13 December 2012

Rwanda: Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals Grants Bisengimana, Serushago Early Release

Arusha — The Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) Tuesday granted early release to ex-Rwandan mayor, Paul Bisengimana, and former militiaman Omar Serushago.

Bisengimana, who was the mayor of Gikoro commune in Kigali Rural province during genocide and Serushago, a former Interahamwe militia leader in Gisenyi prefecture, had been serving their sentences in Mali.

As of the date of his release, Bisengimana had already served two-third of the 15 years imprisonment sentence imposed on him. He has been in detention since December 4, 2001. The Rwandan mayor was convicted of aiding and abetting the commission of crimes of murder and extermination, as crimes against humanity on April 13, 2006, after pleading guilty to the charges.

While Serushago has spent more than three-quarters of the similar sentence passed against him on February 5, 1999, after being convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity. The militia leader had been in custody since June 9, 1998. He had also pleaded guilty to the charges.

In a decision involving Bisengimana, the MICT President, Judge Theodor Meron said, "Having carefully considered the factors identified in the Rules, as well as the particular circumstances of Bisengimana's case, I am of the view that (he) should be granted early release, effective immediately." He directed the Registrar to inform the Malian Authority of the decision.

The ruling of the Mechanism, which was established in 2010 to assume functions of ICTR and that of International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) after their closures, appears to resolve the conflicting jurisprudence among the two UN judicial bodies on the matter.

It has been the practice at ICTR that one has to serve three quarters of the punishment given before he or she is considered for early release eligibility, while for ICTY early release becomes appropriate after the convict had spent two-thirds of prison term imposed.

But in the decision, President Meron said, "I have formed the view that all prisoner populations to be ultimately supervised by the Mechanism should be treated equally."

He said there was no compelling reason why convicted persons whose sentences are, or would ultimately be, supervised by the Mechanism should be treated for early release purposes depending on which tribunal convicted or sentences them.

"The Mechanism is a single institution that will succeed both the ICTY and the ICTR. I therefore consider it fair and just to deem early release applicants similarly-situated to all prisoners whose sentences will supervised by the Mechanism irrespective of whether they were convicted or sentenced by ICTR, the ICTY, or the Mechanism itself," the president said.

Four other convicts, who were granted early release, but after they had served three-fourth of their respective sentences, include ex-head of Tea Authority, Michel Bagaragaza, another former mayor, Juvenal Rugambarara and then army officer, Lieutenant Colonel Tharcisse Muvunyi.

The fourth convict, journalist Georges Ruggiu, who had duo nationality of Italy and Belgium, was the only non-Rwandan indicted by the ICTR. He was granted early release by the Italian government without the knowledge of the ICTR. This was in violation of the rules of the Tribunal.

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