August 28, 2009 / 4:27 PM / 10 years ago

Rwanda ex-pastor faces genocide charge in Finland

* Bazaramba sought asylum in Finland, denies genocide

* Finland feared he would not get fair trial in Rwanda



By Brett Young

HELSINKI, Aug 28 (Reuters) - A 58-year-old former Baptist church pastor from Rwanda will face a possible life jail sentence for his role in the 1994 Hutu-led massacres when Finland’s first genocide trial starts next week.

Francois Bazaramba, who sought asylum in Finland in 2003 and has been in detention since 2007, goes on trial on Tuesday. He denies genocide and 15 counts of murder.

Finland refused in February to extradite Bazaramba to Rwanda, saying he might not get a fair trial there. Finnish law allows its courts to try those charged with crimes like genocide wherever they took place.

"This is significant. It’s important that Finland has taken this responsibility," said Kimmo Nuotio, professor of criminal law at the University of Helsinki.

"This is something for which there was no alternative. The Nordic countries have been promoting the development of an international criminal order, that there should be an end to impunity," he said.

The trial, expected to last several months, will be held in the district court of Porvoo, where Bazaramba has been living some 50 km (30 miles) east of Helsinki. It marks one of the Nordic country’s highest-profile cases.

Rwanda accuses Bazaramba of orchestrating the murder of 5,000 people in the country in 1994. A total of about 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.

The case in Finland comes as the work by the Arusha, Tanzania-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) winds up. The court, set up in 1997 to try the masterminds of the massacres, had until last year to complete all trials, and has until 2010 to hear all appeals.



UNIVERSAL JURISDICTION

Reflecting the scale of the Finnish trial, the Office of the Prosecutor General said around 100 witnesses were examined in pre-trial work by the National Bureau of Investigation, most of this done abroad.

Finland’s Minister of Justice, Tuija Brax, said the Nordic country was both capable and ready to host the trial.

"We have specialists and lawyers working in international fields and expertise in international criminal cases ... It’s a global world, and we’re not an isolated island," she told Reuters in an interview.

Similar cases had been held in France, Germany and Britain, she said.

Bazaramba, a Hutu who is married with six children, lived since 1994 in countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia before travelling to Finland.

A court official in Porvoo said Bazaramba’s trial would be heard by four judges, one more than usual given the hectic schedule which includes a trip to Rwanda. There will be no jury. A life sentence in Finland means a minimum 12 years in jail.

Finnish State Prosecutor Raija Toiviainen said Finland could proceed with the case as it had criminalised genocide and had adopted the universal jurisdiction principle.

Bazaramba is charged with genocide in the municipality of Nyakizu in April and May 1994.

Finland’s neighbour Sweden in July became the first European country to approve the extradition of a suspected genocide crimes perpetrator to Rwanda, saying the African country’s legal system had improved in recent years.

(Additional reporting by Eva Lamppu and Julie Breton in Helsinki and George Obulutsa in Dar Es Salaam; Editing by Charles Dick)



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