You are here


Jean-Paul Akayesu sentenced to life imprisonment

Precisely one month after finding him guilty on nine of the fifteen charges in his indictment, Trial Chamber I of the ICTR, sitting in Arusha today, sentenced Jean-Paul Akayesu, former Bourgmestre of the Taba Commune in Rwanda.

The Trial Chamber, made up of Judge Laïty Kama, Presiding, and Judges Lennart Aspegren and Navanethem Pillay, decided to follow the principle of multiple sentences, in other words, to give a penalty on each of the counts for which it found Akayesu guilty. Consequently, it decided :

"COUNT 1 : Genocide - to life imprisonment;

COUNT 3: Crime against humanity (extermination) - to life imprisonment;

COUNT 4: Direct and Public incitement to commit genocide - to life imprisonment;

COUNT 5: Crime against humanity (murder) - to 15 years imprisonment;

COUNT 7: Crime against humanity (murder) - to 15 years imprisonment;

COUNT 9: Crime against humanity (murder) - to 15 years imprisonment;

COUNT 11: Crime against humanity (torture) - to 10 years imprisonment;

COUNT 13: Crime against humanity (rape) - to 15 years imprisonment;

COUNT 14: Crime against humanity (other inhumane acts) - to 10 years imprisonment."

As the Trial Chamber had passed concurrent sentences, Akayesu will serve a single sentence of life imprisonment.

Determination of the sentence

The Trial Chamber established, as it did in its first judgement, in the case of The Prosecutor versus Jean Kambanda, that neither the Statute of the Tribunal, nor its Rules of Procedure and Evidence, specify a scale of penalties applicable for each of the offences falling within the jurisdiction of the ICTR, in other words, genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocol II. The Statute provides that the Trial Chamber, in determining prison terms, shall have recourse to the general scale of prison sentences applied by the courts of Rwanda. However, the Trial Chamber again considered that any reference to the said scale was indicative and therefore not binding. Consequently, while referring as much as possible to the general scale of prison sentences applied by Rwandan courts, the Trial Chamber considered its sovereignty to judge paramount, considering the circumstances of the case and various factors such as mitigating circumstances, aggravating circumstances and the individual situation of the accused.

The Trial Chamber also observed that neither the Statute nor the Rules of Procedure determine a specific penalty for each of the three crimes mentioned above, falling within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, and that the Statute does not indicate any hierarchical relationship between them, as the applicable penalty is theoretically the same for each of them: a prison sentence which may extend up to life imprisonment. The Trial Chamber therefore examined the question whether there was a hierarchical relationship between these crimes and concluded that it was difficult to establish any difference between the gravity of the crime of genocide and of crimes against humanity respectively. Both crimes against humanity, already punished by the Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals, and genocide, a crime of which the actual concept was defined only later, are crimes which particularly shock the conscience of humanity. It did however indicate that it considers genocide to be the "crime of crimes".

The Prosecutor's submissions on the sentence

In her submission given on 28 September 1998, the Prosecutor focused on the extreme gravity of the crimes committed by Akayesu, arguing that these crimes deserved appropriate punishment and that the Trial Chamber should assess the individual role of the accused in the crimes as well as the specific circumstances. As the Prosecutor saw it, Akayesu occupied a position of authority and had the duty to protect the population and ensure its security, but he betrayed the people's trust, took advantage of his powers in order to commit crimes and made use of the communal police in committing the crimes; he was actuated by the intention to commit genocide and planned his acts accordingly, acting with intent. His criminal behaviour was sustained and systematic and lasted approximately three months, becoming progressively more intensive. Furtherrmore, the Prosecutor submitted that on the basis of the information she possessed, there were no mitigating factors. Consequently, the Prosecutor sought multiple sentences on the counts for which Akayesu has been found guilty, but specified that the Trial Chamber could impose concurrent sentences for the offences arising from the same facts. The Prosecutor deemed that the Trial Chamber should impose a sentence for each of the crimes committed, in order to give the measure of the gravity of each of them and to fully determine the guilt of the accused.

The Submissions of the Accused

Although he had pleaded not guilty at his initial appearance in May 1996, and had declared himself to be innocent of the crimes for which the Tribunal had found him guilty, and having asked for the forgiveness of the people of Rwanda and in particular, of the people of the Taba Commune because he regretted not having been able to live up to his duty, namely protecting the people of Taba of whom he was the Bourgmestre, Akayesu did try to prove to the Trial Chamber that mitigating circumstances pleaded in his favour. He had tried to oppose the violence and the killings, he claimed that he had risked his life to protect the population, that he was only a Bourgmestre, and that he had cooperated with the Prosecutor and the Court, in that he tried to be available and disciplined and that he had never obstructed the judicial process or attempted to evade it.

c The Judge's Personal Conviction: the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors

Trial Chamber I before passing judgement scrupulously considered all the points in fact and in law submitted by both parties.

Among the circumstances argued in favour of Akayesu can be retained: the fact that he was not a very high official in the governmental hierarchy in Rwanda and that his influence and his power to control the events of 1994 was commensurate with his then level of office; that he expressed sympathy for the victims and identified himself with survivors of the events of 1994; that until 18 April 1994 he endeavoured to prevent the killings in Taba and that he made efforts to impede them and finally, the Prosecutor accepted that Akayesu has no prior criminal conviction.

Regarding the aggravating factors: Akayesu consciously chose to participate in the systematic killings that took place in Taba and, without being a very high official in the Government, his position as Bourgmestre made him the highest Governmental authority in Taba and as such, he was entrusted with the protection of the population and he betrayed this trust. He publicly incited killings in Taba. He also ordered and participated in the murder of a number of people, some of whom were killed in his presence. He also condoned and, by his presence and actions, encouraged the rape of many women at the communal offices.

The Trial Chamber having considered all the aspects involved and having weighed the mitigating factors in relation to the aggravating factors in the case, found that the aggravating factors far outweighed the mitigating factors, all the more so in light of the fact that Akayesu consciously chose to participate in the genocide.

For information only - Not an official document

UN-ICTR External Relations and Communication Outreach Unit | Tel.: +1 212 963 2850