[JURIST] A Rwandan opposition politician pleaded guilty Thursday to charges connected to the 1994 genocide [HRW backgrounder] and was sentenced to 17 years in prison. Joseph Ntawangundi, an aid to Hutu opposition leader Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, was convicted in absentia [New Times report] in 2007, and originally sentenced to 19 years in prison. Ntawangundi pleaded guilty after returning to Rwanda after many years in exile and received a two-year reduction in his sentence. The panel of judges for the Gacaca [official website], a system of local courts created to accelerate genocide trial proceedings, found Ntawangundi guilty of organizing the deaths of Tutsis while principal of a school in Gitwe. Ntawangundi originally maintained that he was not present in Rwanda at the time of the killing. The decision comes at a time when current Tutsi President Paul Kagame [official website] has received criticism [press release] from Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] for his treatment of opposition parties. Ingabire Umuhoza denied [New Times report] Ntawangundi's participation, arguing that Ntawangundi left the country in 1992 and that the Gacaca courts are being used to undermine political opposition.
Rwanda continues to try and convicted individuals who were responsible for the 1994 genocide. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website; JURIST news archive], was established for the prosecution of high-level officials responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law during the Rwandan genocide. Last week, the Appeals Chamber of the ICTR affirmed the genocide conviction [JURIST report] of popular Rwandan singer-songwriter Simon Bikindi [Trial Watch profile]. The court also reversed the conviction for counts of genocide, murder, and extermination against Rwandan district attorney Simeon Nchamihigo. Earlier this month, the widow of assassinated Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana, Agathe Habyarimana, was arrested [JURIST report] in France on suspicions of complicity in genocide and was later released on bail. In January, the Rwandan government released a report [JURIST report] concluding that the assassination of then-president Juvenal Habyarimana, which sparked the genocide, was the work of Hutu extremists.