In an unprecedented development, a militia leader of the Interahamwe, Omar Serushago, today pleaded "guilty" to four counts of genocide and crimes against humanity and "not guilty" to the fifth count of crime against humanity (rape) brought against him by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The plea was entered by the accused at his initial appearance before the Tribunal's Trial Chamber 1 comprising Judges Laïty Kama (presiding), Lennart Aspegren, and Navanethem Pillay. The accused is represented by Mohamed Ismail from Tanzania.
After a short recess requested by the Deputy Prosecutor, Mr. Bernard Muna, following the accussed's plea, the Prosecution applied to withdraw count five of the indictment to which the accused had pleaded not guilty, a request which was granted by the Trial Chamber.
The pre-sentencing hearing has been set for 29 January 1999.
Serushago's admission of guilt is the first time, following the genocide of 1994 in Rwanda, that a leader of Interahamwe, a para military group which is alleged to have played a pivotal role in genocide has acknowledged and affirmed the key role the Interahamwe played in the commission of the crimes.
Omar Serushago entered a plea of guilty to count 1 of genocide, count 2, crime against humanity (murder), count 3, crimes against humanity (extermination) and count 4, crime against humanity (torture). The accused said he confessed to the four counts against him "freely and voluntarily", with a full understanding of all the charges and the consequences of his pleading guilty. He also stated that his plea was unequivocal, and affirmed having reached an agreement with the Prosecutor on all these considerations. The Trial Chamber, considering the factual and legal basis of the case against Omar Serushago, the latter's plea of guilty and his agreement with the Prosecutor, formally pronounced Serushago guilty on the four counts of Genocide, and Crimes Against Humanity.
The Plea Agreement
The plea agreement is between the two parties, the Prosecutor and Omar Serushago. It does not involve the Chamber. The agreement highlights the element and fact of the crimes committed so as to assist the Chamber in understanding the conditions under which the pleading was made. This agreement is not a plea bargain.
Pre-sentencing and Sentencing
Rule 100 of the Rules provides: "If the accused pleads guilty or if the Trial Chamber finds the accused guilty of a crime, the Prosecutor and the Defence may submit any relevant information that may assist the Trial Chamber in determining an appropriate sentence". This plea means that Serushago will not have a trial, having waived the right. A pre-sentencing procedure under the Rules of Procedure and Evidence of the Tribunal (Rules) will be the next step in his case, followed by the imposition of a penalty by the Trial Chamber. Serushago, through his Counsel Mohamed Ismail and the Prosecutor have recorded their intention to file pre-sentencing briefs as envisaged in Rule 100.
With regard to penalties, Rule 101 (8) provides that, in determining the sentence, the Trial Chamber will consider such factors as the gravity of the offence and the individual circumstances of the convicted person, as well as "any mitigating circumstances including the substantial cooperation with the Prosecutor by the convicted person before or after conviction".
Omar Serushago is the second accused to plead guilty before the Tribunal in Arusha to genocide and other crimes. Former Prime Minister Jean Kambanda pleaded guilty to such crimes on 1 May 1998 and was sentenced to life imprisonment on 2 September 1998.
Omar Serushago, also known as Omar Faizi, was born on 24 April 1961, in Rubavu commune, Gisenyi prefecture. In 1994 Omar Serushago was one of the leaders of the Interahamwe in Gisenyi and led groups of militiamen there. He also exercised authority and control over militiamen in Gisenyi prefecture.