- Eliézer Niyitegeka convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity, sentenced to imprisonment for the remainder of his life
- Laurent Semanza convicted of complicity to commit genocide and of crimes against humanity, sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment
The Niyitegeka and Semanza judgements represent the first time the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has delivered two decisions on one day. The Niyitegeka trial, which closed after 31 days of hearings, was also the fastest heard so far by the ICTR. It witnessed the first post-trial conviction for conspiracy to commit genocide and the first conviction for other inhumane acts, such as the decapitation and castration of a man, and the sexual mutilation of a dead woman.
The Minister of Information of Rwanda’s Interim Government in 1994, Eliézer Niyitegeka, was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity by Trial Chamber I, and sentenced to imprisonment for the remainder of his life. Later, Laurent Semanza, former Bourgmestre of Bicumbi commune, was found guilty of complicity to commit genocide and crimes against humanity by Trial Chamber III, and sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment.
Before Trial Chamber I, consisting of Judges Navanethem Pillay (presiding), Erik Møse and Andrésia Vaz, Niyitegeka was unanimously convicted of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and direct and public incitement to commit genocide. He was also found guilty of murder, extermination and other inhumane acts as crimes against humanity.
Niyitegeka’s trial, and conviction for genocide, grew out of events that took place in Kibuye prefecture, particularly in Bisesero, from April to June 1994. In making its factual findings, Trial Chamber I found that Niyitegeka played a prominent role in some of these events.
Niyitegeka was found, inter alia, to have procured gendarmes for an attack on Tutsi hiding inside Mubuga Church, to have led armed attackers in two attacks on Tutsi refugees at Muyira Hill, and to have incited Interahamwe and other people to exterminate members of the Tutsi population.
The Judges found Niyitegeka guilty of murder, extermination and other inhumane acts as crimes against humanity. The Chamber said the accused’s presence during the killing and mutilation of a Tutsi in June 1994 constituted an inhumane act as a crime against humanity. The accused’s instructions to Interahamwe to mutilate the body of a murdered Tutsi woman also amounted to an inhumane act.
Niyitegeka was acquitted of complicity to commit genocide, rape as a crime against humanity and serious violations of Article 3 common of the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol II thereto.
Eliézer Niyitegeka, 51, was a member of the Mouvement Démocratique Républicain (MDR) political party in Rwanda, and Chairman of Kibuye prefecture from 1991 to 1994. He faced 10 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the Geneva Conventions.
Before Trial Chamber III, composed of Judges Yakov Ostrovsky (presiding), Lloyd George Williams and Pavel Dolenc, Laurent Semanza was convicted of complicity to commit genocide, and of extermination, torture and murder as crimes against humanity.
The sentence of 25 years’ imprisonment was reduced by 6 months because of violations of the accused’s rights that occurred while in detention prior to his transfer to the ICTR. Semanza will also receive credit for time already spent in custody.
Beyond reasonable doubt, the Judges found that the accused aided and abetted in the crime of genocide during the massacres at Musha Church and Mwulire Hill, which took place on 13 April 1994 and 18 April 1994 respectively. As a result, he was convicted of complicity to commit genocide.
A majority of Chamber III entered a conviction for extermination as a crime against humanity on the basis of Semanza’s conduct at Musha Church and Mwulire Hill.
Semanza was also found guilty of torture and murder as crimes against humanity. These convictions arose out of Semanza’s April 1994 incitement of a crowd in Gikoro commune to rape Tutsi women before killing them. The court reasoned that the rape of the first victim constituted torture as it caused severe mental suffering, and because the victim was targeted on the basis of her ethnic identity. He was also directly criminally responsible for the torture and murder of Rusanganwa, a Tutsi, who he attacked and killed during the Musha Church massacre.
However, the judgement acquitted the accused of genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, serious violations of Common Article 3 and Additional Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions, and persecution as a crime against humanity.
The Prosecution failed to establish Semanza’s presence at, or assistance with, the Ruhanga Church massacre. There was also insufficient evidence to prove Semanza personally participated in, or assisted with, killings at the Mabare Mosque. The Chamber therefore acquitted Semanza of genocide charges related to these two sites.
As for direct and public incitement to commit genocide, the Court considered the paragraphs of the indictment that supported this allegation to be too vague.
A majority of the Judges found that the accused should not be convicted for serious violations of the Geneva Conventions.
The Chamber also ruled that the Prosecutor failed to adduce any evidence of rape or other sexual violence in relation to the Musha Church and Mwulire Hill massacres. It therefore pronounced the accused not guilty of the charge of outrages upon personal dignity.
Laurent Semanza was born in 1944 in Musasa commune, Kigali rural prefecture. Prior to becoming President of the greater Kigali branch of the MRND political party in 1993, he served as Bourgmestre of Bicumbi commune. Semanza faced 14 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and serious violations of the Geneva Conventions.
On 26 May 2003, the ICTR Appeals Chamber will hand down its decision in the case of Rutaganda v The Prosecutor.