Arusha, June 12, 2003 (FH) - JeanPaul Akayesu was the first one. The former mayor of Taba (Gitarama province) was sentenced to life imprisonment by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on June 1, 2001.

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He is also the first person to have been found guilty of rape by an international jurisdiction and is currently serving his term in Mali. Then there was Ignace Bagilishema, the former mayor of Mabanza (Kibuye, western Rwanda). He was acquitted by the ICTR on July 3, 2002. On May 15, 2003, the ICTR sentenced "the great mayor" of Bicumbi, (socalled by the French sociologist André Guichaoua) Laurent Semanza to 25 years of prison. There are seven other former mayors in custody at the UN detention facilities in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha ,and many more are in custody or sought by authorities in Rwanda. In 1994, there were over 150 mayors in Rwanda, and together with some members of the interim government, the armed forces and the media, some of them played a crucial role in the 1994 genocide. To the prosecutor, who wants to prove that there was a standing plan to massacre Tutsis and Hutu members of the opposition, the mayor embodies the responsibility of the local administration in the genocide. The September 1974 decreeThe mayor's powers started increasing considerably with the ascension to power of Juvenal Habyarimana on July 5, 1973. A September 26, 1974 decree set out the mayor's (Bourgmestre) duties. It described him as "a representative of the central government and at the same time the personification of communal authority". The mayor was appointed by the president on the recommendation of the minister of interior. He was "in charge of the economic, social and cultural development, as well as seeing that all laws and regulations are followed" in his commune. The mayor is also empowered with "the right to police and enforce the law when there is urgent need for it. He has the power to incarcerate for not more than one week and to levy fines not exceeding 200 francs". He also had the power to "imprison someone causing a breach of peace for not longer than 48 hours". He also hired and fired communal policemen under his command, sat on land disputes and executed judgements passed by the courts. In brief, the bourgmestre, like his counterparts all over the world, enjoyed a lot of administrative and police powers. The "eye of the Movement"The birth in 1975 of the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (MRND) gave additional powers to the mayor. Modelled along the lines of neighbouring field marshal Mobutu Sese Seko's Popular Revolutionary Movement (MPR), in Zaire, Habyarimana's young MRND incorporated the whole population. "All Rwandans, whatever their ages or status is a member of the party", pointed out the joint report of the International federation of human rights (FIDH) and Human rights watch (HRW) entitled "Leave none to tell the story". No political activities were permitted outside the existing MRND structures which were sometimes hard to differentiate with those of the administration. According to its charter, "it was a single boat that would sail them to the shores of development". The mayor was automatically the chairman of the Movement in the commune. It is through that arrangement that the mayor was able to play a major role in deeply implanting the movement. Special dance troupes were hand picked by the mayor for their ability to perform songs and dances in praise of the party and its leader. It was also the mayor who was in charge of the weekly planning and implementation of Umuganda (compulsory community work) at the end of each he would hold a meeting and heap praises on the "beloved president". Another slogan of those days described the mayor as being the chief "eye of the Movement" in his commune. FIDH notes that it was the duty of the mayor "to inform the intelligence services of the presence of any suspicious person in his commune". Being far from his superior authority (the prefect), the mayor abused the powers vested unto him, aided in great part by a large illiterate population more concerned with farming their land. The mayors therefore reigned unchallenged in their communes, and sometimes turned into local despots. Some of the mayors enjoyed more powers and privileges because of their closeness to the president's inner circle. "The most powerful authority on the local scene, the bourgmestre was, in all evidence, the president's man in the hills", wrote FIDH. RPF's offensiveThe Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF, former Tutsidominated rebel army) launched its attack from neighbouring Uganda on October 1, 1990. The state of siege that followed this attack endowed the mayors with new additional powers. In order to move from one prefecture to another, one had to be in possession of a safeconduit (laisserpasser) personally signed by the mayor. The introduction of this document was meant to limit movement of people suspected of collaborating with the enemy. With the introduction of multiparty politics in 1991, some mayors refused to grant the documents to members of the opposition, thereby confining them to their communes. "The curfew and the introduction of travel documents greatly hindered opposition parties," French sociologist André Guichaoua wrote in Les crises politiques au Burundi et au Rwanda (19931994). "Yet MRND propagandists, possessing permanent travel permits could move about day and night across the country". He continued that "Provincial and municipal authorities, most of whom had remained loyal to the regime attempted to sabotage activities by opposition parties". The mayors and the massacresAccording to Rwandan and international human rights organisations like Kanyarwanda and Human rights watch, some mayors went as far as physically eliminating Tutsis and members of the Hutu opposition who were considered as being members of RPF's fifth column. In early 1991, following RPF's invasion, Bagogwes (related to Tutsis) were massacred in Ruhengeri (northern Rwanda), especially in Mukingo commune. Rwandan human rights organisations then pointed a finger at the mayor of Mukingo, Juvenal Kajelijeli, currently on trial for genocide at the ICTR. In November of the same year, Tutsi families were attacked in Murambi commune (Byumba, Northeast). According to Guichoua, these attacks were inspired by the mayor of that commune, JeanBaptiste Gatete, who was arrested by the ICTR in September 2002. "Gatete, leader of the MRND in his commune . . . was immune from prosecution", said the author, adding that "the phenomenon of impunity would later lead to violence on a much larger scale". In March 1992, Tutsis were massacred in Bugesera region (Kigali rural) The Liberal Party (PL) which had a wide following in the region, blamed the violence on Fidele Rwambuka, the mayor of Kanzenze, one of the three communes in the region. It is in that atmosphere of violence that the first government led by a prime minister from the opposition, Dismas Nsengiyaremye of the Democratic and Republican Movement (MDR), was sworn in in April 1992. Commissions of inquiriesThe new government, in its attempt to show political neutrality in the multiparty era, set a up a "National commission for the assessment of civil servants", with a special emphasis put on the conduct of mayors. The commission found that "Kajelijeli took advantage of the war to eliminate many members of the group" (Bagogwe) and recommended that he be replaced. As for Gatete, the commission suggested that he be suspended while deeper investigations were carried out "on the disappearance of people in his commune". An international commission was set up in 1993, composed of Africa Watch, FIDH and International centre for human rights and democratic development. They also recommended the removal of both mayors together with other civil servants suspected of having played a role in the massacres of Tutsis and members of the Hutu opposition. French ethnologist, Pierre Erny, in his book "Rwanda, 1994", specifies that when the war broke out in October 1990, communal officials drew up lists of people to kill. "It is those files and lists that were meticulously made up that were used during the massacres" of 1994, he wrote. Sacked but still powerfulSome of the leaders, including Kajelijeli and Gatete, were effectively sacked in 1993 by Nsengiyaremye's government. The prosecutor at the ICTR maintains that despite having been fired from the jobs, the two men continued wielding much power in their communes. According to the Prosecutor, even though Gatete was removed from office in 1993, he still had "defacto control of the communal policemen, gendarmes and militia in both Byumba and Kibungo prefectures". He is credited with having recruited, trained and armed Interahamwe militia. Under his orders, they massacred thousands Tutsi civilians. It is also said that he ordered local authorities to join him in the hunt for Tutsis. As for Kajelijeli, his indictment indicates that because of his close links to the secretary general of the Interahamwe, Joseph Nzirorera, he "defacto wielded the powers of bourgmestre in Mukingo", even after he was relieved from his post. In the case of Semanza who was no longer a mayor in 1994, his judgement reads that a woman was raped and another one killed on April 13, 1994. The killers were heading a call made by the former mayor to a crowd. This gives reason to the prosecutor's argument that Semanza remained a very influential person in Bicumbi commune. The fate of other mayorsKajelijeli's judgement will be read before the end of the year, while the trials of other mayors are on the way. The Butare (southern Rwanda) group, for instance, includes two mayors, Joseph Kanyabashi (Ngoma) and Elie Ndayambaje (Muganza). Others held by the ICTR, apart from Gatete, are yet to make their initial appearances. They are Jean Mpambara, the former mayor of Rukara (Kibungo, eastern Rwanda), Sylvestre Gacumbitsi, (Rusumo, Kibungo) and Paul Bisengimana (Gikoro, Kigali rural). Today in Rwanda, the former communes where the mayor was all too powerful are no longer. They have given way to "districts" administered by a sort of local government that the mayor coordinates. In the new administrative reforms, all decisions are made by a team of communal leaders elected by an electoral college. In doing so, the newregime hopes to have definitely put an end to an era when the mayor (bourgmestre) was the Alfa and the Omega. KN/ER/CE/FH (KJ'0610e)