The Arusha-based International Criminal Tribunal delivers a heavy ruling against lead co-ordinator of the 1994 mass killings along with three of his accomplices
Major General Augustin Bizimungu sat with no visible expression on his face as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda handed him a verdict that will see him staring at steely prison bars for the next 30 years. Bizimungu was found guilty of being a lead coordinator in the genocide, and for failing to stop the rape and sexual abuse of women and girls, in addition to ordering the slaughter of as many as one million fellow countrymen in the 100-day-long genocide that shocked the world.
The verdict follows a nine-year-long trial in which, along with Bizimungu, an ex-military police leader, Augustin Ndindiliyimana and two other top officers were found guilty of genocide.Two senior officers tried alongside the generals were also convicted and sentenced. The former commander of the reconnaissance battalion, Major Francois-Xavier Nzuwonemeye, was handed 20 years for killing (as a crime against humanity and murder (as a war crime.) His subordinate, captain Innocent Sagahutu, was also sentenced to 20 years.
Presiding Judge Asoka de Silva said Bizimungu was responsible for the conduct of his subordinates. The indictment against Bizimungu says he gave an order “to exterminate the small cockroaches” on the first day of the genocide. He is said to have promised weapons for the slaughter and fuel to burn homes to militias willing to participate in the mass murder of the Tutsis and their Hutu sympathisers.
In the build up to the trial, the general had once topped a list of most-wanted genocide suspects and the U.S. had, put a $ 5 million bounty on his head he was captured in Angola in 2002.
The court, however, ordered the release of former head of the paramilitary police Ndindiliyimana on the grounds that he had already spent 11 years behind bars since his arrest. It ruled that while Bizimungu had complete control over the men he commanded, Ndindiliyimana had only “limited control” over his men after the start of the massacres on April 6, 1994 and was opposed to the killing. The convictions are a major step forward for the Tanzania-based ICTR which is, tasked with only trying those who bear the greatest responsibility for the genocide, as Bizimungu and Ndindiliyimana are two of the most senior figures to be tried in connection with the genocide. While Ndindiliyimana was arrested in Belgium in January 2000, Nzuwonemeye’s day of reckoning came in February 2000 in France, Sagahutu was detained in Denmark and Bizimungu in Angola.
The long-running case known as the Military II trial had been adjourned since June 2009 when prosecutors requested life sentences for all four defendants while their defence lawyers asked for their acquittal. In the Military I trial, Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, presented by the prosecutor as the brains behind the genocide, was sentenced to life in prison in December 2008, along with two other senior military figures. Bagosora appealed and the hearing ran from March 30 to April 1, but the appeal verdict is yet to be handed down.
In 2001, the Rwandan government began implementing a participatory justice system, known as Gacaca, in order to address the enormous backlog of cases and is responsible for prosecuting lower level leaders and local people. The UN set up the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda that has jurisdiction over high level members of the government and armed forces.
By JANE MWANGI
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