BERLIN (Reuters) - A German court sentenced a Rwandan man already behind bars for his role in a 1994 massacre to life in prison on Tuesday after finding him guilty of the more serious crime of actively participating in genocide.
Onesphore Rwabukombe, who has lived in Germany since 2002, was a mayor in Rwanda at the time of the genocide in which an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by dominant Hutu forces in 100 days.
Last year a court in Frankfurt ruled that Rwabukombe, a 58-year old ethnic Hutu, had overseen and assisted in the murder of at least 450 men, women and children at the Kiziguro church compound in east Rwanda, and sentenced him to 14 years in jail.
In that trial, he was not found guilty of killing anyone himself.
However, in May, the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe said he had also been actively involved in the killings in the central African state and, citing evidence from the original three-year trial, referred the case back to Frankfurt.
The evidence had included testimony from more than 100 witnesses who described scenes of slaughter with attackers using machetes, sticks and hatchets and directed in part by Rwabukombe.
They described him driving militia men to the site of the massacre in his own pick-up truck and ordering the attackers to “get to work”.
On Tuesday, the Frankfurt court said it agreed with the Federal Court.
“He knowingly and deliberately prepared, organized, commanded and carried out the massacre with the other authorities,” said the court in a statement, adding Rwabukombe disputed even being at the site of the massacre.
“The especially grave nature of the guilt of the accused is a consequence of the great number of victims and extent of suffering and torment inflicted on those killed over a period of many hours,” said the court.
This was Germany’s first trial related to the mass killings in Rwanda and some lawyers say international courts are better equipped to deal with such cases. Rwanda prefers suspects to be extradited to face justice at home.
After the 1994 genocide, traditional community courts in Rwanda dealt with about 2 million cases and assisted in reconciliation. The U.N.-backed International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, based in Tanzania, has also tried suspects.
The defendant can still appeal, said the court.
Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Ruth Pitchford