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Sylvestre Gacumbitsi Sentenced to Thirty Years Imprisonment

Trial Chamber III of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda today unanimously condemned Sylvestre Gacumbitsi, a former mayor of the Commune of Rusomo in Rwanda, to thirty years imprisonment having found him guilty of genocide, and of extermination and rape as crimes against humanity. The judges also unanimously rejected the charge of complicity in genocide which was levelled against the accused as an alternative to that of the charge of genocide. The remaining charge, murder as a crime against humanity was also rejected. The Trial Chamber decided to credit Gacumbitsi with the time he had already spent incarcerated.

In its factual findings in the judgment, the Trial Chamber, composed of Judge Andresia Vaz (Senegal) presiding, Jai Jam Reddy (Fiji Islands) and Sergei Alekseevich Egorov (Russian Federation), set out the acts of the accused which showed his participation in the genocide of Tutsi civilians in the commune of Rusomo. The Trial Chamber concluded that Sylvestre Gacumbitsi had planned the genocide at a local level between the 7th and 14th of April 1994: he participated in meetings with military leaders and Interahamwe; ensured the distribution of weapons to these groups; and organised meetings during which he incited the population to kill Tutsis. Through his actions and speeches, he clearly manifested his genocidal intention. The Trial Chamber was particularly convinced of the participation of Sylvestre Gacumbitsi in the massacre of Tutsis at Nyarubuye church on the 15, 16 and 17 April 1994. On 15 April, at Nyarubuye church, he personally killed a Tutsi and gave the signal to start the killings, thereby inciting the population to attack Tutsis taking refuge among the thousands of people at the church, and ordered both his subordinates and local police officers to participate in the attack. He also participated in attacks against the same church on 16 and 17 April 1994, during which survivors were finished off.

The Trial Chamber declared Sylvestre Gacumbitsi responsible for having planned, incited, and ordered the local police officers in Rusomo to participate in the attacks. He also perpetrated, aided and encouraged the execution and murder of Tutsi civilians within the context of genocide.

With regard to crimes against humanity, the Trial Chamber assessed whether the relevant tests had been met for each of the crimes charged – extermination, rape and murder. The Chamber concluded that on the territory of the Commune of Rusomo in April 1994 a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian Tutsi population took place and that the requisite element of discrimination against an ethnic group prevailed in the conduct of the attacks and in the selection of victims.

The Trial Chamber concluded that the accused was aware of the existence of the systematic and widespread attacks against the civilian population of Rusomo in April 1994. It was able to reach this conclusion based on its finding that the accused had planned and orchestrated certain operations. The Trial Chamber thus found Sylvestre Gacumbitsi guilty of extermination as a crime against humanity.

With reference to the accusations of incitement to rape, the Trial Chamber rejected an allegation of rape committed by the accused due to the fact that it had been disclosed late in the trial, and because it wasn’t a charge levelled against the accused in the indictment. The Trial Chamber refined the test of rape as a crime against humanity, noting that any penetration of the sexual organs of the victim by that of an aggressor, or by an object used to the same ends, constituted rape. It noted however that these were not the exclusive elements of the crime. The Trial Chamber retained the testimony of witnesses who were raped, and accepted that these witnesses had been raped because of their ethnic origin as Tutsis, or because of their relation with a person of the Tutsi ethnic group. The Trial Chamber concluded that Sylvestre Gacumbitsi was criminally responsible for having incited rape, and found him guilty of rape as a crime against humanity.

The charge against Sylvestre Gacumbitsi of murder as a crime against humanity was rejected, basically due to a lack of proof. The Trial Chamber acquitted him on this count in the indictment.

To determine the sentence for Sylvestre Gacumbitsi, the Trial Chamber took in to consideration aggravating circumstances, with regard to the gravity of the crimes committed and of the role of the accused as mayor. It also took in to consideration mitigating circumstances which it recognised as valid, namely that the accused was known as a good mayor before April 1994.

Sylvestre Gacumbitsi was born in 1943 in Rusumo commune, Kibungo Prefecture, Rwanda. He served as a Bourgmestre for the Rusumo commune in Rwanda, and in 1983 acquired the position of mayor in which capacity he served up until April 1994. Gacumbitsi was a member of the ruling party in power prior to the genocide, the Mouvement Républicain National Pour le Développement et la Démocratie (MRND). Gacumbitsi was arrested on 20 June 2001 in Mukugwa refugee camp in Kigoma, western Tanzania. He was immediately transferred to the UN Detention Facility in Arusha where he is still being held.

The trial started on 28 July 2003. Fifteen witnesses testified for the Prosecution including the expert witness Alison Des Forges and Patrick Fergal Keane, a BBC journalist who filmed the aftermath of the genocide at Nyarubuye church a few weeks after the massacre.

Twenty-two witnesses including the accused testified on behalf of the Defence including Sylvestre Gacumbitsi. The trial ended on 1 March 2004. Gacumbitsi was represented by Mr. Koungoua and A. N. Mbattang from Cameroon. R. Karegyesa, A. Mobberley and K. Ramadam lead the prosecution.

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