10 February 2013

Rwanda: Justice Is Not a Game of Dice

Photo: SteveRwanda/Wikipedia
Kigali, Rwanda (file photo).


Last week, the appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) caused controversy and anger by acquitting former Trade Minister Justin Mugenzi and former Public Service Minister Prosper Mugiraneza for their role in the Genocide against the Tutsis, thus annulling the 30-year prison sentence they received at the end of their trial.

Prosecutor general Martin Ngoga called the decision very disappointing, and warned that the legacy of the tribunal risks to be strongly damaged. He added, though, that he wouldn't be surprised to see more such decisions.

The Genocide survivors association for its part pointed out that the ICTR is courting with Genocide denial, since these are not the first top officials to be declared innocent of the charges against them. If according to the ICTR those people are not guilty of planning the Genocide, Ibuka reasons, then it basically says there has been no planning, thus no Genocide.

However, the prosecutor general also pointed out that the ruling makes little sense. Normally, when someone is sentenced to a heavy sentence such as 30 years by a trial chamber, there is always a possibility that the sentence is reduced in appeal. Yet by acquitting the two former Ministers, the ICTR appeals chamber basically said that the judges of the trial chamber were wrong and did not know what they were doing.

That is indeed a strange thing. While the trial judges accepted the well-founded arguments and evidence presented by the prosecution, all but one of the appeals judge suddenly gave the same logic and facts a completely different interpretation, and decided that the Ministers were innocent.

While the acquittal of people accused of serious crimes does indeed happen occasionally all over the world, this is usually due to new evidence that has been unearthed or flaws discovered in the original evidence. Yet that wasn't the case with the Mugenzi-Mugiraneza; the appeals chamber was presented the exact same facts as the trial judges, yet they decided to accept the defense's weak and unlikely reasoning - such as saying that the prefet of Butare might have been sacked because of political reasons, while the prosecution had clearly demonstrated that he was considered an obstacle in the perpetration of the Genocide in that prefecture (he was indeed killed shortly after his dismissal, and the massacres in Butare increased very quickly).

Justice should not be a game of dice, as the ICTR appeals judges in this case apparently considered it to be. It should be based on facts and logic, not whims. With this decision, the ICTR has done great disservice to justice in Rwanda, and spat in the face of all Genocide survivors. Shame on them.

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