The former Minister of Health in the 1994 interim Government of Rwanda, Casmir Bizimungu today pleaded not guilty to charges of genocide and crimes against humanity when he made his initial appearance before Trial Chamber II of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
Bizimungu (48) could not enter his plea on 17 August 1999 when three other former cabinet ministers he is jointly charged with entered theirs (see Press Release No. 199 of 17 August 1999) because the lawyer assigned to him by the Registrar, Ms. Judith Bourne (USA) was not available on that date. The three, who also pleaded not guilty, are former Minister of Trade and Industry, Justin Mugenzi, former Minister of the Civil Service, Prosper Mugiraneza and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jerome Bicumumpaka.
Bizimungu pleaded not guilty to eight counts charging him with Conspiracy to Commit Genocide, Genocide or, in the alternative, Complicity in Genocide, Direct and Public Incitement to Commit Genocide, and Crimes Against Humanity.
The Prosecution alleged that the accused, together with the other former ministers, jointly participated in the planning, preparing or execution of a common plan, to commit the atrocities against Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda in 1994. "The crimes were committed by them personally, by the persons they assisted or by their subordinates, and with their knowledge and consent," according to the indictment.
Bizimungu, as Minister of Health, is alleged to have failed to take any steps to prevent massacres committed in one of the public hospitals for which he was responsible, Centre Hospitalier de Kigali (CHK), or to punish the perpetrators. The Prosecution told the court that when massacres started, the CHK took in numerous wounded Tutsi from various areas in the city. " On several occasions, soldiers who were supposed to be guarding the hospital selected Tutsi patients and killed them on the spot. A list of the staff of Tutsi descent was drawn up and several of the people on the list were killed." It is alleged that these massacres were reported to Bizimungu who did nothing.
The Prosecution added that the accused also knew of the massacres which took place at Butare University Hospital and at Kabgayi School of Nursing in Gitarama prefecture, but did not take any steps to stop them or punish the perpetrators. At Kabgayi, the Prosecution added, soldiers and Interahamwe militiamen also abducted and raped female students and refugees.
Bizimungu was arrested in Kenya on 11 February 1999 and transferred to the United Nations Detention Facility in Arusha on 23 February 1999.