Court convicts Rwandan defendant

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The Oslo City Court sentenced a man accused of playing a major role in genocide in Rwanda to Norway’s longest prison term of 21 years on Thursday. The defendant, 47-year-old Sadi Bugingo, emigrated to Norway after the genocide in 1994 and had been living in Bergen with a wife and children until his arrest in 2011.

His trial in Norway has been viewed as historic and a breakthrough in efforts to bring those behind the genocide to justice. Survivors of the Rwandan massacre that lasted for around 100 days have been brought to Norway to testify against him, and have said they were glad Norway hosted the trial, which also aimed to prevent Norway from being seen as a safe haven for international criminals.

Appealed on the spot
Bugingo, who reportedly fled to Norway 12 years ago but is not a Norwegian citizen, had denied the charges against him. He claimed he actually tried to save lives during the massacre, not kill the roughly 2,000 victims attributed to him. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Thursday that he appealed the conviction and prison term, severe by Norwegian standards, on the spot.

Judge Jonas Madsø in the city court known as Oslo Tingrett took two hours to read the entire 44-page verdict aloud, as is customary in Norwegian court cases. The judge said that many of the murders were carried out in a “beastly” manner, with women and children among the victims of machetes and clubs. Madsø’s conclusion was based on a unanimous decision of the judicial panel hearing Bugingo’s case: 21 years in prison for being an accomplice to the murders of between 1,000 and 2,000 people.

“The court believes it has been proven that the defendant was part of planning the murders, which were part of the genocide in Rwanda,” Madsø read. A total of 663 days will be subtracted from the 21-year term, reported NRK, to give Bugingo credit for the time he already has spent in custody while waiting for his trial to being last fall.

Witnesses apparently more credible
The court seems to have believed the witnesses testifying against Bugingo, not Bugingo himself, who claimed his own wife belongs to the ethnic group of tutsi victims murdered, and that he spent most of his time during the massacre running his own shop. The court ended up ruling that Bugingo, who initially lived quietly in Norway until he was uncovered and charged after a three-year investigation in May 2011, was an accomplice to the murders of around 1,000 persons in Berenga, several hundred at a church in Economat and several more at a community hospital in Kibungo.

The verdict was read to Bugingo, who had been working as a janitor in Bergen until his arrest, by an interpreter when the judge was finished, and he immediately appealed. “He has pleaded his innocence throughout this entire case and therefore it can’t surprise anyone that he’s appealing,” his defense attorney Harald Stabell told NRK.no. “He says he had nothing to do with the genocide.”

The appeals case is due to begin this spring.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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