Arusha, November 04, 2009 (FH) - The former head of the Rwandan Tea Authority, Michel Bagaragaza, on Wednesday implored his judges for clemency for his responsibility in the 1994 genocide.

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The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) is expected to sentence him on November 05. The defendant pleaded guilty of "complicity to commit genocide" on September 17.

Among other crimes, he admitted having used in April 1994 the tea factory of Rubaya (Gisenyi Prefecture, northern Rwanda) to stock arms and ammunition which were then used by the Interahamwe. He also confessed having given the Hutu militia money and beer as well as having provided them with vehicles belonging to the factory.

He explained that he had feared for his and his family's safety.

" I beseech clemency for the evil I have committed ", this close friend of the late Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana supplicated his judges.

" I made bad choices and took easy options in difficult times. It's very hard for me to get over a period that leaves me with remorse and scars", he declared. Referring to the consequences of the genocide, he declared : "The wound is so deep that we have to do our utmost to start reconciling all Rwandans".

" I told the ICTR's investigators that I was ready to tell the truth about each and everybody's role, including mine. That's what I've done", said Bagaragaza. He stressed that he did not regret choosing to collaborate with the Prosecution. On several occasions, he testified against other defendants, among them Protais Zigiranyirazo, Habyarimana's brother-in-law.

Bagaragaza's lead counsel, Gerardus Alexander Knoops stated that, because of the defendant's cooperation with the tribunal, his client's family was exposed to threats by Hutus in the Rwandan diaspora.

The Dutch lawyer also invoked Bagaragaza's bad health and his reputation as a "moderate" to request leniency.

On behalf of the Prosecution, the Tanzanian counsel Wallace Kapaya acknowledged the defendant's remorse but asked the Court to take into account the seriousness of the crime committed.

With the notable exception of the former Rwandan Prime Minister Jean Kambanda, who was sentenced to life in prison, all defendants admitting to their responsibility in the 1994 genocide have benefited from substantially reduced terms.


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