The trial of Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) soldiers and civilians accused of raping three women after beating them up kicked off in Kigali with prosecution asking the military high court to send them on remand pending further investigations.
The case involves five non-commissioned soldiers, at rank of Private, identified as Pvt Patrick Ndayishimiye (the patrol leader), Pvt. Fidele Nishinwe, Pvt. François Gatete, Pvt. John Gahirwa and Pvt. Theoneste Twagirimana.
The case also involves two civilian accomplices namely Donat ‘Rajab’ Ntakaziraho and Mukamulisa Diane who have also commissioned community-based night patrols officials in Kangondo 1 cell where the alleged crimes happened on different dates in the month of March 2020.
During the 5-hour hearing of a 30-day remand hearing, six suspects were present in court and all denied charges leveled against them with consultation of their defense lawyer, Moses Sebudandi. One suspect, Diane Mukamulisa was missing on grounds of her maternal rights to take care of her newborn baby.
Military prosecution led by Captain JB Maniraguha presented evidence from the victim’s testimonies and investigation reports conducted by the military teams on several incidents in which the suspects are accused of the six counts.
Prosecution says that both Patrick Ndayishimiye (the patrol leader) and Fidele Nishinwe were directly involved in committing all six charges especially raping three women at different occasions, and being involved in physically assaulting suspects in a place where they were not assigned duty.
Prosecution alleges that Patrick Ndayishimiye was at the time of the crime, the group commander. Some of his colleagues testified against him on physically assaulting and harming Joseph Niyobuhungiro and Ngabonziza Shema who were found in the houses of the female victims.
“Patrick also has a criminal record of theft and was in 2018 released after serving a one year sentence. In his affidavit he methodically confesses and narrates how he raped one, Madeleine Uwamariya as evidenced by testimonies from his colleagues (Gahirwa John and Gatete François),” the prosecution said.
It is also said that his counterpart Nishimwe, also raped two women, starting with Chantal Uwamariya and Angelique Cyuzuzo on two separate occasions.
“We have testimonies of citizens who were able to identify the two suspects during an identification parade that was done soon after,” Prosecutor Maniriguha said.
On other suspects Donat ‘Rajab’ Ntakaziraho and Mukamulisa, Pvt. Twagirimana Theoneste, the Prosecutor Captain Maniriguha said that they were present during the crimes and concealed information about what had transpired.
The prosecutor asked the court to remand the suspects for 30 days pending further investigation, though, he said, they already have enough evidence that pins the suspects.
The accused Ndayishimiye and Nishimwe defended themselves saying that they have never been assigned to the Kangondo zone and on the said dates in which the citizens accuse them of committing the crimes, they were in the Kami Barracks on other duties.
“In the month of March I didn’t get assigned in Kangondo but I used to pass by the area doing surveillance work. I am surprised prosecution says it was me who committed the crimes yet the description of the uniforms and soldiers identified by residents do not match my description,” Patrick Ndayishimiye said.
He added that during the patrols he used to be assigned to the areas of Batsinda and Utexrwa where he worked with many other soldiers who are not in court.
In his defense, Nishimwe also said that he does not know the area and never stepped in Kangondo zone.
“ I only knew the name when I was arrested and paraded among suspects who were accused of committing these crimes. I am innocent,” Nishimwe said.
Their defense attorney, Sebudandi intervened saying that the prosecution accusations are not in line with the penal code and also that the fact of being present during a crime doesn’t make one an accomplice unless they assisted in one way or the other.
“For example the so-called terror group would be valid if there was intent or purpose and evidence that the accused had met and planned on their actions. We cannot call some of my clients as accomplices just because they were there,” Sebudandi said.
On the case of rape, he said he agrees with the investigation (testimonies) collected by the prosecution but there must be more evidence to prove this happened.
The lawyer dismissed the theft charges saying that there must be more evidence to show it really happened.
From that background, he asked the court to immediately release one suspect, Twagirimana Theoneste because “there is nothing leveled on him either in testimonies of victims or evidence of prosecution.”
This thinking was also backed by one of the suspects, Donat ‘Rajab’ Ntakaziraho who told court that Twagirimana actually was the only soldier who tried to stop his patrol commander (Ndayishimiye Patrick) from beating citizens but in vain.
“That tall soldier (Twagirimana ) is innocent. He asked Ndayishimiye why he was canning citizens with no reason but this didn’t make any difference,” Ntakaziraho said.
After listening to all sides and requests of both prosecution and defense team, Military Judge Major Gerald Muhigirwa assisted by three other judges ruled that the reading of the case outcomes will be pronounced on Wednesday, May, 13.