Arusha, June 1, 2000 (FH) - The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Thursday sentenced Italo-Belgian former radio presenter Georges Ruggiu to 12 years in prison, after he pleaded guilty to inciting genocide. "Having weighed all the circumstances, the court finds that there are some mitigating factors that warrant some clemency," presiding judge Navanethem Pillay of South Africa told Ruggiu as he stood before her, head bowed, to receive his sentence.

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"Mitigation of the punishment in no way reduces the gravity of the crimes or of the guilty verdict. "Ruggiu was given twelve years each for the crimes of direct and public incitement to genocide and persecution as a crime against humanity, both of which he admitted. The court said that the two sentences should be served concurrently, and that Ruggiu's time in preventive detention should be deducted. He was arrested on July 23rd, 1997, in Mombasa, Kenya,The convict was a journalist with Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), the radio that incited Hutus to kill Tutsis during the Rwandan genocide. He initially pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, but on May 15th this year, the ICTR authorized him to change his plea. The factual and legal basis for his guilty plea was laid down in an agreement negotiated between the defence and prosecution. Judge Pillay said the court had, in pronouncing its sentence, weighed up a number of aggravating and mitigating factors. The first aggravating factor, she said, was the gravity of the crimes and the extent of Ruggiu's involvement. "Genocide and crimes against humanity," she continued, "are inherently aggravating offences because they are inherently heinous and shock the collective conscience of mankind. "The court noted that RTLM was a key tool of Hutu extremists in inciting the genocide and that it had a wide audience in Rwanda at the time. "You played a crucial role," Judge Pillay told Ruggiu, who was visibly moved by the proceedings. "Your broadcasts incited massacres of the population. " Ruggiu has admitted to inciting hatred and killings of Tutsis, but also Hutu opponents of the former regime and of Belgians. Another aggravating factor, the court found, was that Ruggiu continued his broadcasts after April 12th, 1994, when he was taken round Kigali by the army and saw piles of civilian corpses. "You became aware that your broadcasts were contributing to massacres against Tutsis, yet you made a deliberate choice to stay in Rwanda and continue your broadcasts," Pillay said. On the other hand, the court found that there were a number of mitigating factors: his guilty plea and expressions of remorse, his "substantial" cooperation with the prosecution, the fact that he had no previous criminal record, and that he had held no official authority in Rwanda or at RTLM. The court also said that, unlike former militia leader Omar Serushago who was sentenced to 15 years after pleading guilty, there was no evidence that Ruggiu actually killed. "You did not strike a blow or fire a shot," Pillay said. "In the case of the ICTR versus Omar Serushago, the court considered as an aggravating circumstance the fact that he killed Tutsis and ordered the killing of others. "Last but not least, the court took considerable account of Ruggiu's own personal story, as presented by the defence team and by two character witnesses, whom it said it found credible. "There are indications," Judge Pillay said, "that you were influenced by individuals able to take undue advantage of you and involve you in a situation where you were able to commit the crimes of which you have been convicted. The Chamber noted that Ruggiu had, before going to Rwanda in 1993, worked to help the disadvantaged in Belgium, and that character witnesses described him as a good man who could have been manipulated and misled. "You appear to this court to be an idealist," Pillay told him, "but you appear also immature and impulsive. "Your plea reflects a genuine awareness of your guilt," she told Ruggiu, "especially the fact that you changed your plea after much reflexion". She said a guilty plea reflected "a healthy application of reason which illustrates the beginning of repentance". The court noted that Ruggiu had expressed regret, sympathy for the victims and a willingness to make whatever reparation he could, including continuing to cooperate with the prosecution. It noted that crimes such as his could carry a death sentence in Rwanda but that Rwandan law also provided for a reduction in sentence if the accused confessed. Prosecutors had asked for a 20-year sentence. Ruggiu's two defence lawyers, Mohamed Aouini of Tunisia and Jean-Louis Gilissen of Belgium, expressed relief at the sentence. Gilissen described it as "particularly well-balanced and individualized" in that it took account of both the seriousness of the crimes and Ruggiu's personal circumstances. Ruggiu is the only non-Rwandan detained by the ICTR. He is also the first person to be brought before an international court who is not a citizen of the country where the crimes were committed. Ruggiu, 42, was born in the Belgian town of Verviers of an Italian father and a Belgian mother. He was a social worker in Belgium and then a social security official, who became involved with exiled members of Rwanda's former single party MRND. He worked for RTLM in Rwanda from January 6th to July 14th, 1994. The prosecution originally intended to try Ruggiu with three other suspects linked to the hate media in Rwanda: Hassan Ngeze, former editor of the extremist newspaper Kangura; Ferdinand Nahimana, former director of RTLM; and Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, former politician and founder member of RTLM's management committee. However, Ruggiu was withdrawn from the case when he started confessing. He could now be called to testify against the other defendants, whose trial is expected to start in September. JC/FH (RG%0601e)