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Arusha, Febuary 23, 2007 (FH) - Joseph Nzabirinda, former Minister of Youth in Ngoma in the Butare province, in the south of Rwanda, was sentenced Friday to 7 years in prison by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), after having pled guilty to murder as a crime against humanity. He had been arrested in 2001 in Brussels while he was an investigator for the ICTR defense. Two employees of the ICTR have currently been tried by the court in charge of trying the organizers of the 1994 Rwanda genocide, which according to the UN, resulted in the death of 800,000 victims, almost all of which from the Tutsi community. Nzabirinda had at first pled not-guilty to the four counts brought against him (genocide, complicity in genocide, and crimes against humanity (extermination and rape). In December of last year, he pled guilty and admitted having participated in meetings where massacres were planned and having acted as an “approving spectator” during the two assassinations committed in his district. The prosecution and the defense agreed to propose to the Court a punishment of between 5 and 8 years in prison. The Court was not obligated to follow this recommendation. After the verdict, the spokesperson for the Prosecution, Timotny Gallimore, expressed his satisfaction and hoped that it would encourage other accused individuals to confess and cooperate with the prosecution in the interest of justice. Nzabirinda’s lawyers, Mr. Francois Rous (France) and Jean Haguma (Rwanda) also expressed their satisfaction, despite the Chamber having refused to consider the four charges initially brought against him as being already adjudicated. The Chamber, presided by Mrs. Arlette Ramaroson (Madagascar), assisted by Judge William Sekule (Tanzania) and Judge Solomy Bossa (Ouganda) in effect rejected this request by Nzabirinda who could therefore be subject to new charges, but the prosecutor clearly stated that in 5 years of investigations, he had not encountered anything about these matters. The representative of Rwanda, Mr. Aloys Mutabingwa, for his part guessed that the Chamber had committed “errors of law and fact” in its verdict. For him, Nzabirinda should have been subject to a harsher sentence. “Unlike the Gacaca courts in Rwanda, which judge suspects of less importance, the ICTR judges high-level defendants,” he said. This verdict was the seventh the ICTR has entered after a guilty plea. Only two verdicts until now have been more lenient, that of the former municipal councilman Vincent Rutaganira and the former chief militiaman Joseph Serugendo, sentenced to 6 years in prison. Nzabirinda must still serve around two years in prison which corresponds approximately to the end of the Tribunal’s mandate. In the agreement, he asked to serve the rest of his sentence in Europe, and preferably France. The ICTR, whose mandate will expire on December 31, 2008, has until now tried 33 persons, 27 of which are currently in trial. Nine others have yet to appear, of which certain ones could be transferred to other jurisdictions. Eighteen defendants are at large. PB-ER/AT/KD © Hirondelle News Agency