By Madeline Chambers for REUTERS, 21/05 16:30 CET
BERLIN (Reuters) – A Rwandan already behind bars for assisting a massacre in Rwanda could face life in prison after Germany’s top court said he was also guilty of the graver crime of actively participating in genocide.
Onesphore Rwabukombe, who has lived in Germany since 2002, was a mayor in north Rwanda at the time of the 1994 genocide, in which an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by dominant Hutu forces in 100 days.
Last year a Frankfurt court ruled that Rwabukombe, an ethnic Hutu, had overseen and assisted in the murder of at least 450 men, women and children at the Kiziguro church compound in east Rwanda, and sentenced him to 14 years in jail. He was not found guilty of killing anyone himself.
However, the Bundesgerichtshof, or Federal Court of Justice, said on Thursday after hearing appeals from both sides that he had also been actively involved in the killings and referred the case back to the lower Frankfurt court.
The higher court in Karlsruhe cited evidence from the original three-year trial, in which more than 100 witnesses described scenes of slaughter with attackers using machetes, sticks and hatchets and directed in part by Rwabukombe.
They described him driving militia men to the site of the massacre in his own pick-up truck and ordering the attackers to “get to work”.
“The statements do not only prove the objective offence of being an accessory to genocide but also those of perpetration,” said the higher court.
The sentence for someone involved in trying to wipe out a group of people because of their nationality, race or religion was life imprisonment, it added.
Most of the victims had sought refuge on the walled church premises.
After the 1994 genocide, traditional community courts in Rwanda dealt with about 2 million cases and assisted in reconciliation. The U.N.-backed International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, based in Tanzania, has also tried suspects.
This was Germany’s first trial related to the mass killings and a defence lawyer for Rwabukombe said international courts were better equipped to deal with such cases. Rwanda wants suspects abroad to be extradited to face justice at home.
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Stephen Brown and Andrew Roche)