Genocide guilt Tribunal: First conviction for crimes against humanity in Rwanda is a tiny step forward.

September 08, 1998

JEAN-PAUL Akayesu was neither the biggest nor smallest fish in the Hutu genocide machine that tried to wipe out Rwandan Tutsis in 1994.

A mayor caught up in the madness of superiors, he was found guilty by three judges after an international tribunal's trial lasting from Jan. 9, 1997, to Sept. 2, 1998. He is guilty on nine counts of genocide, crimes against humanity, rape, murder and torture. The 300-page judgment links him to the deaths of 2,000 people.

Jean-Paul Akayesu has made history. He is the first person convicted of genocide, a half-century after the world ratified that as a crime to be judged and punished. The judgment is the first in which rape has been defined as a genocidal crime.

Whatever the sentence by the United Nations-sponsored tribunal or the fate of his appeal, Akayesu's conviction shows the world cares about crimes against humanity in Africa as well as in Europe. It is also a solitary ray of good news for the world effort to establish a permanent court for such crimes.

If this agonizing trial has shown the way for more efficient, speedy and morally convincing justice for others by the international tribunal, Akayesu, the convicted genocidal murderer, will have served some good purpose in his life.

Pub Date: 9/08/98

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