Arusha, 17 December 2008 (FH) - Genocide-convict Joseph Nzabirinda (51), a former communal agent in southern Rwanda, will be released on Friday after spending seven years in detention in Arusha, the seat of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), reports Hirondelle Agency.

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The release, which was announced early October by the ICTR spokesperson, Roland Amoussouga, was confirmed Wednesday by Nzabirinda's lawyer, François Roux, of Montpellier (France) Bar.

Nzabirinda was arrested in 2001 in Brussels, Belgium, after it was disclosed that he worked as an investigator for ICTR defence team.

He was convicted in February 2007 after being found guilty of murder as a crime against humanity.

After having declined the allegations charged against him, he ended up pleading guilty in December 2006, conceding having taken part, during the genocide, in organization meetings of massacres and acting as an "approving spectator" during two murders committed in his vicinity.

Nzabirinda, the former agent in charge of sport activities and co-operatives in the Ngoma commune, will be the third ICTR convict to finish serving his sentence in Arusha.

The Tribunal officials had initially planned to transfer him to Mali with the other prisoners at the beginning of the month, but the decision was cancelled following protest from his lawyer.

Last March, former town councillor, Vincent Rutaganira, sentenced to six years in prison by the ICTR, was released after having served his sentence. The day after his release, Rutaganira accused the ICTR administration of wanting to drive him out of the house where he was staying at the expense of the ICTR while waiting to find a host country.

However, he has now found safe haven in a refugee camp in Malawi.

The first convict to finish serving his sentence, Adventist Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, died of natural causes, on 22 January 2007, less than a month after having been released. He had also not found a host country.

The next ICTR convict expected to be released would be Lieutenant Samuel Imanishimwe in August 2009, at the end of a 12-year prison sentence. He is currently detained in Mali.

Since its first hearing in January 1997, the ICTR has tried 37 people, including 36 accused of genocide. Five were acquitted.


© Hirondelle News Agency