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Swiss court upholds sentence for Rwandan genocide mayor

Rwandans celebrating after Niyonteze was found guilty in Lausanne Keystone Archive

A Swiss military court has upheld a 14-year sentence for a former Rwandan mayor, Fulgence Niyonteze, who was sent to prison in Geneva for his part in the 1994 genocide.

Niyonteze’s was a landmark case. He was the first Rwandan war crimes suspect to stand trial outside Rwanda or the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in the Tanzanian town of Arusha.

In April 1999, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, incitement to murder and war crimes. But that sentence was reduced on appeal in May 2000 to 14 years after the judges decided they were only competent to consider the charge of violating the Geneva Conventions.

The defence lawyers, Robert Assaël and Vincent Spira, insisted that their client is innocent. They say Niyonteze was convicted almost entirely on the strength of often contradictory eyewitness testimony, and they are seeking a full acquittal from the military Court of Cassation – the highest military court of appeal.

At his previous appeal in Geneva, the judges said they believed that the main accusations against Niyonteze were true: that he called a meeting on Mount Mushubati to urge his fellow Hutus to kill Tutsis, and that he visited the Kabgayi refugee camp to encourage Tutsis to return home in the knowledge that they would be killed.

The president of the tribunal described him as “weak or opportunist, but one who committed very serious, punishable acts”.

The proceedings in Yverdon have been conducted in camera and there have been no witnesses.

During the original trial a number of eyewitnesses were brought to Switzerland from Rwanda, and the judges visited the places where the alleged offences were committed.

by Roy Probert

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR