There are judgments that leave indifference. There are sentences that elicit relief, others revolt and then there are those that one simply ignores. The conviction of Matthieu Ngirumpatse is an example of those which cause misunderstanding, revolt and indignation! A conviction that sparked the sadness in the Rwandan population, yet silenced within the borders of his country. In this largely apolitical population, the people who actually experienced Ngirumpatse before and during the difficult moments of its history, hope that he, the wise, the Christian and humanistic can be released from the cage of shame!
He himself remains confident in the justice system! Some who know the intricacies of the ICTR refer to him as naive optimist who always sees the good side of the world, as it has always been! Yet he continues to believe and to hope. He always had confidence in man, in his kindness and humanity. He is convinced that the Appeals Chamber will do him justice.
Indeed, it is unthinkable that this Appeals Chamber reissues the error of the Trial Chamber and condemn this man, because of a political title he carried in his country, rather than acquit him for what he, as a humanist, did with his modest means, to save his people.
He always said loud and clear that the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa are all Rwandans, as members of a body. When one suffers, the whole body is crying. This biblical inspiration is rooted in his family and his childhood. The death of his brothers and his friends killed during the genocide affected him in a deep way. So far he has not fallen, despite the time and the prison environment. He is still alive thanks to the comforts and expressions of support he receives from his family and survivors of the genocide. A Genocide for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Trial Chamber!
But who is Matthieu Ngirumpatse, really?
It is best to let him speak and read his testimony before the judges in Arusha.
Arusha, January 17, 2011 –
At 9 o’clock exact, time Arusha Ngirumpatse leaves his usual place next to his lawyers to settle in the witness box in front of three judges.
“How are you, Mr. Ngirumpatse?” Asked one of his main lawyers.
“As usual, that is to say, with ups and downs, crises and fatigue. But I’ll try my best,” answered the former president of the National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development (MRND).
The question was far from trivial, because the poor health of Ngirumpatse has been in the past, paralyzed for months during the trial in which he is on trial for genocide and war crimes, with the former vice Chairman of the party, Edouard Karemera who has already completed his defense.
After primary school, the future politician from the Petit Séminaire de Kabgayi in the center of the country, attended St. Paul’s College in Bukavu (Belgian Congo) . He then enrolled at the University of Bujumbura, Burundi in 1960, he was forced to rush back to his country, following the deterioration of the situation in the Great Lakes region.
From 1962 , he worked at the General Prosecutor’s Office, as deputy prosecutor. In November 1973 , the new head of state Juvenal Habyarimana, whom he knew from school, appointed him Ambassador of Rwanda to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Five years later, he was appointed in Germany.
“Do you not feel that you have been favored?”
“I never asked for any post in my professional life. I was often surprised by the nominations,” replied the accused.
In 1982 to complete his legal training interrupted in 1960, he enrolled at the University of Strasbourg, France, where he graduated with a PhD in 1985.
He returned to his country, where he was appointed diplomatic advisor to President Habyarimana, Director General of the Rwanda National Insurance Company (SONARWA) and Minister of Justice, respectively. He is known for never having practiced ethnic discrimination and sought to raise property during all these years of responsibility.
“What mattered to me is the skill and not ethnicity (…) I never attached much importance to money,” he says.
Why was Matthieu Ngirumpatse convicted?
His crime was to have been President of the MRND party member of the ruling coalition at the time of the genocide.
On 1 October 1990 , the war launched by the RPF in the north had renewed intensity. The tensions became more and more vivid on the one hand between the Hutu and Tutsi, the latter accused of being accomplices of the RPF massacring people in the north of the country, and secondly, between the northern and national south of the country, accusing the latter first of having cornered all the country’s assets and having massacred the dignitaries of the South.
All the ingredients of a double explosion gathered. Matthieu Ngirumpatse, who belongs to neither one nor the other regions of conflict, known for his intimate relations with Tutsi, appeared as the man of the situation to defuse the crisis with multiple dimensions.
Matthieu Ngirumpatse explained better:
“I was approached by representatives of different segments of the population, civil society, opposition political parties, the power in the person of the president and his family, churches and even diplomatic representations. They all asked me one thing: become President of the MRND in place of the President of the Republic who combined this function.
For the President of the Republic, I represented a guarantee of democracy and trust between the various protagonists. For the opposition, by accepting this position, I would be an accessible partner who was not involved in the conflict.
For diplomatic missions, I gave a better picture of the peace process underway in the country. I was assured of a bright future. I had to accept this position to give a chance for peace in my country.
When I tried to understand why this choice was my modest person, their response was unanimous : I was the right person, because of my background, my personality and good relations with the Tutsi population, with the opposition and with religious communities.
I knew that the mission would be difficult. I ran the risk of being murdered. During this period, many political leaders paid with their lives. I was aware of that fact!
Unfortunately, I had neither the power nor the strength to change things . However, my values of solidarity, love and courage were stronger than reason and I accepted the mission. Also, having found that powerful people in world believed in me, I thought that their competition would be of great use to me, that this mission could be completed!
So I became president of the MRND. I had a mission speech. I was a kind of insurance for all groups. Throughout my difficult task, I realized that I was really just sort of fuse, sentenced to jump!”
“So, the fuse blew?”
It would have been easy for Matthew to refuse the post. He would be with his family, with his wife , his children and grandchildren. This grandfather would enthusiastically reap the fruits of love and peace that he has sown. Alas, his devotion to others, and his sacrifice has earned him time in jail. He was sentenced by the will of a regime. They decided to trample the values of a person they knew and they had praised. It was different era, it was different time!
We do not forget that Matthew is also a Hutu .
The regime currently in power in Kigali, could not accept that this well known man is found innocent. It would question the ideology built on the unique idea of genocide committed by the Hutu against the Tutsi.
“Mr. Ngirumpatse, why did you not refuse this position?”
“No! It was not a position. It was not even a function. It was a mission. I cannot imagine having acted otherwise. I knew that the forces were all determined. It was obvious that the victim was going to be my people. What a coward would I have been? My father would turn in his grave. What would have served the values that were instilled in me by my parents? I agreed because I had confidence in myself and trusted in all my interlocutors who were all powerful. So I had to rely on them. I thought they were honest and sincere!
After my election as president of the MRND, I received congratulations from all these people who convinced me to be a missionary. I began my pilgrimage with each group, to spread the word . I tried to convince them! I explained that negotiation was the best way to achieve durable solutions and that it was in the interest of the people. I used pedagogy, methodology. I put in my heart and soul. Eventually, I realized that my concerns were far from their own. That military force was stronger than words. The goal of keeping or having power was above all. Human life, the suffering of the people, had no meaning. I was preaching in the wilderness of feelings!”
“Given this situation, why did you not shout loudly in the media to denounce this?”
“I could have done that. But in what media? But also, from my experience, the real negotiations are not public. I did not accuse or humiliate anyone, at the risk of exacerbating tensions. I did not want to put myself first in line. I was looking for a just and lasting solution. I met the most senior leaders of the RPF, and Western ambassadors. I talked to the military, I had discussions with leaders of political parties, I saw all these people, all without exception in the utmost discretion.”
“I realized that I was like in a theater, dramatic play. I could neither punish nor reward. I could not put pressure nor honor the commitments I had to take. I had no power. I had no leverage, neither political nor military. Yet I trust in this world all those who believed in me to help me. I was wrong. They had their own concerns, their vital interests, namely power. I fought to stop the hurricane! This hurricane was too strong, it took me, it pulled my hands from my family to smash me and throw me in this prison, at the bottom of the cell where I stagnate as a criminal!”
“I wish you the best, Mr. Ngirumpatse.”
In the coming months, the Court of Appeal will make its final decision on the guilt or innocence of this man.
The fate of a man is in. Soon he will be convicted or acquitted. He may rejoin his family or die in his cage.
Sir, Madam, your words, your actions are important and needed by Matthieu Ngirumpatse. If you believe in man like Matthieu Ngirumpatse, if you love righteousness, which saves the innocent and condemns the criminal, act before it is too late.
Most of all, do not stay indifferent. Thank you.