Genocide in rwanda: life imprisonment for “intent to exterminate

Frankfurt Higher Regional Court sentences ex-mayor Onesphore Rwabukombe to life imprisonment – tightening a first sentence.

The court sees the "special gravity of guilt": Onesphore Rwabukombe. Photo: dpa

When on the morning of April 11, 1994, soldiers, gendarmes, policemen, Hutu militiamen and civilians with machetes, lances, clubs. axes and hoes appeared in front of the church of Kiziguru in Rwanda, the approximately 460 Tutsis inside the church building knew that their hour had struck.

It was the fifth day of the organized manhunt in Rwanda, in which the military and state apparatus purposefully sought to exterminate all Tutsis in the country. Seeking protection, the Tutsi of Kiziguro had taken refuge in the church. The local authority figures ordered the attack on the church; only a few were to survive.

Among the authority figures present was Mayor Jean-Baptiste Gatete, as well as another mayor, Onesphore Rwabukombe, who had fled here with the residents from his commune of Muvumba. Rwabukombe called for Gatete’s order to kill to be obeyed, arranged for supplies and had bodies removed. On December 29, 2015, Rwabukombe was therefore sentenced to life imprisonment by the Frankfurt Higher Regional Court for complicity in genocide.

This is already the second sentence handed down by the Frankfurt Higher Regional Court against the Rwandan. After the genocide, he had fled with his family to Germany, where he had studied, and enjoyed political asylum until Rwanda demanded his extradition and the German judiciary then preferred to try him itself. In February 2014, another criminal senate in Frankfurt had found the ex-mayor guilty only of "aiding and abetting" genocide and sentenced him to 14 years in prison, minus six months because of the long duration of the proceedings.

The Federal Supreme Court had overturned this verdict – as too lax. Rwabukombe was to be sentenced not as an "aider and abettor" but as an "accomplice," the federal judges said when they referred the case back to the Frankfurt Higher Regional Court in May 2015. They found that the first-instance senate had misjudged the evidence it had itself collected: the mayor had indeed acted with "intent to destroy," thus fulfilling the elements of genocide.

Frankfurt Higher Regional Court

"Knowingly and willingly prepared, commanded and carried out massacres".

In fact, the Frankfurt judges had already made that clear in their 2014 ruling. By his calls to kill, he had made it clear "that the killing of the Tutsis who had fled to the church grounds, as ordered by Gatete, was also in accordance with his will." How it could be construed from this that Rwabukombe had not acted with "intent to destroy" the federal judges did not understand and ordered a renegotiation.

That took only a few weeks – the original trial took three years. The Senate now found Rwabukombe "knowingly and willfully prepared, organized, commanded and executed the massacre with the other authorities." He had "not only stood alongside the other commanders, but also attempted to expedite and complete the action." Thus, the extermination of the Tutsis in Kiziguro during the massacre had certainly been his own concern, regardless of whether this was otherwise the case.

Consequently, according to the judges, the Rwandan was to be imputed "the intent to destroy required for the facts of genocide in a subjective sense". Rwabukombe had not said anything about this in court, but had affirmed that he had not been there at all – which eyewitnesses had clearly refuted.

At the request of the Attorney General, the court also ruled that Rwabukombe was guilty of a "particularly serious crime," meaning that he would not be automatically released after 15 years, as is usually the case with life imprisonment. The Rwandan is now 58 years old.

The verdict is still not legally binding. The Federal Supreme Court can now examine on request whether or not it complies with its requirements.