U.S. Hosted Alleged Rwandan War Criminal for Military Visit

In October of 2010, the Kagame government suffered one of the worst setbacks in its 11-year history. That month, the United Nations released a mapping report cataloguing human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1993 and 2003. The report documented the heavy toll of Rwanda's 1996 and 1998 invasions in the Congo, singling out the Rwandan army and its proxies for "the apparently relentless pursuit and mass killing ... of Hutu refugees, members of the former Armed Forces of Rwanda and militias implicated in the genocide of 1994 (Interahamwe).". While Majyambere himself is not mentioned in the report, he was a high-ranking officer during the period it covers -- if the Rwandan military did pursue a policy of targeting Hutu civilians, he likely would have been involved in implementing it.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania is only empowered to prosecute crimes committed during the 1994 genocide. This effectively gives the Kagame government a pass on human rights violations it might have committed in the years after the conflict, during its attempts at weeding out Hutu genocidaires who had taken refuge in eastern Congo. That could now change. "The mapping report definitely provides a basis for legal proceedings," Seay said.

But what kind of legal proceedings? And by whom? Rognoni, the Spanish lawyer, views his country's prosecution as a chance to establish legal accountability for human rights violations like the ones described in the mapping report. "When we talk about crimes against humanity or genocide or war crimes we're talking about the most severe crimes," he said. The Spanish indictments have at least limited officials' ability to travel in Europe; if it weren't for the Spanish court system, Rognoni said, the accused might enjoy total impunity. Seay said that she is more reticent about the effects of judicial activism on human rights. "It can make a difference at least in finding people and tracking them down," she said. "But, does it reek of neo-colonialism and overreach into an independent country's affairs? Absolutely. Can we trust that that country is one that will ensure that justice is done no matter who the perpetrators are? Right now, the answer is no."

The Spanish indictment broadly accused Majyambere and 39 other Rwandan officers of war crimes committed in Rwanda and the Congo in the late 90s. . Yet it specifically accuses Majyambere of plotting to kill Spanish NGO workers. Rognoni told me that a "protected witness who was part of Rwandan Patriotic Army" places Majyambere at a meeting in which an attack that resulted in the deaths of three Spanish doctors was planned. "That witness knew that Captain Majyambere was in charge of that operation together with another person, there that was a mixed team of gendarme and the military," said Rognoni. The indictment itself says that Majyambere "would have been one of the members who participated in the attack on the headquarters of Medicos del Mundo and in the murder of Manuel Madrazo, Flores Sirera and Luis Valtuena."

The U.S. didn't take these accusations very seriously, even though they involve the alleged murder of a close ally's citizens at the hands of a government with a troubling human rights record. According to the Ft. Leavenworth press office, any foreign visitors to a U.S. military installation are subject to a rigorous background check. "Foreign officer requests to visit are worked through appropriate Defense and State Department channels to include embassies in the requesting countries and military commands with responsibility for the country and region," wrote Steed in an email. The Rwandan request for this particular trip was "processed through US AFRICOM, and all travel was coordinated through the US Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda." According to Steed, military officials at Ft. Leavenworth had no idea that Majyambere was an accused war criminal, or that there was an active Interpol red notice out on him.

By all accounts, Majyambere's visit was a routine one, his alleged detention (which at this point remains unconfirmed) an easily ignored hiccup, rather than a full-blown international incident. Faced with a choice between upholding international law and maintaining good ties with an ally whose human rights record is questionable enough to attract UN investigations and international indictments, the U.S. chose the latter.

Presented by

Armin Rosen is a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Global channel.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus


A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open for 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.


What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.

More in Global

Just In