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Genocide trial

January 18, 2011

Onesphore R. came to Germany from Rwanda in 2002 as a refugee. Now the former mayor stands trial in his adoptive country, accused of organizing three massacres in Rwanda's 1994 genocide.

A genocide memorial in Ruanda, consisting of hundreds of skulls
More than 800,000 Tutsis were killed in 1994Image: AP

Germany's first trial involving the Rwandan genocide began Tuesday, as an asylum seeker appeared before a court in Frankfurt.

Onesphore R., a former Rwandan mayor, is accused of organizing three massacres in which over 3,700 Tutsi were killed after seeking refuge in churches. He stands trial on charges of murder, genocide and incitement to both.

"R. was a wheel in the cogs of the genocide," Dominic Johnson, Africa correspondent for the German daily taz told Deutsche Welle.

"If you like, he was one of many mayors in Rwanda who organized killings, who out of loyalty to the Rwandan state thought they had to participate in the eradication of the Tutsi minority, which is what the Hutu government at the time wanted."

Refuge in Germany

R., a 53-year-old member of the Hutu tribe, arrived in Germany as a refugee in 2002. It was only in 2007 that an international arrest warrant aroused the attention of German prosecutors.

Onesphore R.
The case of Onesphore R. could trigger a number of similar cases in GermanyImage: dapd

He was first held in police custody for six months in 2008, but was released because the evidence against him was based on hearsay. A new warrant for his arrest was issued July 21, 2010.

The defense team does not claim the massacres didn’t take place, but it rejects the charges that R. was involved in them and that the charge of genocide can be applied.

Yet the prosecution is confident they have sufficient evidence. They've also worked with the Rwandan government, which backs the Frankfurt case. Over 50 witnesses have been summoned including Rwandan genocide survivors and German investigators.

The trial is expected to last up to two years and, if found guilty, R. would most likely receive a life sentence.

More cases to come

It is the first time that the Rwandan genocide has been the subject of a court case in Germany - yet experts say it might be only the first of a number of similar cases.

"There certainly are other African cases coming up," Professor Kai Ambos, specialist for international criminal law at Göttingen University told Deutsche Welle.

"There is for instance a case involving members of the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) rebel group. And there will be more cases coming, simply because many of these suspects came to Europe."

"They either go to France, Belgium or Germany and so since they are on our territory, we can detain them and then, in coordination with the international criminal court, we will prosecute them."

The 1994 Rwandan genocide left at least 800,000 people dead, most of them members of the country's Tutsi minority.

Author: Andreas Illmer
Editor: Michael Lawton