By Moses Gisa
Survivors of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi have commended the United Nations International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT)’s ruling to reject Genocide convict Laurent Semanza’s request to be released from prison before completion of his 35-year jail sentence in Benin.
As seen on the IRMCT’s website, the court’s presiding judge Carmel Agius ruled that reasons given by Semanza’s lawyer in his July 26, 2018 and March 16, 2020 applications were inappropriate given the gravity of Semanza’s crimes. “For the foregoing reasons and pursuant to Article 26 of the Statute, Rules 150 and 151 of the Rules, and paragraph 19 of the Practice Direction, I hereby deny Semanza’s Application for early release,” reads Agius’s verdict.
“We welcome the court decision to reject Semanza’s early release application. Releasing him would have been a compromise to justice of both victims and survivors of the Genocide,” a Genocide survivor commented on Twitter.”
Judge Agius affirmed that Semanza as a convict of genocide, murder, and extermination as crimes against humanity was not eligible for early release upon having served two-thirds of the sentence. On the aspect of Semanza’s state of health, the judge mentioned that there was no indication of his health being in danger that would make it inappropriate for him to remain in prison any longer.
The Government of Rwanda had raised concerns about Semanza’s early release from prison.
Rwanda’s submissions requested that his application should be denied owing to the fact of the gravity of his crimes and the irreparable psychological harm his release would create for his numerous victims and survivors of his crimes. Rwanda considered his application as premature and in violation of the legal framework.
Rwanda had also aired its concerns on Semanza’s release that it would become an impediment to the country’s reconciliation process since Semanza does not appear to appreciate the gravity of his crimes and the fact that there was lack of acceptance of responsibility of the crimes for which he was convicted.
“Semanza’s new development manifests the IRMCT’s course to deliver justice to the Genocide victims. It should serve as a lesson to people like Theodor Meron, the former president of International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda-ICTR whose tenure was marked by granting freedom to Genocide perpetrators before completion of their jail terms,” said a legal expert.
Meron had been on the spot over his biased rulings which portrayed him as a Genocide denier who belittled the Genocide. During his reign as president of the ICTR, Theodor released notorious genocide convicts as Juvenal Rugambarara, who replaced Semanza at Mayor of Bicumbi, Paul Nsengimana, former Mayor of Gikoro, the duo conspired with Semanza to plan and execute the Tutsi massacres. Others include Ferdinand Nahimana, Father Emmanuel Rukundo, Col Alphonse Nteziryayo, Gerard Ntakirutimana, Captain Innocent Sagahutu, , Omar Serushago, Col Tharcisse Muvunyi, Michel Bagaragaza, and Col Aloys Simba.
On May 15, 2003 Semanza was convicted on five counts of genocide, crimes including murder, torture, and rape by the ICTR, which sentenced him to 25 years imprisonment. When he appealed the court’s verdict in 2005 his sentence was increased to 35 years and 6 months.
Semanza was the former mayor of Bicumbi Commune, now Rwamagana District. He masterminded the massacres of Tutsi in Mwulire. He was convicted of taking part in killings at Ruhanga and Musha churches, and Mabare Mosque.