Former Rwandan official should be tried in Norway: UN genocide prosecutor

15 February 2006

The Prosecutor of the United Nations Tribunal set up to bring to justice the organizers and leaders of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda today requested that a former senior official, accused of involvement in the mass killings, be tried in Norway.

Michel Bagaragaza, who surrendered last year, had pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit genocide, genocide, or in complicity in genocide, but had agreed “to assist the process of justice” by giving testimony, according to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

Mr. Bagaragaza, who is currently being held in a UN detention unit in the Netherlands, had supported the Prosecutor’s request calling on the Trial Chamber to transfer his case to Norway.

During the 1994 genocide, Mr. Bagaragaza was director general of the office controlling the Rwandan tea industry and a member of the former Rwandan President’s political party, whose youth wing was known as the Interahamwe, the ICTR said.

“An indictment confirmed on 28 July 2005, alleges that Mr. Bagaragaza participated in a plan to fund, arm and train the Interahamwe militia so that they could attack and kill the Tutsi civilian population of Rwanda,” the Tribunal stated.

“It specifically alleges that the Accused gave material support to those who attacked and killed Tutsi civilians in Gisenyi Préfecture in April 1994, including the Tutsis who sought refuge in Nyundo Cathedral,” it added.

Neither genocide nor complicity in genocide are categorized as specific crimes under Norwegian criminal law. If the Trial Chamber grants the transfer, Mr. Bagaragaza is likely to be prosecuted as an accessory to homicide under the Norwegian General Civil Penal Code. If convicted, he would face a maximum sentence of 21 years in prison.

The Prosecutor argued that transfer of cases to national jurisdictions other than Rwanda would provide for wider understanding of how genocide can happen. It can also lead to the development of ideas for prevention, deterrence, or effective intervention, he said.

According to the motion for transfer, “at the very least, such prosecution can counter the voices that deny that there was a genocide in Rwanda in 1994 or dismiss it as a spontaneous eruption of inter-ethnic violence.”

The order for Mr. Bagaragaza’s detention in the Netherlands expires on 18 February 2006 but the Prosecutor could apply for an extension of up to six additional months to permit the consideration of his request for transfer.

The Security Council has directed the Tribunal to establish a strategy to conclude all trials by the end of 2008, and appeals by the end of 2010. The plan also authorizes the Prosecutor to refer appropriate cases for prosecution in national jurisdictions and urges Member States to consider accepting such cases.

Former Rwandan Prime Minister Jean Kambanda was condemned to life imprisonment for his involvement in the genocide.