The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) found Aloys Simba, a former colonel, guilty of genocide and extermination during the 100-day massacres in which some 800,000 people, mainly minority Tutsis, were slaughtered by Hutu extremists.
A former officer and member of parliament, Simba had initially faced four counts but was aquitted on charges and conspiracy to commit genocide and murder, the ICTR said in a statement.
Prosecutors had sought a the maximum sentence of life imprisonment for Simba but the court sentenced him to 25 years, noting that he had not directly participated in the incident that led to his indictment.
Simba, 67, was among a group of soldiers who helped Rwanda’s late president Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, take power in a bloodless 1973 coup and remained very close to the leader until his death.
Habyarimana’s April 6, 1994, assassination sparked the massacres of Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus in which Simba was accused of playing a leading role, in the southern province of Gikongoro.
Elimination of Tutsis
Prosecution witnesses, including a former Rwandan soldier, testified that Simba had told colleagues after Habyarimana’s death that he had been called out of retirement to “eliminate this filth,” referring to Tutsis.
The charges stemmed from an April 21, 1994, massacre in which Hutu militia slaughtered thousands of Tutsi civilians in a 12-hour bloodletting at three locations, including a school where they had sought refuge.
The court found that Simba had supported the “highly coordinated operation” by distributing weapons at two sites and giving “encouragement and approval to the assailants by virtue of his prominent status in Rwandan society,” it said.
However, in sentencing Simba to a lighter jail term than what the prosecution had asked, the court said it was “not convinced that he was one of the architects of the massacres.”
The court said Simba “did not demonstrate any particular zeal or sadism” and noted that “he did not personally kill anyone and only remained at the sites for a brief period,” the statement said.
Simba to appeal
Simba’s lawyer, Sadikou Alao from Benin, had argued the the prosecution failed to prove the charges in the indictment and had produced no evidence to suggest his client had intended to commit any of the crimes of which he was accused.
After the ruling, Mr Alao said his client will appeal the tribunal’s decision, noting that presiding judge Erik Mose acknowledged that Simba was not directly involved in the massacre and played no role in its planning.
“We will not criticise the tribunal’s ruling,” Alao said. “We think the judges did what is legal, but we do not agree with them on the conviction. Our client ought to have been acquitted,”
Simba, who denied all the charges, was arrested in Senegal in 2001 and transferred to ICTR detention facilities in Tanzania’s northern town of Arusha the following year.