Arusha, 7 December 2007 (FH) - The former prefect of rural Kigali, François Karera, 69, was sentenced to life in prison Friday by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which did not find any extenuating circumstances.

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He was convicted for genocide and crimes against humanity (extermination and assassination). The tribunal concluded that his responsibility was established in the massacres of Tutsis in three sites: the Ntarama church, Rushashi and Nyamirambo. Karera had presented a defence alibi which was not accepted by the chamber. The defendant had indicated that he had taken refuge in Ruhengeri (northern Rwanda) when the alleged crimes were committed. The judges estimated that the alibi witnesses were members of his family or neighbours of one of his sons.

The chamber regarded as an aggravating circumstance "his empty promise" of protection made to Tutsis in Ntarama the day before their killings. Karera was arrested in Kenya on 20 October 2001. His trial began on 9 January 2006. The prosecutor called 18 witnesses and the defence 25. The judges had been deliberating since 24 November 2006. They explained that the drafting of the judgment was long, the chamber being seized with three other cases.

Besides the Karera judgment, the tribunal held hearings in four cases this week. They were Karemera, Zigiranyirazo, Military II and Butare.

In Karemera, which involves three leaders of the former presidential party, the prosecutor was invited to rest his case. The trial started in September 2005. The next hearing should be held on 3 March, the defendants will present their cases in the order of the indictment: Edouard Karemera, Mathieu Ngirumpatse and Joseph Nzirorera. The three men who directed the National Republican Movement for Development (former single party: MRND) are accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. They have pleaded not guilty. Matthieu Ngirumpatse was president of the MRND in 1994, Edouard Karemera was second vice-president of the party and Joseph Nzororera was secretary-general.

In the case of Protais Zigiranyirazo, a brother-in-law of former President Juvénal Habyarimana, the defence introduced its last witness this week. The proceedings began on 3 October 2005. The following phase is the closing arguments. The parties will present their arguments in the end of May 2008. The prosecution theory is that the genocide was planned by the akazu, a circle of close relations of the former president; which included Mr. Z. The defence argued that the concept akazu is an invention by opponents that aim at discrediting the Habyarimana regime.

In Military II, which involves four officers, it is one of them, General Augustin Bizimungu, who started testifying on his own behalf this week. Bizimungu was Chief of Staff of the Rwandan army during the genocide. He is accused of playing an active role in the massacres. During his testimony, Bizimungu stated that he had spent all his time organizing the defence of the country which was being attacked by the rebels of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). He also denied any connection with the Interahamwe, spearhead of the genocide.

In the Butare case, which involves six defendants, it is the fifth, former mayor Joseph Kanyabashi, who continued his defence this week. The proceedings, slowed down by the repetitive objections of other defence counsels, their interests being divergent, generally proceeded in closed sessions.

Next week should function at an idle pace in prelude to the end of year holidays which will last a month. The attempt of the assistant registrar not to respect a Tanzanian national holiday failed, the tribunal will be closed Monday. Then, two trials are scheduled (Butare and Military II).

In New York, the president of the tribunal will try, for his part, to persuade the United Nations General Assembly of the interest to prolong the proceedings beyond its limit scheduled for 31 December 2008.

© Hirondelle News Agency