skip navigation

Public Prosecutor v. Joseph Mpambara

Court Court of Appeal of The Hague, The Netherlands
Case number 22-002613-09 (ECLI:NL:GHSGR:2011:BR0686)
Decision title Judgment
Decision date 7 July 2011
  • The Public Prosecutor
  • Joseph Mpambara
Categories Genocide, Torture, War crimes
Keywords child, hostage, murder, Non-international armed conflict, rape, torture, war crimes
back to top


Between April and July 1994, as much as ten percent of the entire Rwandan civilian population (75 percent of all Tutsis) was murdered in an ethnic conflict in which the Hutus sought to eliminate the Tutsis. At the same time, an armed conflict was fought between the Rwandan government army (FAR) and the armed forces of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). The RPF were a rebel army primarily composed of descendants of Rwandan Tutsi who fled from Rwanda in preceding years.

The accused, Joseph Mpambara, fled Rwanda for the Netherlands. He was arrested and brought before the Dutch courts on charges of war crimes, torture and genocide. While the Dutch courts deemed themselves without jurisdiction for genocide, the District Court of The Hague did convict Mpambara for torture.

The Court of Appeal also convicted him for war crimes - inter alia for his participation in a massacre against thousands of refugees in a church - and increased his 20 years' prison sentence to life imprisonment.

back to top

Procedural history

The Accused, Joseph Mpambara, was a member of the interahamwe militia in Rwanda in 1994. He subsequently fled to Kenya and in November 1998, he sought asylum in The Netherlands.

In June/July 2006, the Public Prosecutor of the Netherlands contacted the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda as to the possibility of investigating the criminal offences allegedly committed by the Accused in Rwanda.

Following the arrest of the Accused in Amsterdam on 7 August 2006, on 3 October 2006, the Prosecutor of the ICTR requested the Dutch government to accept the transfer of the case of the Accused for national prosecution. This request was accepted on 27 November 2006.

In pro forma hearings on 11, 16 and 17 May 2007, the Public Prosecutor requested the District Court of The Hague to determine whether the Public Prosecutor may institute proceedings for genocide.

On 24 July 2007, in an interlocutory decision, the District Court of The Hague determined that Dutch courts do not have jurisdiction over the crime of genocide allegedly committed by the Accused.

On 17 December 2007, the Court of Appeal of The Hague upheld the decision of the District Court and found that the Public Prosecutor was barred from proceeding against the Accused for charges of genocide due to a lack of jurisdiction.

On 21 October 2008, the Supreme Court of The Netherlands upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal.

On 23 March 2009, the District Court of The Hague convicted the Accused of complicity in torture, but dismissed charges of war crimes (no sufficient link between acts and armed conflict) and genocide (lack of jurisdiction). Mpambara was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment.

back to top

Related developments

Mpambara appealed at the Supreme Court, arguing that the current judgment - especially the use of evidence from witnesses he could not examine and the issuance of a life sentence - was in violation of his fundamental rights (as found in the European Convention on Human Rights, ECHR), namely his rights to a fair trial and to protection against inhumane treatment.

The Supreme Court found the grounds of appeal unfounded, dismissed Mpambara's appeal, and confirmed the Court of Appeals' judgment and sentence. 

back to top

Legally relevant facts

The allegations against Mpambara are the following (para. 6):

On or around 13 April 1994, a number of individuals, allegedly including the Accused, stopped an ambulance carrying two Tutsi women and their children. The ambulance was surrounded by the attackers and the Tutsi women and their children were hacked with machetes, clubs and other weapons. All of them died.

On 16 April 1994, a number of individuals, allegedly including the Accused, attacked the thousands of Tutsi civilians seeking refuge at the Seventh Day Adventists Complex. The civilians were shot at, hacked with machetes and teargas was thrown into the building.

On 27 April 1994, a number of individuals, allegedly including the Accused, refused passage to a vehicle at a road block in Mugonero carrying a German man, his Tutsi wife and their baby. The occupants of the vehicle were intimidated as depracatory remarks were made against Tutsis and weapons were brandished.

On 13 May 1994, a number of individuals, allegedly including the Accused, threatened, raped and killed a woman.

back to top

Core legal questions

The Court of Appeal had to assess whether or not Mpambara was guilty of the crimes he was indicted for.

back to top

Specific legal rules and provisions

  • Articles 3 and 8 of the Act on Criminal Law in Time of War (Wet Oorlogsstrafrecht).
  • Articles 2(1)(a), 5, 6, and 7 of the International Crimes Act.
  • Articles 1, 2, 5, and 6 of the Torture Convention Implementation Act
  • Article 3, Common to the Geneva Conventions.
  • Articles 1 and 4 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

back to top

Court's holding and analysis

While the Distruct Court convicted Mpambara for complicity in torture, it found that there was no sufficient link between his acts and the Rwandan armed conflict in order to prove his guilt for war crimes.

The Court of Appeal, however, disagreed. Relying on the ICTR's explanation of the function of this "nexus"-requirement in Rutaganda, the Court established that this is meant a) to distinguish between war crimes and "regular" crimes and b) to exclude purely "incidental" crimes from those connected to an actual armed conflict. Emphasising that the test is whether an act is 'closely related to the hostilities', the Court noted that the classification of a crimes does not necessarily depend on geopgraphical location but on the "environment" in which it was committed. Important detrminants are " the fact that the perpetrator is a combatant; the fact that the victim is a non-combatant; the fact that the victim is a member of the opposing party; the fact that the act may be said to serve the ultimate goal of a military campaign; and the fact that the crime is committed as part of or in the context of the perpetrator's official duties" (para. 16.3.2) (see also Kunarac, para. 59).

The Court found that there was an armed conflict in Rwanda and that acts such as killing, raping and threatening civilians, as committed during the massacres at the Adventist complex and the ambulance, are serious violations of the laws of war. And because Mpambara was found to have been taking part in the hostilities (it must be noted that the Court does not explicitly consider him to be a combatant, but this is not necessary: as long as one directly takes part in hostilities), the Court considered there to be a sufficient nexus between the armed conflict and Mpambara's acts of threatening, murdering and raping.

He was therefore found guilty - in addition to torture - of war crimes and sentenced to life imprisonment.

back to top

Instruments cited

back to top

Related cases

Mpambara's brother Obed Ruzinda has been sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment by the ICTR on 21 May 1999 (affirmed on appeal in 2001), and one of his sisters has been sentenced to life by the District Court of Gitarama (Rwanda).

The attack on the Seventh Day Adventist complex was one of the bigger massacres during the Rwandan genocide, and multiple perpetrators have been sentenced by the ICTR. Next to Mpambara and his brother Ruzindana, others involved were Clement Kayishema, Charles Sikubwabo,  Mikaeli Muhimana and Elizaphan and Gérard Ntakirutimana.

back to top

Additional materials