Rwandese soldier imprisoned for 15 years for murdering tourists in Bwindi park | Itarahamwe rebels


A group of former Rwandan soldiers, believed to be Interahamwe (loyal to former President Juvenile Habyarimana) came as tourists to track gorillas at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park on March 1, 1999, armed with guns, machetes and axes attacked the camp and killed all the eight tourists. The game warden, Paul Ross Wagaba was burnt to death.

The tourists, Robert Haubner, Susan Miller, Susan Miller, Mark Lindergren, Michelle Strather, Rhoda Avis, Stephen Robert and Joanne Cotton were from the US, the UK and New Zealand.
Shortly after the incident, Jean Paul Bizimana, an Interahamwe fighter, approached Gadi Buturo, a security operative based in Mbarara, saying he wanted to surrender and hand in his gun.
Buturo took Bizimana to Rukungiri with the gun and handed him over to the district internal security officer, Emmanuel Twagira. Bizimana said he was tired of living uncomfortably in the bush and that he knew those who had killed the tourists.
After Bizimana surrendered, he was handed over to the UPDF in Mbarara for further investigations. However, he was later sent to Nakivale refugee camp to reside with other Rwandan refugees where he stayed up to 2004.
Meanwhile, a Police detective, John Ndugutse was assigned to investigate the murders.
He found Bizimana at the camp and interrogated him, but Bizimana denied having taken part in the attack on the tourists. He was remanded before the case was brought before the Buganda Road Court.
At the court, Bizimana made an extra judicial statement before Deo Nzeyimana, the Buganda Road Court Chief Magistrate. An extra judicial statement is made by an accused person out of their own free will, admitting to having taken part in an offence.
Nzeyimana said Bizimana admitted to being part of the gang that attacked the tourists, but denied having taken part in the actual killing. Nzeyimana disclosed that he cautioned Bizimana that whatever he said could be used as evidence against him in court.
Another witness, Geoffrey Masinde, a driver of the Uganda Wildlife Authority was also brought in as a witness. He said on March 1, 1999 he heard gunshots within the park. He said he also fired his weapon to try and scare away the assailants, but they instead rounded him up and disarmed him.
Masinde said the captors, who spoke Kinyarwanda and Kiswahili, ordered him to lead a group of hostages to the Congo border, where they were ordered to sit down.
However, Masinde insisted that the hostages who reached the border comprised of only Ugandans and no foreigners. He said the captors claimed the eight tourists had failed to walk to the border and were left behind.
Masinde narrated that as it was approaching 7: 00pm, he was told to leave the group, but at that moment, the UPDF attacked and rescued the hostages.
Defence lawyer Norris Maranga argued that simply being part of the gang that attacked and killed the tourists did not mean that Bizimana carried out the killings personally.
He said prosecution failed to prove that Bizimana had participated in the murder, adding that once there is doubt in the prosecution case, court must rule in favour of the accused.
Maranga argued that there was no prosecution witness who identified Bizimana at the scene of crime.
Also, the assessors said prosecution failed to prove the ingredients of murder and accordingly advised the court to set him free.
However, High Court judge, John Bosco Katutsi sentenced Bizimana to 15 years in jail.
“I note with appreciation that some of the victims were from countries where death penalty is regarded as harsh and inhumane. It would be a double tragedy if their spirits were to be disturbed by a sentence of death. The spirits of these victims need to be appeased by a sentence that the victims would have viewed as fair and civilised,” Justice Katutsi said.
He explained that the gang which carried out the attack shared a common purpose and therefore each individual member of the gang was guilty of murder.

Shortly after the incident, Jean Paul Bizimana, an Interahamwe fighter, approached Gadi Buturo, a security operative based in Mbarara, saying he wanted to surrender and hand in his gun.Buturo took Bizimana to Rukungiri with the gun and handed him over to the district internal security officer, Emmanuel Twagira. Bizimana said he was tired of living uncomfortably in the bush and that he knew those who had killed the tourists.Meanwhile, a Police detective, John Ndugutse was assigned to investigate the murders.He found Bizimana at the camp and interrogated him, but Bizimana denied having taken part in the attack on the tourists. He was remanded before the case was brought before the Buganda Road Court.Nzeyimana said Bizimana admitted to being part of the gang that attacked the tourists, but denied having taken part in the actual killing. Nzeyimana disclosed that he cautioned Bizimana that whatever he said could be used as evidence against him in court.Another witness, Geoffrey Masinde, a driver of the Uganda Wildlife Authority was also brought in as a witness. He said on March 1, 1999 he heard gunshots within the park. He said he also fired his weapon to try and scare away the assailants, but they instead rounded him up and disarmed him.Masinde said the captors, who spoke Kinyarwanda and Kiswahili, ordered him to lead a group of hostages to the Congo border, where they were ordered to sit down.However, Masinde insisted that the hostages who reached the border comprised of only Ugandans and no foreigners. He said the captors claimed the eight tourists had failed to walk to the border and were left behind.Masinde narrated that as it was approaching 7: 00pm, he was told to leave the group, but at that moment, the UPDF attacked and rescued the hostages.He said prosecution failed to prove that Bizimana had participated in the murder, adding that once there is doubt in the prosecution case, court must rule in favour of the accused.Maranga argued that there was no prosecution witness who identified Bizimana at the scene of crime.Also, the assessors said prosecution failed to prove the ingredients of murder and accordingly advised the court to set him free.”I note with appreciation that some of the victims were from countries where death penalty is regarded as harsh and inhumane. It would be a double tragedy if their spirits were to be disturbed by a sentence of death. The spirits of these victims need to be appeased by a sentence that the victims would have viewed as fair and civilised,” Justice Katutsi said.He explained that the gang which carried out the attack shared a common purpose and therefore each individual member of the gang was guilty of murder.

jackie

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