enigmatic phrases.
A scrawny, unsteady-looking individual has approached the group and is now wandering around. Wearing a large beret placed crookedly on his head, he fidgets, crouches down, stands up, laughing as he listens to the three villagers beating about the bush. Finally, he intervenes. “I was born here in Nyange. I was baptised in this church and I became an interahamwe. We are the ones who killed here with the support of the authorities! We accepted orders and we acted badly. Now we have to bear witness to what we did and saw”! The three men grimace. It’s clear that they’re disturbed by what has been said.