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ICTR Hands Down First War Crimes Conviction

- Upholds Rutaganda’s genocide conviction

- Overturns a conviction for crime against humanity

- Confirms original sentence of life imprisonment

The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) today confirmed the conviction of Georges Rutaganda for genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity, and entered two new convictions for murder as a violation of common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. The latter two convictions represented the first instance in which the ICTR has convicted a defendant of a war crime. However, Rutaganda’s conviction for murder as a crime against humanity was quashed because of inconsistent evidence. The Appeals Chamber upheld the sentence of life imprisonment for the foregoing crimes.

Theodor Meron, presiding Judge of the Appeals Chamber, announced the judgement in Arusha. The Appeals Chamber, composed of Judge Meron and Judges Fausto Pocar, Claude Jorda, Mohammed Shahabuddeen and Mehmet Güney, examined nine grounds of appeal submitted by Rutaganda, and one put forward by the Prosecution.

Rutaganda contended that, among other things, the Trial Chamber had created an appearance of bias in its treatment of witnesses, and that ten general errors of law had undermined the fairness of his trial. Rutaganda also challenged his conviction for genocide, and that for the killing of Emmanuel Kayitare.

The Appeals Chamber recalled that impartiality underpinned the Judges’ work, and found that Rutaganda’s claims of bias were clearly unfounded. Rutaganda’s arguments that the Trial Chamber had erred in law and in fact in finding him guilty of genocide were also rejected. It was found that the Trial Chamber had applied the correct test for genocide, and had based its findings on compelling evidence.

In relation to Rutaganda’s conviction for the killing of Emmanuel Kayitare, however, the Appeals Chamber pointed to a number of evidentiary inconsistencies. It found that the testimony of two witnesses about this killing was not corroborative, and thus that no reasonable trier of fact could have established beyond reasonable doubt that the appellant killed Emmanuel Kayitare. On these grounds, the Appeals Chamber quashed Rutaganda’s conviction for murder as a crime against humanity.

Turning to the Prosecution’s sole ground of appeal, concerning war crimes, the Appeals Chamber found Rutaganda had been improperly acquitted of violations of common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. The Appeals Chamber found that a nexus between Rutaganda’s crimes and an armed conflict did in fact exist. Rutaganda was accordingly convicted of two counts of violations of the Geneva Conventions.

The Appeals Chamber held that, “the armed conflict need not have been causal to the commission of the crime, but the existence of an armed conflict must, at a minimum, have played a substantial part in the perpetrator’s ability to commit it, his decision to commit it, the manner in which it was committed or the purpose for which it was committed.” The Appeals Chamber found that, “considering the Trial Chamber’s conclusions that Rutaganda participated directly in the attack against the Tutsi refugees at ETO; that he exercised de facto authority over the Interahamwe; that the Interahamwe were armed with rifles, grenades and cudgels; that the Interahamwe, alongside members of the Presidential Guard, surrounded ETO, throwing grenades and shooting and killing the refugees with machetes and cudgels; that the victims were persons protected under Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, no reasonable trier of fact could have failed … to find the existence of a nexus between the armed conflict and the acts charged against Rutaganda in Count 4 of the Indictment.”

The Court decided that the original sentence of life imprisonment remained appropriate. The Appeals Chamber ordered Rutaganda to remain in detention under the custody of the Tribunal under present conditions until a further order was made.

Georges Rutaganda, 45, was a successful businessman and member of the National and Prefectoral Committees of the Mouvement Républicain National pour le Développement (MRND), once Rwanda’s largest political party. On 6 April 1994 Rutaganda was serving as the Second Vice-President of the National Committee of the Interahamwe, the youth militia of the MRND.

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