Georges Henri Yvon Joseph Ruggiu, a former journalist and broadcaster of Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines S.A. in Kigali, Rwanda today changed his plea to guilty of charges brought against him when he appeared before Trial Chamber I. The accused who is charged with direct and public incitement to commit genocide and crimes against humanity had pleaded not guilty to the same charges when he made his initial appearance before the Tribunal on 24 October 1997.
Following the plea and briefs by the Prosecution and the Defence, the Trial Chamber ruled that judgement will be delivered on 1 June 2000 and if convicted the sentence will also be delivered on the same date.
The accused pleaded guilty to two counts. The first count charges him with directly and publicly inciting the killing and the causing of serious bodily and mental harm to members of the Tutsi population with the intention of destroying them in whole or in part. The second count charges him with crimes against humanity for having persecuted Tutsis moderate Hutus and Belgians on political or racial grounds.
Ruggiu, who was born on 12 October 1957 at Verviers, Belgium told the court that his plea of guilty was an informed decision and that he had made it freely and voluntarily. He asked for forgiveness and pardon and promised to cooperate with the Tribunal saying he was ready to testify on the horrors of genocide in Rwanda. The Trial Chamber granted the request by the accused to change his plea before asking him to enter his plea.
The Prosecutor Mme Carla Del Ponte asked the Trial Chamber to impose a sentence of 20 years in prison to the accused. She said although the accused did not have an official position and was ready to cooperate with the Prosecution, he had knowingly and voluntarily participated in the crimes he is charged with. She added that the accused was in the first category of people being charged with similar crimes against humanity in Rwanda where the maximum sentence is death.
Mme Carla del Ponte added that the accused had expressed willingness to serve his sentence in Italy and she had already contacted the Italian government which is in agreement to process the arrangement.
The Defence pleaded with the Trial Chamber to note that the accused was regretting and remorseful for the crimes he had pleaded guilty to. It argued that the accused was a mere pawn in the game of chess and had been manipulated by high officials of the then Rwandan government.
Ruggiu is alleged to have made broadcasts over RTLM to incite to kill and persecute Tutsis, certain Hutus and Belgians. The broadcasts are alleged to have been made in French, however certain terms in Kinyarwanda, which had a particular meaning in the socio-cultural context of the time, were also utilised.
Ruggiu becomes the first accused to change his plea to guilty and the third to plead guilty before the Tribunal after the former Prime Minister Jean Kambanda and militiaman Omar Serushago. Kambanda was sentenced to life imprisonment and Serushago to 15 years in prison. They have both appealed against their sentences. Kambanda's appeal is yet to be heard while that of Serushago was heard and the sentence confirmed by the Appeals Chamber.