The woman whose identity, as a convicted genocide fugitive, was discovered after military operations conducted in eastern DR Congo, still maintains her innocence.
Angelina Mukandutiye, 71, is the elderly woman, who is co-accused together with ‘Hotel Rwanda’ movie personality Paul Rusesabagina. In total, they were 21 people, given different jail terms at a speedy trial that concluded September 20 last year.
All the convicts, except Rusesabagina, are since last week appearing in the Court of Appeal, in attempt to have the appellate court overturn their earlier sentences.
Mukandutiye for her part wants the Appeals court to quash the five year sentence for belonging to a terrorist organization, the MRCD-FLN.
The state accused her of being among key commanders of the group, which is based in eastern Congo, but has carried out attacks in southwest Rwanda. The attacks have left several victims.
During proceedings at the High Court Chamber for International and Cross-Border Crimes, Mukandutiye pleaded guilty and even apologized profusely to the Rwandan people. She actually became a state witness, pinning her rebel compatriots.
However, Mukandutiye’s case is far different. When she, and hundreds of Rwandan refugees where rounded from eastern Congo and repatriated to Rwanda, she was already having a life sentence for genocide waiting. It had been rendered in 2006 by a Gacaca community court.
Immediately she stepped on Rwandan territory back in December 2019, Mukandutiye was arrested and transferred to Mageragere prison to serve her life sentence.
But then when her political bosses Rusesabagina and Nsabimana Callixte alias Sankara, Maj Callixte Sankara, were also captured, Mukandutiye was bundled into the team of accused.
During the trial, which was aired live on TV in Rwanda, Mukandutiye appeared frail. She will be remembered for theatrical performances in the court.
This Monday, Mukandutiye was in the Court of Appeal. Prosecution filed appeal against her five-year sentence, praying for a 20-year sentence for single charge of belonging to terrorist organization.
Prosecutors told the Appeals bench that Mukandutiye deserves a longer sentence because she didn’t take responsibility for terrorist acts in which she was directly involved. Prosecutors said Mukandutiye had more role that she was willing to admit.
Prosecutors also said the gravity of Mukandutiye’s case is compounded by the fact that she already had a genocide conviction.
In her submission to the Appeals bench, Mukandutiye responded that she was convicted in the Gacaca court without her defense. She said the allegations of killing Tutsis in 1994 are without substance because she was not in any way involved in massacre of Tutsis.
To emphasize her point, Mukandutiye told the Appeals bench: “Your Honor, I cannot comment on the life sentence which was rendered in my absence. I didn’t have any role in the genocide against Tutsis. My father is Tutsi and my mother a Hutu. How could I have killed Tutsis? I also mourn my relatives who were hunted and killed. Your Honor I plead with you not to consider the genocide conviction when making your decision.”
Mukandutiye asked the appeals bench to instead give her mercy as she had pleaded guilty and apologized.
However, said Mukandutiye, “in case you opt to maintain my current sentence, or increase it to 20 years, please explain to me which sentence will I serve first: the life sentence for genocide or sentence of this court.”
According to the Gacaca court sentence, back in 1994 and before, Mukandutiye who worked in Kigali prefecture, ran a training camp of 183 interahamwe men who went on to hunt and kill Tutsis.
There are photos where Mukandutiye appears with secretary general of MRND, the ruling party Joseph Nzirorera in 1993. He was convicted by the UN court on Rwanda for genocide. Various other details have been widely published in Rwanda media about Mukandutiye.
Gacaca court records also show Mukandutiye’s militias killed up to 70 Tutsis who had sought refuge at a languages training center in Kigali, located near St Paul Cathedral.
However, in her own words, the charges against her are fabricated.