"I ask you to pardon me so that the Almighty God may bless us and give us his pardon. I also ask the people of Rwanda whose relatives we killed, especially members of the Tutsi community, my own brothers, to forgive and pardon me".
Omar Serushago, a former militia leader of the Interahamwe, today asked Trial Chamber 1 to give him a lenient sentence as he tearfully asked for forgiveness for his crimes from the people of Rwanda, the court, the international community and from God. Holding both the Bible and Koran books, the accused said he also prayed for peace to be restored in Rwanda. His sentence will be delivered on 5 February 1999. Serushago, who on 14 December 1998 pleaded guilty to four counts brought against him, was speaking after being requested by the Chamber composed of Judges Laïty Kama (presiding), Lennart Aspegren and Navanethem Pillay, if he had anything to say after the Prosecution and the Defence completed their pre-sentencing briefs.
The Prosecution prayed for the accused to be sentenced to a prison term not less than 25 years, because the crimes committed were serious and because he directly participated and played a leading role in their commission in Gisenyi, where he was a leader of the Interahamwe. He was also directly responsible for the death of 37 people in Gisenyi. Mohamed Othman, for the Prosecution told the court that the sentence could serve a retributive and deterrent role.
The Prosecution told the court that mitigating factors in the case included Serushago's assistance to the Tribunal in the NAKI (Nairobi-Kigali) operation in Kenya in mid 1997 after which 7 people were arrested. The court was also told that the accused had agreed to give evidence against other accused persons apart from the fact that he voluntarily surrendered in Ivory Coast on 9 June 1998, promptly pleaded guilty, and was remorseful.
The Defence Counsel, Mohamed Ismail from Tanzania, underscored the mitigating factors adding that the accused had collaborated with the Prosecution even before he surrendered to the Tribunal. “He also risked his own life in assisting investigators which led them to search and arrest 7 suspects of the Rwanda killings in Nairobi," Mr. Ismail told the court.
The Defence added that the accused assisted a number of Tutsis to escape from death in Rwanda in 1994. He is said to have saved some of the people by housing them himself, and, while manning a road block at the Gisenyi border, he also saved many Tutsis and Hutus by turning a "blind eye" as they crossed the border and fled to what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Defence prayed to the court to deliver a just and appropriate sentence against the accused.