Bugesera (eastern Rwanda), February 28, 2012 (FH) - Before the Rwandan genocide started on April 6, 1994, they called him Reverend Pastor. Now Jean Uwinkindi's former parishioners call him by the worst names imaginable, including criminal and murderer. Pentecostals in Kayenzi,  Bugesera region, curse the day that he came to officiate in their parish.

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The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, whose jail currently houses the  Pentecostal pastor, has decided to send him back to Rwanda for trial, as soon as a monitoring mechanism is in place. The ICTR indictment accuses him of genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity, for crimes committed between 6 April and mid-May 1994.

"Lots of people say bad things about Uwinkindi," the head of the Voice of Hope Choir, Ferdinand Habyarimana, told Hirondelle. "What I know is that he was always in the company of soldiers and police." But if those armed men were there to protect him during the genocide, Habyarimana does not know from whom. "I really don't know, I had only been in the region for two years and I was only 15 years old," says this Hutu member of the Pentecostal faith, as he goes to rejoin the rest  of his choir.

In 1994, Jean Uwinkindi was the highest authority of the Pentecostal church in the Bugesera region. He had come to Kayenzi in  the 1980s, and lived in a brick and mud house next to the Kayenzi parish church. Today the main Pentecostal church is in Nyamata, further east. But Pentecostals in Kayenzi still come to pray and sing in what was the parish church in 1994.

"During the massacres in 1992, we took refuge in Kayenzi parish," says driver Emile Murigande. "At the time the church sheltered us and helped us, for example by giving us cassava and beans. So after April 6, 1994, Tutsis came back. But this time it was only to realize that the church had become the headquarters of the killers."

The ICTR indictment says Uwinkindi invited Tutsi women and children to take refuge in the church, but that he also allowed a group of  Interahamwe militia to live there. According to the prosecution, these militiamen forced women and children out of the church and killed them. The indictment further alleges that "Uwinkindi led a group of killers, to look for and exterminate Tutsi, in particular Tutsi civilians".

In Kayenzi's little town centre François Kananuye, an Anglican who thinks he was born in 1949, says members of his family were killed in the church. "That's where my sister Prosca Mukarwego died, along with her husband and children and my older brother. They were buried (at the time) behind Uwinkindi's house." Tutsi survivor Kananuye says he hid further away in a swamp. He says he also remembers seeing Uwinkindi leading a group of attackers who were hunting Tutsis.

Aaron Musabyimana, a Pentecostal who was 22 at the time, is among those who hid in the church. "I stayed there for about five days," he recounts. "The place had become the headquarters of the killers. The sons (of Uwinkindi) Josué and Masengesho took part in the first attacks, while the pastor gave commands."

There are no longer any of Uwinkindi's family in Kayenzi. It is said that one of his daughters lives  in Kibungo, near the Tanzanian border, while his son Masengesho has been jailed for his role in the massacres.

In 1994 Apollinaire Sebuturo was Uwinkindi's assistant, known to a respectful congregation as the "deacon". He has no kind words for his old boss. "He was powerful, he could have saved people. But instead he hit the Interhamwe with his stick if they were too slow to launch attacks."

A young man who did not live in the region at the time whispers not to believe everything the old man recounts. "Don't swallow everything Sebuturo tells you. He himself has been tried and convicted for his role in the genocide. He has finished serving his sentence. I don't understand why he got such a light one. Maybe he blamed everything on his old boss. We need to wait for the judgment."

The mayor of Bugesera, Louis Rwagaju, also refuses to pass judgment on Uwinkindi for now.  "I am neither judge nor prosecutor, but people here say terrible things about him. We are waiting impatiently for his trial to be held, and preferably right here.


© Hirondelle News Agency