Rwanda: one million await genocide charges

The UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), being held in Tanzania, has sentenced a former Rwandan civic leader to six years in prison after he pleaded guilty to involvement in the 1994 genocide. Vincent Rutaganira, 60, is the fourth man to have pleaded guilty before the tribunal. Former Rwandan Prime Minister Jean Kambanda was the first to plead guilty, and is serving his life sentence in Mali.

A journalist and the only non-Rwandan convicted by the tribunal, Georges Ruggiu, a Belgian, was the second to plead guilty. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Rwandan businessman Omar Serushago was the third; he is also serving a 15-year prison sentence in Mali.

Rutaganira, a former councillor for Mubuga Commune in Rwanda’s western province of Kibuye, entered a guilty plea when he appeared before the tribunal in December.

Judge Andresia Vaz said Rutaganira’s sentence would take into account the three years he had already served in the UN detention facility in Arusha. Rutaganira, a diabetic father of 10, was arrested in March 2002 in a refugee camp in northwestern Tanzania after he surrendered to the tribunal’s authorities. Initially, he faced 19 counts of genocide and crimes against humanity, but these were later reduced to seven and finally, to one count of crimes against humanity after he entered into a plea bargain with the tribunal’s Office of the Prosecutor.

Under this deal, Rutaganira acknowledged full culpability for the deaths of thousands of Tutsi civilians who took refuge at Mubuga Church in Kibuye on 8-15 April 1994. He admitted that he took no action to protect the Tutsi refugees in the commune where he was a government official during the genocide.

Rutaganira’s conviction brings the number of suspects already tried to 24, including three acquittals. (IRIN, March 14)

Outside the headline news, trials have also just opened at the "gacaca," or special community courts created to prosecute the majority of Rwanda’s genocide suspects. Of approximately 10,000 gacaca courts around Rwanda, some 800 have currently reached the trial stage. In January, Domitila Mukantangazwa, executive secretary of the national gacaca service, said that "over a million persons are expected to be tried by the gacaca courts." (International Justice Tribune, March 14)

Additionally, Rwanda’s courts have┬áalready sentenced some 400 to death on genocide-related charges, although only 26 have been executed so far. Some 120,000 prisoners in Rwanda are awaiting trial on genocide charges in overcrowded jails. The special community courts have been established to deal with this backlog. (AP, Aug. 5, 2003)