Councillor Rutaganira strikes a good deal

20 December 2004 by Thierry Cruvellier

At the beginning of the New Year, if the judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) stick to the terms of the agreement between the defence and the prosecutor, Vincent Rutaganira can consider himself a lucky man. On 8 December, the former district councillor of a small town in western Rwanda not only became the fourth Rwandan to plead guilty before a UN court. He will also be distinguished by the unprecedented conditions in which the prosecutor accepted his confession. 

At his court hearing, Vincent Rutaganira, who has decided to plead guilty of complicity by omission, was visibly embarrassed by the unexpected limelight generated by his case. The public gallery was unusually full. He seemed uncomfortable under the gaze of so many observers. Vincent Rutaganira looked more like the herbal healer that he is than the former district chief where the massacre of the Tutsis of Mubuga took place before him and right by his home. Leaning on a stick, he stood up, walked towards the witness box and confirmed that he had signed the agreement "in full conscience, without pressure, threats or promises". He then certified, as required by law, that his guilty plea was "unequivocal". "I ask the families of victims to forgive me. I regret not having been able to save the people who had taken refuge in the Mubuga church," he declared, unable to say much more due to his difficulty in speaking French.

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