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The Prosecutor v. Sylvestre Gacumbitsi

Court International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (Trial Chamber III), Tanzania
Case number ICTR-2001-64-T
Decision title Judgment
Decision date 17 June 2004
  • The Prosecutor
  • Sylvestre Gacumbitsi
Categories Crimes against humanity, Genocide
Keywords extermination, genocide, Murder, rape
Other countries involved
  • Rwanda
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Following the death of Rwandan President Habyariamana in April 1994, ethnic tensions reignited the conflict in Rwanda between the Hutu and Tutsi populations.

The Accused in the present case, Sylvestre Gacumbitsi, was the mayor of Rusumo commune. He used his position of authority to meet with high ranking members within the commune and perpetuate a policy of extermination against the Tutsi population. He received weapons and distributed them to Hutus within the commune. He instigated the Hutu population to kill Tutsis and to rape Tutsi women. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda convicted Gacumbitsi of genocide and the crimes against humanity of rape and extermination. He was sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment. 

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Procedural history

On 19 June 2001, Judge Williams granted the request of the Prosecutor and requested the Tanzanian authorities to arrest the suspect, Sylvestre Gacumbisti, and detain him until his transfer to the Tribunal. 

On 20 June 2001, Judge Williams confirmed the indictment. The Accused was charged with genocide (or alternatively complicity in genocide) and extermination, murder and rape as crimes against humanity. That same day, Tanzanian authorities arrested the Accused and transferred him to the Tribunal’s Detention Facility.

On 26 June 2001, the Accused pleaded not guilty to the counts against him.

On 28 July 2003, the trial commenced with opening statements and closed on 25 November 2003 with the closure of the Defence case.

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Related developments

Both the Defence and the Prosecution appealed the decision of the Trial Chamber.

On 7 July 2006, the Appeals Chamber of the ICTR confirmed the Trial Chamber’s decision but also found the Accused guilty of murder as a crime against humanity. His sentence was increased to life imprisonment. Gacumbitsi is currently serving his life sentence at Koulikoro Prison in Mali.

Recent reports have surfaced alleging that the prisoners enjoy too comfortable a life at the facility, see All Africa, 'Rwanda Complains to UN Over Convict’s Lavish Life', 10 December 2012.

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Legally relevant facts

The Accused, Sylvestre Gacumbitsi, was the Mayor (bourgmestre) of Rusumo commune from 1983 until April 1994 (par. 6). On 6 April 1994, the Rwandan President Habyariamana died when his plane was shot down during flight; the blame was put on the Tutsis. On 7 and 8 April 1994, the Accused met with members of the Rwandan Gendarmerie who informed him that Tutsi’s must be killed in order to stop the war (paras. 90-91).

On 9 April 1994, the Accused held a meeting with the advisors of the Rusumo commune in which the Accused asked the advisors to hold secret meetings at which they would communicate to the Hutu to kill all the Tutsi (para. 93). The next day he collected boxes of weapons from the Kibungo gendarmerie camp and proceeded to have them deliveed to different locations in the commune (para. 95).

On 11 and 12 April 1994, the Accused travelled all over the commune in order to verify that his advisors had carried out his instructions (para. 96).

On 13 and 14 April 1994, the Accused spoke in front of large crowds of Hutu’s inciting them to take up arms against the enemy and hunt down all the Tutsi (paras. 97-99). As a result of his words, a number of Tutsis were attacked, their properties looted (paras. 98-99). The Accused further incited Hutu men to rape Tutsi women as a result of which a number of rapes and other acts of sexual violence occurred (para. 224).

On 15 April 1994, the Accused took part in an attack against Nyarubuye Parish at which many Tutsi refugees had gathered (para. 167). The Accused killed Tutsi himself and ordered policemen and Interahamwe militia to attack the refugees (paras. 168-170). The attack was repeated on 16 April 1994 in presence of and at the direction of the Accused (para. 171).

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Core legal questions

  • Does ordering as a mode of liability require a superior-subordinate relationship?
  • What is the definition of rape as a crime against humanity?

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Specific legal rules and provisions

  • Articles 2(3), 3, and 6(1),(3) of the Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

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Court's holding and analysis

The Trial Chamber held that whether ordering requires a superior-subordinate relationship must be determined on a case-by-case basis. An individual may derive his de jure or de facto authority from social, economic, political or administrative standing. The authority of an individual may be enhanced by coercive elements thus mere words of encouragement may amount to orders within the meaning of Article 6(1) of the Statute (para. 282).

The Chamber found that the Accused exercised authority only over the communal police (para. 283).

Any penetration of the victim’s vagina by the rapist with his genitals or with any object constitutes rape, although the definition of rape under Article 3(g) of the Statute is not limited to such acts alone (para. 321).

The Accused was found guilty of genocide and extermination and rape as crimes against humanity (para. 334). He was sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment (para. 356).

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Further analysis

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Instruments cited

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Related cases

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Additional materials