ARUSHA, Tanzania (AFP) – The UN court for Rwanda handed the general who was army chief for most of the 1994 genocide a 30-year jail term Tuesday for his role in the mass killing, including calling for the murder of ethnic Tutsis.
It also jailed two senior officers for ordering their men to assassinate the prime minister at the start of the weeks-long rampage, when they also killed 10 Belgian UN troops protecting her.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) convicted the head of the paramilitary police at the time, Augustin Ndindiliyimana, of genocide crimes but ordered his release as he had already spent 11 years in jail.
Ex-army chief Augustin Bizimungu and Ndindiliyimana are among the most senior figures to be tried by the Tanzania-based tribunal for the genocide in which 800,000 people, mostly minority Tutsis, were killed.
The court found that Bizimungu had complete control over the men he commanded, who were involved in the massacres that started in the night of April 6, 1994.
It also found Bizimungu guilty of making a speech on April 7, 1994, several days before he was made army chief, in the northern district of Mukingo, calling for the killing of Tutsis. He was arrested in Angola in 2002.
The court did not find Ndindiliyimana guilty of committing any crimes himself and said he only “limited control” over his men and was opposed to the killing. Ndindiliyimana was arrested in January 2000 in Belgium.
The tribunal sentenced two other senior officers to 20 years in jail for war crimes and crimes against humanity for ordering the murder of prime minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana.
The judges found the officers instructed an armoured unit to kill Uwilingiyimana and made no attempt to punish the soldiers who killed the Belgian UN Blue Helmets protecting her.
The killing of the Belgians triggered the withdrawal of the UN force stationed in Rwanda.
The officers are Major Francois-Xavier Nzuwonemeye, the commander of the reconnaissance battalion, and captain Innocent Sagahutu, a squadron commander in the same unit.
Nzuwonemeye was arrested in France in 2000 and Sagahutu was detained in Denmark two years later.
The four cases had been effectively adjourned since June 2009 when prosecutors requested life sentences for all the defendants while their defence lawyers asked for their acquittal.
The long-running case is known as the Military II trial.
In the Military I trial, Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, presented by the prosecutor as the brains behind the genocide, was sentenced to life in prison in December 2008, along with two other senior military figures.
Bagosora appealed and the hearing ran from March 30 to April 1, but the appeal verdict has yet to be handed down.
The ICTR, based in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha, was established in late 1994 to try the perpetrators of Rwanda’s genocide which claimed some 800,000 lives in a span of 100 days.
It is tasked only with trying those who bear the greatest responsibility for the genocide. Less senior officials and ordinary citizens accused of taking part have been tried in Rwanda.
Trials in Rwanda have been held either in the normal court system or at tribunals called “gacaca” that functioned without legal professionals and that were set up as a solution to what quickly became a crippling backlog of genocide cases in the national court system.