Trial Chamber I of the ICTR has today, Friday 5 February 1999, sentenced Omar Serushago, erstwhile Interahamwe leader in Gisenyi, to fifteen years of imprisonment for genocide and crimes against humanity (murder, torture and extermination). The accused had pleaded guilty to all these crimes.
The sentence shall be served in a state designated by the President of the Tribunal, in consultation with the judges of Trial Chamber I. The sentence handed down today is immediately enforceable. Until his transfer to the place of imprisonment, Omar Serushago shall be kept in detention at the UN Detention Facility in Arusha. Defence Counsel, Mr. Ismail Mohamed, announced that his client intended to lodge an appeal.
Factors that determined the sentence
In addition to the gravity of the crimes committed by the accused, Trial Chamber I composed of Judge Laïty Kama, Presiding Judge, Judge Lennart Aspergren and Judge Navanethem Pillay in determining the sentence took into account a number of factors, including the substantial cooperation with the Prosecutor by the convicted person before and after conviction, the individual circumstances of the accused as well as any mitigating or aggravating circumstances.
Mitigating circumstances outweigh aggravating circumstances
The voluntary and unequivocal guilty plea of the accused, the remorse he expressed at length and openly argued in favour of Omar Serushago. He asked for forgiveness from the people of Rwanda, his victims and the international community. Omar Serushago's constant and determined cooperation enabled the Office of the Prosecutor to successfully carry out the NAKl ( Nairobi- Kigali ) operation which led to the arrest and detention in July 1997 of high-ranking political and military officials during the 1994 events in Rwanda. Omar Serushago, who surrendered to the authorities of Cote d' Ivoire, expressed his willingness to testify in other trials pending before the Tribunal:
The Chamber agreed with the Defence counsel that the accused helped several Tutsi, including four sisters. Defence counsel submitted that although he was recognized as one of the leaders of the interahamwe militia in the Gisenyi region, Omar Serushago was “never really committed positively and had never received military training."
The individual circumstances of Omar Serushago who is thirty-seven years old and father of six children, two of whom are very young, his cooperation with the Office of the Prosecutor, public confessions and expression of contrition would, in the opinion of the Trial Chamber, suggest possible rehabilitation.
The Prosecutor's submission
During the pre-sentencing hearing of 29 January 1999, the Prosecutor had urged the Trial Chamber to sentence the accused for a term of imprisonment of not less than twenty- five years owing to the gravity of the crimes committed by the accused, the leading role he had played in the events, the position of authority that he held at the time of the commission of the crimes and the premeditated nature of his crimes.
It should also be noted that Omar Serushago and the Office of the Prosecutor signed an agreement which was submitted to the Tribunal.
Attitude of the accused
By pleading guilty to the four counts held against him, namely genocide, crimes against humanity (murder, extermination and torture), Omar Serushago admitted he participated in the genocide of 1994 in Rwanda. He surrendered, being fully aware that this would lead to his indictment. He freely and voluntarily cooperated with the Prosecutor.
Omar Serushago is the third accused person to be convicted by the ICTR. The others are Jean Kambanda, a former Prime Minister, who on 4 September 1998 was sentenced to life imprisonment, and Jean-Paul Akayesu, the former Bourgmestre of Taba Commune, who was also sentenced to life imprisonment.
Omar Serushago is the first Interahamwe militia leader who has admitted his guilt and is convicted by the ICTR. He was born on 24 April 1961 in Rubavu commune, Gisenyi Prefecture (Rwanda ). On 9 June 1998, he voluntarily surrendered to the authorities of Côte d' Ivoire.