Rwandan businessman pleads guilty to murder at UN war crimes tribunal

14 December 2006 – A former businessman and youth organizer implicated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide will be sentenced next month after he pleaded guilty today before a United Nations war crimes tribunal to the charge of murder as a crime against humanity.

The three judges hearing his case at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), sitting in Arusha in neighbouring Tanzania, accepted the plea of Joseph Nzabirinda, which followed prosecutors’ withdrawal of four other charges against him because of a lack of evidence.

Addressing Judges Arlette Ramaroson of Madagascar (presiding), William Sekule of Tanzania and Solomy Balungi Bossa of Uganda, Mr. Nzabirinda expressed deep remorse for his crimes and asked for pardon from the people of Rwanda for what he had done. The judges set 17 January next year as the date of the sentencing hearing.

Prosecutors said Mr. Nzabirinda, a businessman in the Butare prefecture in southern Rwanda, participated in meetings in 1994 with the notorious Interahamwe militia in which the planned execution of Tutsis in his area was discussed. He also encouraged attacks on Tutsis who had gathered on a hillside and at roadblocks.

During the hearing prosecutors stated Mr. Nzabirinda was an approving spectator during attacks, while his defence counsel agreed that while he had not personally carried out the killings, he had been an accomplice by omission.

Some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered, mostly by machete, across Rwanda in just 100 days starting in April 1994. The Security Council set up the ICTR in November that year to prosecute people responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law.

Mr. Nzabirinda also worked as an investigator for the defence team of Sylvain Nsabimana – a former prefect of Butare currently on trial at the ICTR in a separate case with five other accused – until 2001 when his contract was terminated after the Tribunal registry established he had presented false identity documents to obtain employment.

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