Officials have reacted angrily to the acquittal of two former Ministers by the appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Monday.
Justin Mugenzi, Minister of Trade during the 1994 Genocide, and Prosper Mugiraneza, Public Service Minister had on September 30, 2011 been found guilty of conspiracy to commit genocide and direct and public incitement to commit genocide. They were sentenced to 30 years in jail. The convictions were mainly based on the two men's presence at two key meetings in April 1994.
Their colleagues Casimir Bizimungu, ex-Minister of Health, and Jérôme Bicamumpaka, ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs, were acquitted because they were not present at these two meetings.
Central to the trial were a cabinet meeting held on April 17, 1994, in Gitarama, and an investiture ceremony two days later for a new prefect of Butare. The cabinet had decided to sack the Tutsi prefect of Butare, Jean-Baptiste Habyarimana, who was considered the last obstacle to the genocide in his prefecture. His removal was announced publicly the next day in a stadium in Butare, in the presence of government ministers and other civil and military leaders.
After he was removed from office, Habyarimana was killed and massacres, which had so far been limited, became widespread and systematic in Butare prefecture. The judges of the lower court accepted the prosecutor's argument that through their presence, Mugenzi and Mugiraneza participated in a conspiracy to commit genocide and were guilty of incitement to genocide through approving, even tacitly, the incendiary speech delivered in Butare on April 19, 1994, by the interim president Théodore Sindikubwabo.
The appeal judges, however, found that Mugenzi and Mugiraneza did not know that Sindikubwabo was going to make the speech. The judges also said the dismissal of the prefect, Jean-Baptiste Habyarimana, could have been decided "for political and administrative reasons" and not necessarily in order to speed up the massacres.
The Genocide survivors' association Ibuka announced its astonishment at the ruling, saying it comes down to Genocide denial. An official said it was well known that the two Ministers were involved in the planning of the Genocide, and that acquitting them implies saying that there was no such planning.
Prosecutor general Martin Ngoga said in a statement that the decision by the appeals chamber was very disappointing and creation a dangerous precedent. He added that recent decisions by the ICTR's appeals chamber show that the tribunal exonerates the political leaders from their responsibility in the Genocide against the Tutsis. Therefore, he said, other similar decisions can be expected, and the ICTR risks to become an institution that will only have convicted the rank and file of Genocide perpetrators, letting the planners of the hook.