Rwandan businessmen sentenced for War Crimes

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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Two Rwandan businessmen were sentenced to 10 and 12 years for their role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The two, tried in Belgium, could have faced up to 25 years in prison, the court decided on a lesser sentence as the convicted businessmen played no direct role in the killings. They were convicted based on their offers of transportation and weapons to Hutu militas in the planned massacre of Tutsis in a church and a municipal building where Tutsis and Hutus had met.

The trial was one of only two ground-breaking trials held in Belgium since local law changed to allow Belgian courts to prosecute violations of the Geneva conventions on the conduct of war regardless of where the violations occurred. The law was revised in 2003 to limit its scope as activists had attempted to seek the prosecution of world leaders including United States President George W. Bush. As Belgian citizens, the two Rwandans were subject to the new law.

The 1994 Rwandan genocide was an eruption of ethnic conflict where Hutu militia, supported by the Hutu dominated government and encouraged by 'hate radio', attempted to ethnically cleanse the minority Tutsi. Despite numerous warnings the international community did not take serious action to prevent the atrocities, which included hacking people to death with machetes, and forcing people into buildings that were then destroyed with bulldozers. Estimates place the number killed at up to one million.

A major programme is trying to complete trials for genocidaires by the end of 2008. Major perpetrators are being tried at four courts of the International Criminal Tribunal in Tanzania, while in Rwanda Gacaca courts are reaching the end of the investigation stage, after which communities will collectively decide on guilt and punishment at weekly Gacaca sessions throughout the summer.


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