Jean-Paul Akayesu

02.05.2016 ( Last modified: 07.06.2016 )
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Jean-Paul Akayesu was born in 1955. Before his election as mayor of Taba, he was first a teacher, then education inspector. He started his political career in the Mouvement Démocratique Républicain (MDR; Democratic Republican Movement) in 1991 and soon became President of the local section of the MDR in Taba. He occupied the post of mayor from April 1993 until June 1994, when he fled from Rwanda. He is married with five children.

Akayesu’s criminal responsibility was based on both his direct and indirect participation in the 1994 genocide.

His actions in Taba amounted to direct participation in the crime of genocide. During the genocide, numerous Tutsi sought refuge in the Taba communal offices, where they were beaten and killed instead of being protected.. It is estimated that 2000 people were killed in the 1994 massacres against the Tutsi in the community of Taba alone. In addition to this, numerous Tutsi women were submitted to sexual violence by the troops. They were mutilated and raped, often by more than one attacker and in public. The rapes against Tutsi women were of a systematic nature. Police officers armed with guns, as well as Jean-Paul Akayesu himself, were reportedly present at some of these acts. Akayesu was also suspected of having ordered upseveral murders and to have participated in carrying them out.

Jean-Paul Akayesu was further accused of aiding and abetting numerous criminal acts through his presence, his attitude and his statements. He encouraged criminal acts and gave out orders for people to be killed. On 19 April 1994 – for example – he chaired a public reunion in Taba, in the course of which he called for the people to unite to eliminate the « Tutsi enemy ».

Jean-Paul Akayesu was arrested on 10 October 1995 in Lusaka, Zambia and transferred to the UN penitentiary quarter in Arusha, Tanzania, on 15 May 1996.


legal procedure

After his arrest on 10 October 1995 in Lusaka, Jean-Paul Akayesu was transferred to Arusha on 15 May 1996.

The initial indictment issued by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) contained 12 counts – from genocide, aiding and abetting and publicly encouraging genocide to several violations of the common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and other acts which amount to crimes against humanity (murder, torture, cruel treatment and extermination).

Akayesu first appeared in court on 30 May 1996. He pleaded not guilty on all counts.

His trial began on 9 January 1997. He mainly argued that, at the time of the genocide, he had not been in a position of authority and had never had the means to stop the massacres. The tribunal, however, found that, in his role as mayor, Jean-Paul Akayesu did have the responsibility for maintaining public order and executing the law in the community of Taba. In this function, he had effective authority over the police.

On 17 June 1997, the Prosecutor modified the indictment to include 3 new counts, all regarding allegations of rape and sexual violence: crime against humanity (rape), crime against humanity (other inhuman acts), violation of the common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and of article 4 section 2 of the Additional Protocol II (outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment, rape and any form of indecent assault).

On 2 October 1998, the Tribunal found Jean-Paul Akayesu guilty on 9 out of 15 counts: genocide, crime against humanity (extermination), crime against humanity (murder, 3 counts), crime against humanity (torture), crime against humanity (rape), crime against humanity (other inhuman acts). His criminal responsibility was based on his direct participation in acts of genocide and on his position as hierarchical superior.. Article 6 section 3 of the ICTR statute states that a superior can be responsible if he knew or had reason to know that the subordinate was about to commit criminal acts or had done so and the superior had failed to take the necessary measures to prevent such acts or punish the perpetrators.

Thus, the Chamber of First Instance of the ICTR sentenced Jean-Paul Akayesu to life imprisonment.

The defendant’s appeal was rejected by the Appeal Chamber on 1 June 2001.

Jean-Paul Akayesu was transferred to Mali on 9 December 2001 to serve out his sentence there.



The most interesting aspect of this case resides in the recognition of the crime of rape as a form of genocide. The judgment also contributed to making the legal definition of rape more precise.

The definition of genocide according to the Genocide Convention 1948 was applied for the first time by an international tribunal in the Akayesu case. The ICTR recognised that rape and sexual violence can amount to genocide when they are committed with the intention of destroying or partly destroying a particular group.

The ICTR defined rape as “every act of physical penetration of a sexual nature which is inflicted on another person under duress”. The tribunal considered that sexual violence, including rape, need not necessarily manifest itself through a demonstration of physical force. “Threat, intimidation, blackmail and other forms of violence which exploit fear or confusion can be characteristic of duress”.



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.


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