Genocide accused gets life

By Helen Nyambura

Dar es Salaam - A UN court on Thursday sentenced a Hutu extremist politician to life in prison for murder, genocide and crimes against humanity including 27 rapes perpetrated during Rwanda's 1994 genocide.

In the shortest ever trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the court sentenced Mika Muhimana after testimony from a series of witnesses who said they were raped by, or on the instructions of, the 44-year-old former municipal council leader.

One witness told the court in Arusha in northern Tanzania that Muhimana had once used a machete to rip the abdomen of a pregnant Tutsi woman and cut out the foetus. The baby cried beside its mother's corpse before it died.

In one instance the local leader raped a 15-year-old Tutsi girl in front of a group of Hutu militiamen, while in another, he banged the head of his victim on the floor while raping her, witnesses said.

Once after raping two women, Muhimana took them out of a building and invited people to look at their naked bodies.

"The chamber finds no mitigating circumstances and the chamber deems it appropriate to impose the maximum sentence," Roland Amoussouga, the tribunal's spokesperson, said from the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha.

"For genocide, he will serve for the rest of his life and the same for rape as a crime against humanity, and murder as a crime against humanity. The sentences will run concurrently."

Life in prison is the most severe penalty that can be handed down by the UN court based in Arusha.

In the trial, which lasted only 34 trial days, Muhimana's second wife told the tribunal that she married him because he saved her life. She is a Tutsi.

Many of the 19 prosecution witnesses were his victims. Defence lawyers arraigned 33 witnesses, mainly detainees from Rwandan prisons.

Muhimana was arrested in Tanzania's commercial capital of Dar es Salaam in November 1999. His conviction is the second this year after that of Vincent Rutaganira, who pleaded guilty to involvement in the genocide in March and was handed six years.

The genocide in the tiny central African country began on April 6, 1994 after the shooting down of a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana. In the mass killings that followed extremist Hutus killed killed about 800 000 Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus in about 100 days.

Muhimana's conviction brings to 22 the number of people found guilty by the tribunal. Three have been acquitted and another 16 await trial.

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