Rwandans Convicted for Part in Genocide Await their Fate
The prosecution Friday called for life imprisonment for four Rwandans, including two Catholic nuns, convicted of complicity in the 1994 Rwandan genocide that killed up to 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
The 12-member jury that delivered the pre-dawn guilty verdict after 11 hours of deliberation was set to reconvene for the sentencing phase Friday afternoon when the prosecution demanded life sentences for the four.
The sentencing deliberations were to include the jury, as well as the chief judge and his two assistants for legal guidance.
College teacher Vincent Ntezimana, 39, factory owner and former minister Alphonse 51, as well as nuns Consolata Mukangango, 42, and Julienne Mukabutera, 36, alias Sister Gertrude and Sister Maria Kizito, were convicted of participating directly or indirectly in the genocide.
Their precedent-setting trial, which began April 17, was held under a 1993 law that allows courts in Belgium -- the former colonial power in Rwanda -- to try Belgian residents, whatever their nationality, for crimes allegedly committed abroad.
The four defendants are now Belgian residents.
The verdict was welcomed in Rwanda by Ibuka, the main association of survivors of the genocide and one of the groups dealing with the painful legacy of the slaughter.
"We are very happy at the way the trial was conducted and organised," Ibuka chairman Antoine Mugesera. "We're also very glad about the verdict and hope such action will continue in Belgium, but also in other countries where people responsible for the genocide have gone, like France."
"The Brussels trial complements the work of the International Criminal Tribunal in Arusha (Tanzania) and the courts in Rwanda," he added.
Between April and July 1994, Hutu extremist militiamen and then government troops systematically massacred up to 800,000 Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus before a Tutsi rebel front seized power and formed a new regime.
According to the indictment, Sisters Gertrude and Kizito handed 5,000 to 7,000 people who had been sheltering in their convent over to the extremist militia.
Gasana Ndoba, president of the Rwandan Human Rights Commission, whose brother and his brother's family were according to testimony killed by two of the defendants, Ntezimana and Higaniro, expressed "satisfaction" at the verdict.
"My reaction is not one of happiness," he said. "Happiness would have been if those close to me and all the other victims had not been killed. But I am satisfied with the verdict.
"The victims still living will feel encouraged by the verdict," said Nboda, who was instrumental in bringing the case to trial. "Now they, too, will dare to take action, knowing that this time the law will take account of their suffering."
In the course of the trial, prosecutor Alain Winants, summing up, said the accused had "provoked (and) ordered" killings, provided the means for murders to be carried out or simply failed to intervene.
The jury found the defendants guilty on most of the 55 counts against them. It was split seven to five on some of the charges.
More than 200 prosecution witnesses were heard in the course of the trial, most of them flown here from Rwanda by the Belgian government.
Defense lawyers dismissed their testimony as a "pack of lies" and said many important witnesses had not been heard.
A farmer's wife who survived the genocide said the nuns supplied petrol to Hutu extremists who torched a garage adjacent to the convent where 500 to 700 Tutsis were trapped.
The nuns, who were described by psychiatrists as having "fragile" personalities and suffering from post-traumatic stress, were found guilty on all counts.
Sister Gertrude admitted that a Hutu militia chief had warned her in advance that Hutus were going to attack the convent but that she had told neither the refugees nor the other nuns of the warning in order "to avoid trouble".
A Tutsi woman, Yolande Mukagasana, testified that the killing began after Belgium and the Catholic Church, which had previously backed the Tutsi monarchy, did an about-face in the late 1950s and supported the Hutu "socialist revolution.” -- BRUSSELS (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)