Prisoner fearing Covid-19 infection ask s for release

Prisoner fearing Covid-19 infection ask s for release

CONVICTED Rwandan Genocide prisoner, Laurent Semanza, has asked the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (Mechanism) that he should be released from prison on pretext of Covid-19 fears.

Mr Semanza, who was sentenced to serve 35 years in prison made the appeal on 20 May 2005, claiming that the prison he lives in is infected with Covid-19, hence; there is a danger of him contracting it.

The application is before the Mechanism President, Judge Carmel Agius, who after being furnished with the information from the Mechanism Registrar, Mr Abubacarr Tambadou, will decide on it.

The former mayor of Bicumbi Commune, stood trial for violence committed at Ruhanga Church and Musha Church in Gikoro Commune and at Mwulire Hill and Mabare Mosque in Bicumbi Commune between April and July 1994.

The prosecution charged Semanza with direct and superior responsibility of genocide, incitement to commit genocide; complicity to commit genocide; crime against humanity for acts of murder, extermination, persecution, torture, and rape; and war crimes for acts of violence to life and outrages upon dignity. He was eventually convicted and sentenced.

On March 11th this year, Semanza filed the motion seeking immediate early release due to the presence of Covid-19 in the prison, where he is serving his sentence (in Benin, West Africa) and the high risk he faces if he were to contract the disease. The Mechanism has two branches – one in Arusha, Tanzania and another in The Hague, Netherlands.

The Judge requested detailed submissions from the Registrar regarding the epidemiological situation in the prison, steps taken to limit further Covid-19 infections in and the procedures in place to treat prisoners, who already have contracted the virus, including the capacity of nearby medical institutions to provide necessary care for those infected.

On 19th March this year, Registrar Tambadou filed a confidential and ex parte submission, confirming that adequate medical care is available to all persons serving their sentences in Benin under the supervision of the Mechanism, including for the handling of Covid-19 related cases.

Judge Agius ruled thus: "Noting that the Registrar further reports, inter alia, that the prison has isolated the convicted persons who tested positive for Covid-19 from the remainder of the prison population, including the convicted persons who have not tested positive for Covid-19; considering, however, that I am still awaiting other information that is necessary for me to adjudicate the application.

"He noted that the Registrar has already indicated that he will file a supplemental submission providing additional information once it is received; hereby the Registrar to continue to urgently liaise with the Beninese authorities and to file a submission at the earliest possible opportunity."

In 2003, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) Trial Chamber, at Arusha, convicted Semanza of genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity for massacres committed at Musha Church and Mwulire Hill and convicted Semanza of murder, rape, and torture as crimes against humanity for instigating a crowed in Gikoro Commune to rape Tutsi women before killing them.

In 2005, the Appeals Chamber rejected all of Semanza's appeals, including his contention that the Trial Chamber was biased against him. The Chamber accepted the Prosecution's appeal that the Trial Chamber erred in its assessment of Semanza's liability for crimes committed at Musha Church and reversed his acquittal. In light of the Trial Court's errors, the Appeals Chamber increased Semanza's sentence from 25 years to 35 years' imprisonment.

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