Arusha, March 28, 2011 (FH) - The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) Monday heard grounds of appeal in the case of 76-year old genocide-convict, Yussuf Munyakazi with the prosecution pleading that the sentence of 25 years handed down earlier be substituted with life imprisonment.

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‘'The prosecution respectfully ask you, the Appeals Chamber, to set aside a sentence of 25 years and  impose life imprisonment to Munyakazi. In this way justice will have been rendered to the people of Rwanda, victims of Shangi and Mibilizi church massacres and the survivors of genocide,'' ICTR prosecution attorney Alphonse Van pleaded before the a five-man-Appeals Chamber presided by Judge Patrick Robinson.

The former businessman  was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment after he was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity (extermination) on June 30, 2010, specifically on the  killings against approximately 5,000 Tutsis who took refugee at Shangi parish and the other group of Tutsis housed at Mibilizi church in Cyangugu prefecture, South-West Rwanda on April 29 and 30, 1994.

The Attorney, among others, mentioned ICTR jurisprudence, gravity and nature of crimes committed and number of victims as factors which the Appeals Chamber should consider during its deliberations.  

The Defence led by its lead counsel, Bernabé Nekuie presented eight grounds of appeal and asked for the acquittal of their client or reduced sentence.   

The Counsel vehemently challenged Trial Chamber's findings that Munyakazi was a de facto leader of Interahamwe militia who actively took part in the massacres at Shangi and Mibilizi churches and denied that his client facilitated transportation of militias to crime sites.

‘'Munyakazi was a simple farmer. This is mischaracterization of findings by the Trial Chamber,'' Nekuie said adding that ‘'my client was neither a de facto leader of Interahamwe nor was he an influential member in Bugarama commune.''

The defence also criticized the Trial Chamber for being biased in the assessment of witnesses to the advantage of prosecution and that it ignored the defence of alibi presented by the appellant for April 29 and 30, 1994 events in Shangi and Mibilizi churches.

In his remarks before the Appeals Chamber, Munyakazi himself said ‘'I would like to say even before God, I do not have any blood on my hands on the killings (of Tutsis). If that is the case, Allah will kill me. I have never collaborated with any Interahamwe.''     

Munyakazi, the father of 13 children with two wives was arrested in May 2004 in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where he lived as an Imam.

His trial started on 22 April, 2009. The prosecutor rested his case on June 4, 2009 after having called 12 witnesses and the defence did the same on October 15 the same year after presenting 20 witnesses including the defendant himself.


© Hirondelle News Agency