5 February 2013

Rwanda Shocked By ICTR Acquittals

Photo: United Nations
Rwandan children, refugees of the 1994 genocide (file photo).

The acquittal of former ministers in a government that oversaw the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi has been met with dismay, with officials describing it as revisionism and negating the Genocide.

Justin Mugenzi was Minister of Trade during the 1994 Genocide, while Prosper Mugiraneza was Public Service minister.

A Trial Chamber by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda had on September 30, 2011, found both men guilty of conspiracy to commit Genocide and direct and public incitement to commit Genocide and sentenced them to 30 years in jail.

But the tribunal's Appeals Chamber presided by American judge Theodor Meron, yesterday, overturned the conviction and ordered their release, leaving Genocide survivors and Rwandans in general in shock.

Dr Jean Pierre Dusingizemungu, the president of Ibuka, an umbrella body of Genocide survivors, expressed surprise at the tribunal's stand saying that acquitting a man like Mugenzi is itself an act of denying the planning process of the Genocide.

He said that much as the tribunal has a time limit of closing shop next year, it shouldn't rush to make judgments that leave victims of the Genocide even more psychologically tortured and disrespected.

"Even a child can judge that from 30 years to being acquitted shows conspiracy on the part of the tribunal. All the crimes Mugenzi committed in Butare (Huye) were in broad day light and prosecution had provided the necessary evidence to that effect. It is terrible!" Dusingizemungu said.

Mugenzi and Mugiraneza were convicted of participating in the removal of Butare's Tutsi Prefect, Jean-Baptiste Habyalimana, and based on their participation in a joint criminal enterprise at the installation ceremony where Interim President Theodore Sindikubwabo gave a speech inciting the killing of the Tutsi.

Dusingizemungu added while the international community failed to prevent occurrence of the Genocide in 1994, it raises questions why they should also fail to deliver justice to those that are found guilty of having committed the atrocities.

Questionable decisions

Prosecutor-General Martin Ngoga said in a statement, yesterday, that the appalling discrepancies in decisions between the ICTR trial and the Appeals Chambers in a number of cases raises questions.

"The most recent decisions of the Appeals Chamber have tended to adopt simplistic treatment of facts and are creating a trend of exonerating political leadership from responsibility in the Genocide," Ngoga said.

"There is reason to believe that this trend will continue."

He added that despite a generally important role the tribunal had played in the post-Genocide justice, some of its decisions leave its legacy with undeserving record.

The Executive Secretary of the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG), Jean De Dieu Mucyo, was equally shocked.

"It is very sad because what both men did is very well known. Let me look at the full judgment first and understand the reasons for the acquittal," he said.

This is not the first time that ICTR is acquitting former senior government officials.

In 2011, the court acquitted two former ministers; Jerome Bicamumpaka (Foreign Affairs) and Casmir Bizimungu of Health although the ICTR prosecution did not appeal against their judgments.

And, the Arusha-based UN tribunal in 2009 overturned a 2008 conviction and 20-year sentence handed to Protais Zigiranyirazo commonly referred to as "Mr Z".

Zigiranyirazo was a brother-in-law to former President Juvenal Habyarimana and very influential member of 'Akazu' group that consisted of people close to the former president, and believed to have hatched the Genocide plan.

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