The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: ICTR Genocide Convicts in Mali Get Early Release

The Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) has released two Genocide convicts incarcerated in Mali, before they completed their sentences, days after it was reported that Genocide convicts were operating businesses there.

The MICT, which took over the mandate of former UN courts, granted early release to Paul Bisengimana, a former mayor, and Interahamwe leader Omar Serushago on Tuesday.

They were both convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which together with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), have been replaced by the MICT.

The survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, through Ibuka, their umbrella body, have accused the United Nations of continuously watering down the Genocide.

"The international justice should be seen as an educative mechanism, which, should be teaching lessons to ensure that such heinous crimes are not repeated anywhere. Now on top of giving them short sentences, they do not even let them complete them," said Ibuka president Jean Pierre Dusingizemungu.

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

"We have no jurisdiction to dispute what a court has decided, I know what is most important is the conviction against these men of the Genocide. They will live with that for their remaining years but one cannot hide the fact that the decisions are disappointing," said Dusingizemungu.

According to reports, prior to his release, Bisengimana had already served two-thirds of his15-year jail term.

He 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.

Similar reports indicate that Serushago served more than three-quarters of his similar sentence handed 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 and pleaded guilty.

According to Dusingizemungu, government ought to use Rwanda's seat on the UN Security Council to put forth the indifference by the UN to different issues pertaining Rwandans, including trivialising the crime of Genocide.

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 thus directed the Registrar to inform the Malian Authority of the decision.

When contacted for a comment, Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga said that the issue of enforcement of the sentences by ICTR convicts was subject for discussion with mechanism authorities.

"We intend to discuss this subject of enforcement and the way it has been managed_ as comprehensively as possible during the visit of the President of the Mechanism of International Criminal Tribunals who coincidentally will be in Rwanda very soon," said Ngoga.

"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 be supervised by the Mechanism irrespective of whether they were convicted or sentenced by ICTR, the ICTY, or the Mechanism itself," Meron is quoted as saying.

Four other convicts, who have previously been granted early release by the Tanzania-based tribunal which wound up its activities this year, paving way for the mechanism, 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 Tanzania-based tribunal.

Ruggiu was granted early release by the Italian government, reportedly without the knowledge of the ICTR, which was reportedly in violation of the rules of the Tribunal.

The Malian prison remains home to 12 other convicts, including the Prime Minister of the Genocidal cabinet, who pleaded guilty and was subsequently convicted to life imprisonment.

Besides Mali, other ICTR convicts are incarcerated in Benin. Rwanda, despite having signed an agreement with the tribunal to be one of the countries where prison sentences of convicts would

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