Jean Kambanda

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Jean Kambanda
5th Prime Minister of Rwanda
In office
April 9, 1994[1] – July 19, 1994
President Théodore Sindikubwabo
Preceded by Agathe Uwilingiyimana
Succeeded by Faustin Twagiramungu
Personal details
Born (1955-10-19) October 19, 1955 (age 58)
Political party Democratic Republican Movement
Profession Banker
Jean Kambanda
Born (1955-10-19) October 19, 1955 (age 58)
Occupation politician, former Prime Minister
Criminal charge
genocide and crimes against humanity
Criminal penalty
life imprisonment
Criminal status Imprisoned in Mali

Jean Kambanda (born October 19, 1955) was the Prime Minister in the caretaker government of Rwanda from the start of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. He is the only head of government to plead guilty to genocide, in the first group of such convictions since the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide came into effect in 1951.

Kambanda holds a degree in commercial engineering and began his career as a low-level United Popular BPR banker, rising as a technocrat to become the chair of the bank. At the time of the April 1994 crisis he was vice president of the Butare section of the opposition Democratic Republican Movement (MDR).

He was sworn in as prime minister on April 9, 1994 after the President, Juvénal Habyarimana, and former Prime Minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, were assassinated. The opposition MDR had been promised the prime ministerial post in the transitional government established by the Arusha accords, but Kambanda leapfrogged several levels in the party's hierarchy to take the job from the initial choice, Faustin Twagiramungu. He remained in the post for the hundred days of the genocide until July 19, 1994. After leaving office he fled the country.

Criminal responsibility[edit]

Kambanda was arrested in Nairobi on July 18, 1997, after a seven-week multinational stakeout and transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The court accused him of distributing small arms and ammunition in Butare and Gitarama with the knowledge that they would be used to massacre civilians. He was found guilty after pleading guilty, a plea he later rescinded, but which rescission the Court did not accept.

On September 4, 1998, the ICTR condemned Jean Kambanda to life imprisonment for:

  • Genocide, and Agreement to commit genocide
  • Public and direct incitation to commit genocide
  • Aiding and abetting genocide
  • Failing in his duty to prevent the genocide which occurred while he was prime minister
  • Two counts of crimes against humanity

This verdict was upheld by the ICTR Appeal Chamber on October 19, 2000, and Kambanda is currently jailed in Mali.

Blaming the army[edit]

Although Kambanda pled guilty after receiving legal counsel, his lawyer argued that the prime minister was a "puppet" of the military, who had dragged him from his bank, after killing the previous prime minister, to legitimize their control of their country. He asked the ICTR for a sentence of two years because he acted "under duress with limited responsibility".

The court concluded that this defense against a charge of genocide was irrelevant.

In 2006 he testified for the defence of Colonel Theoneste Bagosora in the 'Military 1' trial of senior military leaders. That testimony was the former Prime Minister's first and only public testimony on the 1994 events in Rwanda and in which he said that he had never found a plan to commit genocide. The decisions of the ICTR re Kambanda have been subject to criticism.

Responsible but not guilty[edit]

In his appeal, Kambanda said that his confession had been in error, due to poor or misunderstood counsel. He said that his objective was not to plead guilty but to tell the truth. According to the ICTR appeal:

"Kambanda noted that while he felt politically responsible for what happened, he did not feel guilty at the time and does not feel guilty now."

Legal legacy[edit]

As a head of government convicted by an international court, Kambanda is an important figure, with the verdict against him forming a precedent against the legal principle of State Immunity (which was used to reject an extradition order for Augusto Pinochet, for example).[2]

Preceded by
Agathe Uwilingiyimana
Prime Minister of Rwanda
April 9, 1994 – July 19, 1994
Succeeded by
Faustin Twagiramungu


External links[edit]

"Of what are ordinary human beings capable -- be it in Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, El Salvador or elsewhere? Who is capable of genocide? And who is not?"
The thesis is that Kambanda's conviction was accelerated to bolster confidence and support of the court within Rwanda. The principal charge against the workings of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is that Kambanda's right to counsel was overridden.
Although he was able to select his own choice of lawyer from a screened list, the court's Registrar held the final say. Not only was his attorney chosen by the court that was prosecuting him, the registrar is officially required to select a counsel 'prudently' with regard to their cost, and French and Canadian lawyers were initially excluded from the list (despite these countries supplying the majority of qualified French speakers who have passed the ICTR bar).
Kambanda's decision to defend himself for four months was scarcely recorded in the court's proceedings, and when he opted for counsel, the first act of the counsellor (who is characterized as 'inept') was to sign a confession to the prosecution's case. This analysis concludes that the appeal was strategically flawed, and that the probable reason for the legal "carelessness" was that Kambanda was the face of genocide in Kigali; no more time could be wasted before he was given the court's most severe punishment, without recourse to appeal.
Ultimately, the critique is not on the grounds of justice (Kambanda was certainly guilty), but concern that the court ultimately produced a show trial, since his appeal may not have been thrown out by the U.S. courts.

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Prunier, Gérard (1995). The Rwanda Crisis, 1959–1994: History of a Genocide (Hardcover ed.). London: C. Hurst & Co. Publishers. p. 232. ISBN 1-85065-243-0. 
  2. ^ House of Lords Should Stand on "Right Side of History," says Rights Group - Human Rights Watch on the implications of the Kambanda conviction to Pinochet case (from 1998).