Swedish Court Sentences Man to Life in Prison for Role in Rwanda Genocide

STOCKHOLM — A Swedish court convicted a 61-year-old man on Monday of taking part in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and sentenced him to life in prison. The case was noteworthy for being part of a transnational effort to hold people accountable for crimes against humanity, no matter where those crimes occurred.

The Stockholm District Court found that the man, Claver Berinkindi, a Rwandan who obtained Swedish citizenship in 2012, had participated in five massacres between April 18 and May 31, 1994. In the hills of Nyamure, in Rwanda’s Southern Province, he rallied people to participate in the killing of thousands of civilians, the court found. He was also involved in the deaths of hundreds of people who had sought refuge in a municipal building in the central Rwandan town of Muyira and in an adjacent adult education center. Trapped in the compound, hundreds of people were massacred.

“There were thousands of victims on the mountain, and hundreds of victims in the communal building,” Tora Holst, the chief prosecutor who leads a unit at the International Public Prosecution Office created in 2008 to focus on war crimes, said in a phone interview. “In the mountain, he collected and assembled people to go there, and he participated in the attack.”

The court found that Mr. Berinkindi had directly taken part in killings, using machetes, spears and clubs, Ms. Holst said. “It’s about the most serious crime known to mankind,” she said.

More than 800,000 Rwandans, mostly members of the ethnic Tutsi group but also moderate Hutu, died in the genocide. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, a court established by the United Nations, completed its work last year, after prosecuting dozens of people accused of involvement in the massacres, but cases continue in several countries. Just last week, two former Rwandan mayors went on trial in France, charged with the killings of about 2,000 Tutsi who had sought refuge in a church in the eastern town of Kabarondo.

This was the second case relating to the Rwandan genocide to be prosecuted in Sweden. In 2013, Ms. Holst prosecuted Stanislas Mbanednande, also a naturalized Swedish citizen. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for taking part in a series of killings in Kibuye, a city in western Rwanda.


Claver Berinkindi, second from right, in court in Stockholm in September. Mr. Berinkindi received a life sentence from a Stockholm District Court for his participation in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.CreditJessica Gow/European Pressphoto Agency

But Monday was the first time a Swedish court had awarded damages to victims of genocidal crimes. The court awarded 15 people damages ranging from $3,900 to $13,000, to be taken from Mr. Berinkindi’s property, which has been valued at roughly $148,000. Göran Hjalmarsson, a lawyer for six of the plaintiffs, said that damages were awarded to 15 people who witnessed the loss of a relative and who were themselves under threat of being murdered.

In Rwanda, Mr. Berinkindi had been a successful merchant, with a store selling groceries and clothing, as well as a butcher shop.

A father of five, Mr. Berinkindi left Rwanda during the genocide and came to Sweden from the Central African Republic in 2002, applying for refugee status. He was unemployed and living in the town of Eskilstuna, west of Stockholm, when he was arrested in 2014 on suspicion of genocide and other violations of international law.

The trial, which began in September, included testimony from roughly 50 witnesses and 15 victims; Swedish officials traveled to Rwanda to gather evidence.

Mr. Berinkindi pleaded not guilty, saying that he had not been at the scene of the crimes. He has three weeks to appeal.

As in the case of Mr. Mbanednande, Sweden did not have the option of extraditing Mr. Berinkindi because he is a Swedish citizen.

Members of Sweden’s small Rwandan community expressed satisfaction with the outcome. “Justice has been served, and the Swedish court has conducted a meticulous investigation,” Nelson Gatsimbazi, a spokesman for the Rwandan Association for Human Rights, told the Swedish newspaper Expressen.

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