Zimbabwe has denied harbouring the Rwandan genocide fugitive Protais Mpiranya after it emerged that he died in 2006 and was buried in the country after living there for four years.
The 20-year manhunt for one of the world’s most brutal killers came to a decisive end in an overgrown cemetery outside Harare, but Zimbabwean authorities say they did not conceal his whereabouts.
“As a law-abiding nation, Zimbabwe will never harbour criminals and welcomes findings from the DNA samples extracted from the fugitive,” foreign affairs minister, Frederick Shava, said in a statement on Sunday.
He added that the government of Zimbabwe cooperated with UN investigators into Mpiranya’s case.
“The government of Zimbabwe wishes to clarify some recent media reports that are circulating insinuating that the government was harbouring the most wanted Rwandese fugitive, Protais Mpiranya, whose remains were allegedly found in Zimbabwe under the alias Ndume Sambao,” the statement read.
The body of Mpiranya, a former commander of the Rwandan presidential guard indicted for genocide, lay buried under a stone slab bearing a false name, which UN investigators tracked down and identified with the help of a lead found on a confiscated computer – the hand-drawn design for Mpiranya’s tombstone.
His remains were exhumed last month at the request of UN investigators, and his identity was confirmed by DNA analysis on Tuesday.
Zimbabwean authorities insist that they cooperated with the investigation by the organisation charged with tracking down fugitive criminals, the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT), adding that Zimbabwe joined a taskforce to coordinate the inquiry.
“From day one, Zimbabwe cooperated fully with the investigation team,” the statement read. “The Zimbabwean authorities have consistently cooperated and adhered to the country’s international legal obligations.”
Authorities in Harare said they were involved in the exhumation of Mpiranya’s remains and authorised DNA samples to confirm his identity.
However, the government’s claim will raise some eyebrows among those who have followed the search. Investigators have long suspected the fugitive of hiding in Zimbabwe and have made repeated attempts to persuade local authorities to hand over Mpiranya, investigate his activities or provide evidence of his death.
As early as December 2010, investigators reported to the UN security council that Mpiranya had connections with Zimbabwe and had lived there for long periods.
In 2012, under pressure from Kigali, Zimbabwean authorities admitted that the fugitive could be on their territory and pledged to find him “dead or alive”. The question of his presence in Zimbabwe was discussed in parliament, and local media listed possible aliases and addresses associated with him.
Officials from the IRMCT travelled to Zimbabwe months after President Robert Mugabe was forced from power in November 2017 in the hope that the new government would prove more helpful.
However, in 2020, Serge Brammertz, prosecutor of the IRMCT, told the security council that despite credible evidence of the whereabouts of key fugitives, the lack of cooperation from governments remained a challenge, particularly in east and southern Africa.
According to the IRMCT, Mpiranya fled to Zimbabwe in 2002, where his entry was facilitated by local officials. He then brought associates and family to Zimbabwe, along with a series of “trusted subordinates”. For four years, Mpiranya was able to avoid arrest in Zimbabwe, where he resided in an affluent area of Harare, and “continued his engagement with Zimbabwean military officials” while also receiving a series of visitors from overseas.