Kigali, May 3, 2010 (FH) - A Gacaca appeals court in Kigali Monday upheld the 19-years jail  sentence handed down in first instance against Jean Rwabahizi, a former driver of the French ambassador in Rwanda.

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According to local human rights activists, Nyakabanda appeals court confirmed Jean Rwabahizi 's responsibility  for the murder of two security guards working at the residence of the director of the Center for Franco-Rwandan cultural exchanges in Kigali, and for the murder of Déo Twagirayezu, a Rwandan employee of the French Cooperation in 1994.

He was also convicted for illegally carrying arms and for looting.

Jean Rwabahizi  was arrested by the Rwandan police in Kigali on January 11 upon his return from France, where he had followed his employer after Kigali severed diplomatic ties with Paris in 2006.

Relations between the two countries were restored in November 2009.

After his departure to France, Jean Rwabahizi had been convicted in absentia, in 2007, to 30 years in prison by a Gacaca court in Kigali. He was then found guilty of complicity in the massacre of Tutsis who had sought refuge in a Kigali church during the 1994 genocide and of the murder of his colleague Déo Twagirayezu.

When arrested, Rwabahizi  immediately requested a rehearing trial.  In first instance, the verdict meted out in absentia was reduced to 19 years in prison.

The Gacaca courts, adapted from a form of Rwandan traditional justice, are tasked with trying suspected perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide which left some 800,000 people dead, according to the UN.   These village courts, whose judges are elected from the community, can hand down sentences up to life imprisonment, which is now the maximum penalty in Rwanda. They have so far tried more than a million people.


© Hirondelle News Agency