The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda convicted a former tea factory manager of genocide today, ruling that Alfred Musema led Hutu killers into a factory where Tutsi workers had sought refuge and raped a Tutsi girl.
The verdict marked the seventh conviction by the U.N. tribunal, which was convened to try those responsible for the killing of more than 500,000 Rwandan Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994, and the first of a private individual.
"Most of our defendants are very senior officials in government and the military," said Kingsley C. Moghalu, spokesman for the tribunal, which is based in the Tanzanian city of Arusha.
Musema, 50, was a significant figure in Rwanda by dint of his position as director of a large tea factory in Gisovu, in the western part of the country. In 1994, when a government led by extremist ethnic Hutus began a systematic slaughter of the minority Tutsis, Musema joined the army and militia that carried out most of the killings, a three-judge panel determined.
"Musema personally led attacks [on] large numbers of Tutsi refugees and raped a young Tutsi woman," said the judgment, which was read aloud by Judge Lennart Aspegren of Sweden. "He knowingly and consciously participated in the commission of crimes and never showed remorse for his personal role in the commission of atrocities."
The panel found Musema guilty of genocide, mass murder and rape. He was the second defendant convicted of rape by the Rwanda tribunal, following a 1998 ruling that established sexual assault as a factor in the genocide. "This tribunal has really felt strongly that it needs to shine a spotlight on rape," Moghalu said. "We know that it was used systematically against the Tutsis."
Witnesses said Musema turned the factory into a killing ground and that, after he raped a Tutsi woman, he encouraged four employees of his factory to rape her as well.
While most previous defendants have denied the substance of the charges, Musema was the first to claim flatly that he was not at the scene of the crimes. He offered his passport as evidence, displaying stamps showing he had traveled to neighboring Zaire, now called Congo, on the dates he was accused of committing atrocities. The judges dismissed much of that evidence, but Moghalu said portions appeared to prevent a finding of guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt" on six other charges on which Musema was acquitted.
The Rwanda tribunal is chartered to mete out justice for crimes committed in the central African genocide, much as the better-known tribunal in The Hague is concerned with Balkan war crimes. The 33 defendants awaiting trial before the Arusha tribunal include the most prominent of the alleged organizers, many of whom were apprehended in third countries; Musema was arrested in Switzerland in 1995. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, a former president of Rwanda's Seventh Day Adventist Church, to be handed over to the tribunal from the United States, where he had sought refuge.