The government has said that its earlier request to have key genocide suspect, Jean Baptiste Gatete transferred to Rwanda for trial, has been vindicated.
This follows yesterday’s decision by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to hand a life sentence against Gatete, after finding him guilty of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, especially in the Eastern Province.
Life is the heaviest sentence that can be handed down by the UN-backed court that is based in Arusha, Tanzania.
Gatete is one of the five suspects who had been referred for trial to Rwanda by the ICTR prosecutor, but the referral was rejected by the Trial Chamber.
“The fact that an international court handed him a life sentence only vindicates our request...who knows, maybe he could have received a lighter sentence in our courts, but the important thing is that he was found guilty,” said Justice Minister, Tharcisse Karugarama.
Gatete, who during the Genocide was a director in the Ministry of Women and Family Affairs, is infamous in the former Murambi Commune, now in Eastern Province, where he had served as Bourgmestre (Mayor ) many years prior to the Genocide.
According to a statement, the tribunal concluded that he had retained influence in Murambi and surrounding areas and was responsible for the massacres of thousands of Tutsis in three parishes of Rwankuba, Kiziguro and Mukarange.
Pronouncing the judgment, Khalida Rachid Khan, the presiding judge said that Gatete equipped Interahamwe militias to kill Tutsis in these areas.
"The guns and grenades brought by Gatete and other officials were a decisive factor in the success of the assault," the ruling reads in part.
However, Karugarama was generally upbeat on the ruling, saying that justice had prevailed.
“The life imprisonment against Gatete is a deserved sentence. He will go where he belongs; away from the public which he sought to exterminate,” said Karugarama.
The minister accused the convict of having been ‘vicious’ and ‘thorough’ in organising killings of innocent people which, he said ,qualifies him to be a human butcher.
Janvier Folongo, the Executive Secretary of the Genocide survivors’ umbrella IBUKA, said that the ruling coming just a few days before the 17th commemoration of the Genocide, sends good signals.
“There is nothing more comforting to survivors than seeing justice prevailing against those who took away our loved ones. This even decreases the rate of trauma cases that are rampant during this difficult period of mourning,” said Folongo.
For Ezekiel Gasheruka, a genocide survivor from Murambi, the sentence should be complemented by bringing Gatete to Rwanda to complete his sentence.
“It is a good thing that he has received a well-deserved sentence, but he should be brought to Rwanda to complete the sentence. And before being taken wherever he would be detained, he should be brought to Murambi to witness his failure of finishing us off as he had wished,” said Gasheruka.
Gatete becomes the first suspect to be sentenced, this year, by the 16-year old tribunal that has been given until the end of next year to close shop.
The ICTR was instituted by the UN Security Council with a mandate to try masterminds of the Genocide that left over 1 million people dead.