Friday, June 18, 2004

UN genocide court sentences Rwandan former mayor to 30 years in jail

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ITCR) has convicted a former mayor on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced him to 30 years in jail.

Sylvestre Gacumbitsi, 57, was mayor of Rusamo, a town in the eastern Kibungu province, during the genocide in which up to one million people, mostly ethnic Tutsis, were killed over the course of 100 days in 1994. The slaughter was carefully planned by the then Hutu-led government and carried out by its soldiers and specially formed militia groups.

The tribunal, which sits in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha, found Gacumbitsi guilty of instigating widespread sexual abuse of Tutsi women and girls.

According to the official indictment, the mayor drove around his district "announcing by megaphone that Tutsi women should be raped and sexually degraded".

On one occasion, he called for people to "rape Tutsi girls that had always refused to sleep with Hutus (and to) search in the bushes. Do not save a single snake," the indictment said, adding that "attacks and rapes of Tutsi women immediately followed". The prosecution had called for a life sentence for Gacumbitsi, who was arrested in Tanzania in June 2001.

The UN-mandated court, however, handed down verdicts of not guilty for charges of complicity in genocide and murder as a crime against humanity. Gacumbitsi had pleaded not guilty to all the charges, saying he was not in Kibungu in mid-April 1994 when the massacres took place there.

But the court ruled that between April 15 and 16, 2004, he led and personally took part in attacks against Nyarubuye church, which is in his administrative district, where thousands of Tutsis were killed.

The court ruled that Gacumbitsi was the most important official in his town, and this counted as an aggravating circumstance.

The court also noted that his "character and good relations with Tutsis before the death of (president Juvenal) Habyarimana" on April 6, 1994, the event that unleashed the widespread massacres, counted as a mitigating factor. This conviction brings to 19 the number of guilty verdicts handed down by the ICTR, where trials got properly under way in 1997.

By Just Us 18 June 04