The New Times (Kigali)

8 February 2013

Rwanda: Genocide Convicts Alarmed By ICTR Acquittals

Photo: This Day
Symbol of justice.

He may have been the mayor of the commune that played host to the 'genocidal' government for the better part of their 100-day blood-soaked realm, but Emmanuel Ruzigana is complaining of having gotten a raw deal compared to his former masters whom he says are merely getting a 'pat on the back.'

The ICTR, instituted in 1995 after the international community looked on as over a million innocent Rwandans were killed during a 100-killing spree by the Interahamwe militia and soldiers, is currently winding up its activities and a new entity.

Ruzigana, 55, who has so far served 16 years of his 25-year jail sentence over his role in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, is particularly bitter over the recent decision by the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which overturned the guilty convictions of two former cabinet ministers, setting them free.

In an exclusive interview that was characterised by emotional outbursts, held in Muhanga Prison (formerly Gitarama Prison) Ruzigana equates the decision to trivialising the Genocide because of the role the two ministers played, both individually and collectively as a government.

The two ministers whose 30-year sentences were overturned are Justin Mugenzi, who headed the trade docket and Prosper Mugiraneza, the former minister of public service.

Ruzigana, who was the mayor - then referred to as Bourgmestre - of Nyamabuye commune, currently the town of Muhanga, was a prosecution witness in the duo's case and particularly accuses Mugenzi of having used his armed escort to launch the Genocide in his commune.

"...it is absurd that these men are acquitted and we are condemned when they are the people who brought killings here," said Ruzigana, who was clad in orange shorts and shirt.

The two ministers join the pack of other cabinet ministers and high profile officials who have since been acquitted by the Tanzania-based tribunal, igniting anger not only from Genocide survivors, but also Rwandans, in general, including the people formerly subordinate to the former suspects.

"I am ready to stand by my testimony and I wonder why it was never considered by the tribunal because for instance, in detail, I told them how Mugenzi's escorts, in broad day light killed a teacher - who was incidentally my friend - called Jean Baptiste Muyango as a way of encouraging the reluctant people to kill," he said, adding that after that incident, these soldiers mounted a roadblock nearby where many people were killed.

Selective justice

If my testimony is not taken for truth because of the assumption that since we are in prison we may have been manipulated - which is not the case, at least on my behalf - they should have verified my claims, he says.

Similarly, Ludovic Nizeyumukiza, who was the mayor of Masango Commune during the Genocide, says that justice has been selectively dispensed, which he says not only undermines the reconciliation process, but may also encourage the reoccurrence of this crime elsewhere in the world because of the little importance the international community has attached to it.

"You can't, as an international tribunal, rule that there was a well planned genocide and yet turn and release half of the government that planned and supervised this genocide," said Nizeyumukiza, adding that he deserves his 30-year sentence because it is commensurate to the crime he committed.

The ICTR formally referred to what happened in Rwanda as a Genocide that was planned, in a ruling that was rendered in 2006, 11 years after its institution by the UN Security Council.

Nizeyumukiza, who testified against former Minister of Youth - who was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Trial Chamber and pending an appeal ruling - is afraid this ruling will also be overturned, and the man he accused set free, as has been the case before.

Legacy

The tribunal, instituted in 1995 after the international community generally looked on as over a million innocent Rwandans were killed during a 100-killing spree by the Interahamwe militia and soldiers, is currently winding up its activities and a new entity - the International Residual Mechanism - has been set up to take over.

However, over time, the operations of the tribunal has been questioned, for varying reasons. First, by having Genocide suspects among its staff, some of who ended up being indicted by the same tribunal, the sentences that have been deemed inappropriate by some, and the high acquittal rate.

So far, six former ministers who served on the interim government, led by Jean Kambanda, and who were hand-picked by a clique of elite politicians well known for their hatred for the Tutsi, have been acquitted, despite a detailed guilty plea entered by Kambanda on the role of his government in the Genocide.

Kambanda is serving life imprisonment, the heaviest sentence by the court.

Others have been granted early release from their respective holding countries; while those that remain in custody, reports have been ripe especially those serving their term in Mali, where majority of them are, that they are living a lavish lifestyle, including getting out of the Koulikoro Prison where they are held.

Another factor that is likely to dent the legacy of the tribunal is the fact that they have failed to arrest some of the key fugitives they indicted, including the so-called Genocide financier Felicien Kabuga and the other 'Big Fish' like Protais Mpiranya, who headed the notorious presidential guards and the then minister of defence Augustin Bizimana.

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