20.02.08 - RWANDA/RUKUNDO - PROSECUTION WANTS LIFE SENTENCE FOR GENOCIDE-ACCUSED CATHOLIC PRIEST

Arusha, 20 February 2008 (FH) - The prosecution has requested life in prison for Emmanuel Rukundo, a Catholic Priest accused of genocide, before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) Wednesday.
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"No other sentence than life in prison can correspond to the crimes that he committed", stated William Egbe, the Cameroonian-born prosecuting attorney.

Military Chaplain in 1994, Rukundo is prosecuted for genocide, murder and extermination of Tutsis. He has pleaded not guilty.

The crimes are alleged to have been committed in the center of the country, his native region.

He added that the defendant should not benefit from any extenuating circumstances. "We put forward with emphasis that there were no extenuating circumstances in favour of Rukundo because of his premeditated and direct participation in the crimes", stressed Egbe.

The prosecution in particular alleged that the priest had betrayed the confidence of his fellow-citizens, who were majority Christians to whom he regularly delivered the holy sacrament.

Rukundo's lead lawyer, Aicha Conde of France stated that "it was scandalous that in such a prestigious tribunal we have a prosecutor who proceeds by free assertions. There is no search for the truth".

According to Mrs Conde, the prosecutor has not, at any moment, shown that the defendant intended to commit genocide.

"One is struck to see that there was no element to show that this man who had a normal chaplain life could have been turned upside down. All of a sudden he becomes a killer", underlined Conde.

Allison Turner of Canada, Rukundo's co-counsel, claimed that Rukundo is victim of the completion strategy of the ICTR which must end all its first instance trials by the end of the year.

The lawyer alleged that the defence was prevented from calling at least three witnesses, including its investigator now held by the ICTR for contempt of the tribunal in another case.

Arrested in July 2001 in Switzerland, Rukundo has been on trial since 16 November 2006. He is the fourth catholic priest indicted by the ICTR since its creation in November 1994.

One of them, Athanase Seromba, former vicar in a rural parish of western Rwanda, was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. He has appealed against the decision.

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