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Akayesu pleads "not guilty" to charges of sexual violence

Jean-Paul Akayesu, the former Bourgmaster of Taba commune, today pleaded "not guilty" to three new counts charging him with sexual violence against female civilians in his commune between April and June 1994.

The three counts charge him with Crimes Against Humanity (Rape), Crimes Against Humanity (Other inhuman acts), and Violations of Article 3 Common to the Geneva Conventions and of Article 4 (2)(e) of Additional Protocol 2 (Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular rape, degrading and humiliating treatment and indecent assault).

The new indictment, amended by the Prosecutor Justice Louise Arbour, charges that Akayesu knew of and facilitated the commission of sexual violence, beatings and murders of mostly Tutsi women who sought refuge at Taba bureau commune during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

“These acts of sexual violence were generally accompanied by explicit threats of death or bodily harm. The female displaced civilians lived in constant fear and their physical and psychological health deteriorated as a result of sexual violence, beatings and killings," the indictment states.

The first witness, pseudo named "JJ", today told the court of her ordeal from the time her house was razed by Hutu youths to the torture she underwent at the Taba bureau commune where she and her baby sought refuge. In between, she said, she lost her young sister who was killed by the militiamen. The witness who identified Akayesu as the former Bourgmaster of Taba, said that Interahamwe youths frequented the commune offices, where they selected some of the women, took them to the bushes and raped them. She was also one day taken by a young man to the bushes who after putting her baby aside, raped her twice, she told the attentive court.

The witness further said women, some as young as 14 years, were raped several times and cried in pain. After several rape sessions, some women were killed at the commune offices and others were transported to and thrown into a river. During the period of these events, she said, the accused was at his commune office, and at one time the women went to him to enquire as to when they would be killed, but were chased away and told "there are no bullets."

In his initial appearance on 30 May 1996, Akayesu had pleaded not guilty to12 counts charging him with Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, and Violations of Article 3 Common to the Geneva Conventions. His trial began on 9 January 1997 and was postponed on 24 May 1997, after 22 witnesses had testified for the Prosecution.

The trial continues, and more Prosecution witnesses are expected to testify before the Chamber composed of Judge Laïty Kama, Presiding, and Judges Lennart Aspegren and Navanethem Pillay. The accused is defended by Counsel Nicolas Tiangaye from Central African Republic.

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