Jean Kambanda

02.05.2016 ( Last modified: 07.06.2016 )
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Jean Kambanda was born on 19 October 1955. He holds a diploma in engineering and was Director of the Union of Popular Banks of Rwanda from May 1989 to April 1994. Vice President of the Democratic Republican Movement (MDR), he became Prime Minister of the caretaker government of Rwanda on 8 April 1994, two days after the attack on President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane. Kambanda is married with two children.

Jean Kambanda’s main role during the time he was Prime Minister consisted in intervening publicly in the name of the government. He was held to be criminally responsible because of his alleged direct participation in the commission of crimes and also because he did not intervene to stop them as he should have done since he held de facto and de jure control over senior civil servants and military officers..

As far as his direct participation is concerned, Jean Kambanda was accused of handing out weapons and ammunition in the Butare and Gitarama prefectures being perfectly aware that these weapons would be used to perpetrate massacres against civilians. He also demonstrated his involvement in direct and public incitation to commit such massacres by his support of the broadcasted calls to r murder and by the distribution of weapons and ammunition to the militias.

As far as his indirect participation is concerned, Jean Kambanda was accused of abusing his authority and the trust of the civilian population by omitting to take the necessary reasonable measures to prevent his subordinates from committing law and order violations. He presided over several Ministerial meetings during which the massacres were actively followed and discussed without taking the necessary decisions to have them stopped.

Jean Kambanda was arrested in Nairobi, Kenya on 18 July 1997 and transferred to the International Criminal Court for Rwanda (ICTR) on the same day.

legal procedure

Jean Kambanda was arrested in Nairobi, Kenya on 18 July 1997 and transferred to the International Criminal Court for Rwanda (ICTR) on the same day.

He was indicted on 16 October 1997 for:
– genocide
– conspiracy to commit genocide
– direct and public incitation to commit genocide
– complicity in genocide
– crimes against humanity (two charges: assassination and extermination)

Jean Kambanda made his initial appearance before the ICTR on 1 May 1998 and pleaded guilty to the six charges against him. The trial was therefore short and ended on 31 August 1998. During the hearing prior to the sentencing , the public prosecutor called for life imprisonment in view of “the serious and heinous nature of the crimes committed for which the accused pleaded guilty.” (See link “motion by the prosecution prior to sentencing”.

On 4th September 1998, the ICTR condemned Jean Kambanda to life imprisonment for genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, public and direct incitation to commit genocide, complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity.

Jean Kambanda withdrew his guilty plea, saying he had been forced into pleading guilty and lodged an appeal against the judgment.

On 19th October 2000, the ICTR Appeal Chamber confirmed in all respects the first instance judgment saying that Kambanda was fully aware of the consequences of his guilty plea.

After several months of detention in Tanzania, Jean Kambanda is serving his sentence in Mali, at the Central Prison of Bamako.


The three most significant facts in the Kambanda trial are the following:

1) The trial was significant by the unprecedented acknowledgment of the direct participation of a head of government in the genocide: “All Rwandans, Hutu, Tutsi and Twa need to admit to each other the truth, all the truth about their life together, their cohabitation yesterday, today and tomorrow. (…) The mask they have always worn to hide their relationships has now fallen…” (See link opposite “Extract of Jean Kambanda’s declaration submitted through the Prosecutor’s Office on the occasion of his first court appearance on 1 May 1998”).

2) Jean Kambanda is the first head of government to plead guilty to genocide (in consideration of his request that the safety of his wife and two children be ensured). He acknowledged the existence of the genocide and admitted that it had been prepared in advance.

3) The sentence handed down on Jean Kabana is the first to be pronounced for the crime of genocide since the adoption of the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.


Rwanda has been historically inhabited by three distinct social groups, known as Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. Between April and July 1994 the country was torn apart by a bloody genocide, during which extremist Hutu people targeted Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) was powerless against those committing the genocide, as the peacekeeping troops were outnumbered.


In hopes of facilitating the process of national reconciliation and to promote peace in the country, on 8 November 1994 the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 955, establishing the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), located in Arusha, Tanzania.

The Tribunal’s function is to prosecute perpetrators of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed between 1 January and 31 December 1994 in Rwanda. Since its inception, 92 persons have been indicted in front of the ICTR. Some proceedings are however still ongoing.

The ICTR is primed to close down in 2015.

Regarding what will happen to the functions and activities that will outlive the ICTR, the UN Security Council established the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (or “the Mechanism”), in Resolution 1966 (2010), to take over the remaining functions of both the ICTR and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The Mechanism, which has been functioning since 1 July 2012, has already taken over some of the ongoing functions of the ICTR, including the enforcement of sentences of those convicted and sentenced by the Tribunal, the tracking, arrest and prosecution of fugitives earmarked for trial at the Mechanism, and the care and protection of witnesses.


In 1998, discussions began under the direction of the President of the Republic of Rwanda about the possible use of traditional courts to support the ordinary Rwandan judicial system and the ICTR. A commission was created to study this possibility, and its report provided the basis of the Organic Law of 26 January 2001, which created the Gacaca Courts.

These courts were in charge of trying the low and middle-level perpetrators of the genocide, apart from the “planners” who should have been tried before national courts. The Gacaca courts were composed of elected popular assemblies, made up of non-professional judges. The composition and functioning of such courts raised several concerns about the respect of fair trial guarantees.

According to Rwandan authorities, during their functioning, the Gacaca courts tried almost two million people. On 18 June 2012 Rwandan President Paul Kagame announced the official end of Gacaca courts’ activity.