Arusha, February 14, 2000 (FH) - The Appeals Court of the InternationalCriminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Monday confirmed a 15-year prisonsentence on former Rwandan militiaman Omar Serushago who pleaded guilty togenocide. Reading the decision, French presiding judge Claude Jorda said the courtrejected the appeal of the defence, which had pleaded for a sentencereduction.

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In a hearing lasting barely five minutes, he said the courtwould give its reasons in a written document as soon as possible. Serushago's thus becomes the first case to close at the ICTR. All the othersix people so far sentenced have also appealed. Under ICTR rules, convicts are to be transferred from UN detention inArusha to prison in a country which has an agreement with the ICTR. So far,the only countries with such agreements are the West African states of Maliand Benin. Serushago was a regional militia leader in Gisenyi, northwest Rwanda,during the genocide. He was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment on February5th, 1999, after pleading guilty. On Monday morning, Serushago's Tanzanian defence counsel Mohamed Ismailhad asked the Appeals Court to reduce his client's sentence, on the basisthat Serushago pleaded guilty and that he would have got a lighter sentencein Rwanda. "The Trial Chamber did not give enough weight to the mitigating factorsand circumstances of the case," Ismail told the Appeals Court. Ismailpointed to his client's co-operation with the Prosecutor, and the fact thathe surrendered himself voluntarily to Ivory Coast police in June 1998. Hesaid that his client not only pleaded guilty, but also expressed hisremorse in public. The prosecution argued that the Trial Chamber had in fact taken ampleaccount of mitigating factors, and of general sentencing practice inRwanda. Mohamed Othman, Chief of Prosecutions at the Office of theProsecutor, said that sentencing considerations should be read in relationto the ICTR's maximum sentence of life imprisonment and that "already theTrial Chamber has reduced the sentence from the maximum of life to 15 years. "This was the first of three appeals hearings taking place in Arusha. Theappeals judges, who are normally based in The Hague (Netherlands), are alsoin Arusha for an extraordinary plenary session of ICTR judges. JC/FH (SR%0214f)