Arusha, November 19th, '99 (FH) - The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) will hand down its judgement on genocide suspect and former militia leader Georges Rutaganda on December 6th, official sources said on Friday. This will be the ICTR's sixth judgement since its creation in 1994, after the genocide in Rwanda.

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"Each judgement is significant because these are very serious crimes," Tribunal spokesman Kingsley Moghalu told the independent news agency Hirondelle. "The Rutaganda decision will also be significant because it will deal with his individual criminal responsibility for actions of the Interhamwe militia. "Rutaganda was second Vice-President of the extremist Hutu Interahmawe, seen as the spearhead of the genocide which left some one million ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead. "Without the participation of Georges Rutaganda, the murderous spiral of the Rwandan genocide would not have functioned the way it did," Canadian prosecutor James Stewart told the court during his closing arguments in June this year. Rutaganda is charged with eight counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the Geneva Conventions on war crimes. The charges relate to massacres committed in the Rwandan capital Kigali, and in Masango commune (Gitarama prefecture, central Rwanda). The Kigali massacres include one at the ETO school, when at least 2,000 Tutsi refugees were slaughtered, and at the nearby Nyanza crossroads. The prosecution asked the court to find Rutagfanda guilty and hand down the maximum sentence of life imprisonment. However, Rutaganda argued that the Interahamwe was not structured and that he had no control over the killers. In her closing arguments, Canadian defence counsel Tiphaine Dickson told the court that her client was "truly innocent" and that he did what he could to save people's lives. Dickson said that Rutaganda had "no influence at all at the roadblocks", where Interahamwe singled out Tutsis to be killed. Rutaganda's trial started in March 1997 and took two years to complete. It was suspended several times because of the accused's health problems and that of his defence counsel. On May 25th this year, the ICTR sentenced former Rwandan prefect Clément Kayishema to prison for life, and former businessman Obed Ruzindana to 25 years. It had previously passed life sentences on former mayor Jean-Paul Akayesu and former Prime Minister Jean Kambanda, who pleaded guilty. Former regional militia leader Omar Serushago also pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Shortly after Rutaganda, the ICTR hopes to render its decision on former tea factory boss Alfred Musema. "The judges are trying very hard to render decisions," ICTR spokesman Moghalu told Hirondelle. "They want people to understand that, and not to place too much emphasis on isolated decisions on technicalities, such as in the Ntuyahaga and Barayagwiza cases. "Former Rwandan army officer Bernard Ntuyahaga was released by the ICTR earlier this year, while the UN Appeal Court on November 3rd ordered the release of Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, saying procedures had been repeatedly violated during his initial detention and transfer to Arusha. Barayagwiza was a leading member of the extremist Hutu CDR party, of the hate radio Radio Télévision des Mille Collines, and foreign policy advoisor to the interim government that presided over the genocide. The Appeal Court's release order has caused the Rwandan government to suspend relations with the ICTR. JC/FH (RU§119e)