Arusha, May 17th, 2000 (FH) - The Ruggiu case should not be mishandled, say defence lawyers for the former hate-radio jounalist who pleaded guilty on Monday before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Georges Ruggiu's Belgian lawyer, Jean-Louis Gilissen, told the independent news agency Hirondelle that certain ICTR prisoners were waiting for the verdict in the Ruggiu case before making a final decision on their own defence strategy.

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Ruggiu, an Italo-Belgian who worked for the Radio-Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), changed his plea on Monday, admitting to direct and public incitement to genocide and persecution as a crime against humanity. The prosecution called for a 20-year prison sentence against him, while the defence said it should be "proportionate and individualized". The defence did not make a specific recommendation but made clear they thought the sentence should be less than the 15 years handed down on former militia leader Omar Serushago, who also pleaded guilty. Gilissen is co-counsel to Tunisian lawyer Mohamed Aouini in the Ruggiu case. The factual and legal framework for Ruggiu's guilty plea are contained in an agreement between the defence and the prosecution. According to the plea agreement, of which Hirondelle has obtained a copy, Georges Ruggiu "intends to plead guilty to direct and public incitement to commit genocide, a crime which has been explained to him as shocking to humanity and an extremely serious violation of international humanitarian law". The agreement then explains that the crime of incitement "consists of direct or indirect acts leading to killings or serious physical or mental harm to members of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group". Georges Ruggiu has also pleaded guilty to a crime against humanity defined as "direct or indirect acts leading to physical or mental torture or loss of life, as part of generalized or systematic attacks against a civilian population belonging to a particular political, ethnic, racial or religious group". Ruggiu recognizes that the media, and particularly the RTLM radio, "was one of the key tools used by the extremist Hutu parties MRND [former single party of the late president Juvénal Habyarimana] and CDR [party of former politician and ICTR detainee Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza] to mobilize the population and incite them to massacre Tutsis and political opponents, most of whom were moderate Hutus. ". The accused worked for RTLM from January 6th to July 14th, 1994. He admits in the plea agreement that "after the death of president Habyarimana, this radio station became a real oracle for a big part of the population" and that "a major part of the population lent a great deal of credit to the news and analysis which it broadcast". The document says that "RTLM backed all the aims and actions of the interim government" and that, from April to July 1994, RTLM enjoyed "full collaboration" from the interim government, seeming even to "belong to or be dependent on" this government. Ruggiu says that "RTLM clearly had a role [. . . ] to sensitize and mobilize the population against the RPF [Rwandan Patriotic Front, Tutsi rebels] and its accomplices who were implicitly taken to include the Tutsi civilian population and Hutu politicians opposed to the interim government or who had opposed the late president Habyarimana and his allies". Georges Ruggiu asserts that he concluded the plea agreement of his own free will and being sound of mind. He also says he has received no promises or propositions "apart from those obtained in this agreement". The prosecution and defence began negotiating the agreement in July 1999. But there were some heated exchanges between the two parties on Monday, during a pre-sentencing hearing. At one point Gilissen even asked whether the agreement was still valid, to which UN Prosecutor Carla del Ponte of Switzerland replied: "We don't need Ruggiu's agreement. We don't need his confessions. What we need is the truth. We would be the first to say forget the agreement, let's go to trial. And it will be prison for life!"Ruggiu says that he will not go back on his guilty plea, and has indicated his willingness to cooperate with the prosecution. He is expected to testify in the trial of three other media suspects. Informed sources say their so-called "/media trial", originally set for June 5th, will now start in September. The ICTR is expected to hand down its sentence in the Ruggiu case on June 1st. AT/JC/FH (RU%0517A)