Rwanda Working with Finland on Genocide Trial

02 September 2009

The Rwandan government is offering subdued praise for the Finnish trial of a former Rwandan Baptist pastor suspected of genocide crimes. Rwandan leaders say although they should be handling the case, Finland's decision to prosecute the suspect is a step towards justice.

The trial of Francois Bazaramba began Tuesday in Finland. The former pastor is being tried for allegedly organizing the killing of 5,000 people during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The suspect arrived in Finland in 2003 seeking asylum, but has been under custody by authorities since 2007. The country has refused to extradite the prisoner to Rwanda for fear he would not receive a fair trial there.

Bazaramba faces life imprisonment if convicted. His fate is to be decided by a panel of four judges.

The spokesman for the chief prosecutor of Rwanda, Augustin Nkuzi, says the government is not pleased Finland has denied extradition, but the government is happy that the suspect is undergoing a trial for his alleged actions.

Nkuzi condemned other nations that have refused to hand over genocide suspects to Rwanda, yet offer no alternative avenue for trying the suspects.

Finland is claiming jurisdiction over the Bazaramba case through a legal doctrine known as the "universality principle." Proponents of the universality principle claim some criminal acts, such as genocide, are so heinous the crimes are committed against all of humanity.

A new Finnish law gives the country the right to try such cases as long as the suspect was living in or arrested within its territory. A number of human rights groups support the universality principle, saying it closes some of the legal loopholes exploited by international fugitives.

The defense team for the accused is seeking to discredit the charges against their client by saying the evidence collected against him was extracted through torture.

According to Nkuzi, the court will have a chance to hear the testimony of primary witnesses firsthand.  

Nkuzi says the two nations have been working together to enable the court to move to Rwanda later this month to carry out hearings.

Bazaramba is accused of being one of the chief orchestrators of the mass killings in Rwanda's Nyakizu Province during April and May 1994.

About 800,000 people nationwide died during the ethnic massacre, which targeted mostly the minority Tutsis and some moderate Hutus.