HAGUE - The appeals court in The Hague, Netherlands, yesterday, sentenced a genocide suspect to life imprisonment for crimes committed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tusti.
Joseph Mpambara had appealed against a 20-year jail term handed to him in 2009 when he was found guilty of torturing two Tutsi mothers and their four children to death and holding a German-Rwandan couple and their baby against their will for several hours in April 1994.
But the appeals court found him guilty of a crime for which he had been let off during the previous hearing – an attack on an Adventist church where hundreds of Tutsis were killed.
According to the Dutch media, the presiding Judge Raoul Dekkers told Mpambara that he was guilty of war crimes and upped the sentence from 20 years to life.
Rwanda welcomed the decision by the Dutch court, with official stressing that this is an indication that genocide suspects cannot escape justice.
“He was convicted to 20 years imprisonment sentence 2009 and appealed against the verdict, the Dutch prosecution had appealed against the lighter sentence too, the appeals court came here several times to hear the witnesses,” said John Bosco Siboyintore, the head of the Genocide Fugitive Tracking Unit (GFTU)
“Now they have come up with the life sentence, which is the highest sentence in the Netherlands. We are very pleased with this development.”
Siboyintore said that the decision was timely despite its delay though justice had finally been delivered.
“We can say justice has been done, the given sentence is proportionate with the crime committed,” he said.
The judges said there was compelling evidence that Mpambara ordered the killing of two Tutsi mothers and their children hauled out of an ambulance they were using to flee the massacres. They were bludgeoned and hacked with clubs and machetes.
He also oversaw and commanded attacks in Kibuye, in the western part of the country. The crimes committed by Mpambara, 43, became known when he applied for asylum in the Netherlands.
According to Jean de Dieu Mucyo, the Executive Secretary of the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG), Mpambara’s case should serve as a precedent for other countries harbouring genocide suspects.
“Increasing the sentence from 20 years to life shows how seriously the court considered the charges. Mpambara is remembered to have committed horrendous crimes,” Mucyo said.
“We would actually wish that he is extradited to serve the sentence here but that is not the most important thing; what is clear is that countries indeed recognise that the genocide took place here and that its perpetrators must face the law.”
Mucyo said that while the decision is commendable, a lot more needs to be done as some European countries continue to harbour genocide suspects while even those that have arrested them, the processes to prosecute them are slow.
He said that it was important for countries - like the Netherlands - which recognise the Genocide, to enact laws which punish genocide revisionists who live on their soil.
The president of the umbrella of genocide survivors Ibuka Jean Pierre Dusingizemungu said that finally, genocide victims and survivors can now believe justice has indeed been delivered.
“It gives us hope that justice is taking its course. Of late, there have been a number of actions that indeed promise us that whoever committed atrocities during the genocide will have his day in court,” Dusingizemungu said.
“Recent developments in ICTR, different actions by states and now the decision by the Dutch court show that countries have finally woken up. The trend is positive and we urge such processes to bring suspects to justice to be fast tracked,” he added.
Who is Mpambara?
Mpambara is the brother of Obed Ruzindana, a businessman sentenced to 25 years imprisonment by the Appeal Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in 2001, for genocide and crimes against humanity.
Mpambara applied for asylum in the Netherlands in 1998 and was living in Hilversum at the time of his arrest in August 2006.
The Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) denied Mpambara an asylum application because he allegedly mounted a roadblock in his place of residence, Mugonero where people were killed on his, or his brother’s orders.
According to the IND there were strong reasons to believe that Mpambara was involved in massacres in Rwanda in 1994.
Mpambara was a member of the Interahamwe, a militia of a national state party, the National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development (MRND).
He is said to have been involved in the mass murder of Tutsi refugees in a complex of the Seventh Day Adventists in Rwanda, the murder of seven passengers of an ambulance, and acts of rape.