ARUSHA,Tanzania (INTERNEWS)–The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on March 14,2005 handed down a six-year jail sentence to a former Rwandan councillor for his role in the 1994 genocide, which claimed lives of more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutu.
Presiding Judge Andrea Vaz said that the jail sentence follows a guilty plea admitted by Vincent Rutaganira, 60, a former Councillor for Mubuga, Kibuye, and western Rwanda in December.
‘ The chamber sentences to six year in prison for finding you guilty for crimes against humanity by extermination, ‘ said the Judge, adding that the accused will however benefit from the time already spent in detention.
Rutaganira was arrested in March, 2002, in a refugee camp in northwestern Tanzania .
When admitting the plea, the judge said she was satisfied that the guilty plea had been done voluntarily and the accused knew of the consequences.
Under the guilty plea agreement made on 7 December 2004 with the ICTR Prosecutor, Rutaganira acknowledged full responsibility of omissions in connection with deaths of thousands of Tutsi civilians who took refuge at Mubuga Church in Kibuye between April 8 and 15, 1994.
Rutaganira conceded that he took no action to protect Tutsi refugees in the commune where he was a government official during the genocide.
Rutaganira expressed remorse for the killings, adding that he wanted to contribute to search for the full truth about the genocide as a way to promote reconciliation in Rwanda .
Trial attorney Charles Adeogun-Phillips had urged the tribunal that Rutaganira ‘ s lack of personal participation in the killings, advanced age, poor health and family situation to be given a sentence of between 6 and 8 years.
Rutaganira, a father of ten children, suffers from diabetes.
The former councilor was charged originally with 19 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the Geneva conventions, but the charges were amended to seven and finally dropped to only one charge after the accused entered into a plea-bargain agreement with the prosecution.
He is the fourth accused to have entered guilty plea since the creation of the court in November 1994 by the UN Security Council.
The first to have entered the guilty plea was former Rwandan Prime Minister Jean Kambanda, followed by journalist Georges Ruggiu and then businessman Omar Serushago.
According to the Chief of Press and Public Affairs, Bocar Sy, the Arusha-based UN tribunal has so far sentenced 24 accused –21 convictions and three acquittals – while 26 detainees are on trial and 17 others waiting for their trials.
The special representative of the Rwandan government to the U.N. tribunal in Arusha, Aloys Mutabingwa said the admission of guilt by Rutaganira ‘ signals reconciliation between the perpetrators and victims…Rutaganira expressed remorse at the killings and what he could or could not do[during genocide] . H e is courageous. ‘
He said the sentence given to the former councilor ‘ should serve as an incentive for other accused [at UN tribunal] who does not want to waste time in court proceedings. ‘