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01 Sep 2009 15:45
A former Rwandan Baptist pastor went on trial in Finland on Tuesday, accused of genocide in the African country’s 1994 massacres.
Francois Bazaramba, who sought asylum in Finland in 2003 and has been in detention since 2007, is accused of murder and of organising killings. Rwanda, which has sought his extradition, says he orchestrated the slaughter of 5 000 people.
Finland is holding the trial under its “universal jurisdiction” principle, which means it can try people charged with genocide regardless of where it took place.
Bazaramba (58) faces a life sentence for his role in the killings, led by members of the Hutu tribe, where a total of about 800 000 people died, mainly minority Tutsis.
He also faces 15 counts of murder.
“[He] was one of the most significant leading figures in the genocide in the Nyakizu region,” state prosecutor Raija Toiviainen told the courtroom in the town of Porvoo, about 50km east of Helsinki.
“My client denies the charges in full,” said Bazaramba’s laywer Ville Hoikkala. “Neither did my client have that kind of influence in the community.”
Bazaramba, wearing a dark blue suit and red tie, sat calmly during the hearing, and smiled to the courtroom shortly before the trial broke for lunch.
The trial is being heard by four judges, with no jury. A life sentence in Finland means a minimum 12 years in jail.
“As I see it, we have a tough and demanding mission ahead of us,” Chief Justice Lars Karlsson said, opening the hearing. “Our common goal is to take this trial through as efficiently as possible.”
The Nordic country refused in February to extradite Bazaramba to Rwanda, saying he may not get a fair trial there, although neighbour Sweden said in July it would extradite a genocide suspect to Rwanda as its legal system had improved.—Reuters
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