<p>Offices of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania.</p>

Rwanda: The First Conviction for Genocide

At the time of the Nuremberg trials, there was no legal concept of "genocide." On September 2, 1998, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (a court established by the United Nations) issued the world's first conviction for the defined crime of genocide after trial before an international tribunal. A man named Jean-Paul Akayesu was judged guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity for acts he engaged in and oversaw while mayor of the Rwandan town of Taba.

Born in 1953 in Taba commune, the young Akayesu was an active member of the local football team. The father of five children, he worked as a teacher. Akayesu was a respected leader in his community, widely considered a man of high morals, intelligence, and integrity.

Akayesu became politically active in 1991 and was elected local president of the Democratic Republican Movement (MDR), an opposition political party. Initially reluctant to run for public office, Akayesu was elected bourgmestre (mayor) of Taba, a position he held from April 1993 until June 1994.

As mayor, Akayesu was the leader of the village and was treated with respect and deference by the population. He oversaw the local economy, controlled the police, administered the law, and generally led social life in the village.

After the Rwandan genocide began on April 7, 1994, Akayesu initially kept his town out of the mass killing, refusing to let militia operate there and protecting the local Tutsi population. But following an April 18 meeting of mayors with interim government leaders (those who planned and orchestrated the genocide), a fundamental change took place in the town and apparently within Akayesu. He seems to have calculated that his political and social future depended on joining the forces carrying out the genocide. Akayesu exchanged his business suit for a military jacket, literally donning violence as his modus operandi: witnesses saw him incite townspeople to join in the killing and turn former safe havens into places of torture, rape, and murder.

As the war's tide turned, Akayesu escaped to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and later to Zambia, where he was arrested in October 1995. In a trial held before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda he was convicted of genocide, the first such conviction in an international court and the first time rape was considered a component of genocide. Akayesu is serving a life sentence in a prison in Mali.

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