ICTR convicts former top Rwanda defense official of genocide but rejects conspiracy

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website; JURIST news archive] sentenced a former top official in Rwanda's Ministry of Defence and two other former Rwanda army officers to life imprisonment Thursday after convicting them of genocide and crimes against humanity [press release] in connection with 1994 mass killings that left over 500,000 people dead in gruesome ethnic violence. Colonel Théoneste Bagosora [case materials], Director of Cabinet in the Rwandan Ministry of Defence; Major Aloys Ntabakuze, commander of the Para Commando Battalion; and Colonel Anatole Nsengiyumva, commander of the Operational Sector of Gisenyi, were found guilty by 3 international judges on a panel of the UN-sponsored tribunal sitting in Arusha, Tanzania. The court found Bagasora responsible for the killing of Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, President of the Constitutional Court Joseph Kavaruganda, and opposition party officials and government ministers Frédéric Nzamurambaho, Landoald Ndasingwa and Faustin Rucogoza. He was additionally found guilty in connection with the killing of ten Belgian peacekeepers, and was held responsible for organised killings perpetrated by soldiers and militiamen at various locations in the country in early April 1994. Ntabakuze was found guilty for killings committed by his soldiers, and Nsengiyumva was considered responsible for several massacres and targeted killings of civilians, including Tutsi refugees. A fourth officer, General Gratien Kabiligi, head of the military operations bureau (G-3) of the army general staff, was acquitted of all charges against him and ordered released. The court additonally acquitted all the accused of conspiring to commit genocide.

Delivering a summary [text, PDF] of an as-yet-unreleased judgement said to be some 500 pages long, Norwegian judge Erik Mose [official profile] said:

The judgement in this case, often called the Military I trial, is the result of several years of proceedings. Many of us in the courtroom today have been working with each other for most of its 409 trial days. We have considered the evidence of 242 witnesses from the Prosecution and Defence and poured through the more than 30,000 pages of transcripts, nearly 1,600 exhibits, and approximately 4,500 pages of the parties’ final submissions. The amount of evidence in this case is nearly eight times the size of an average single-accused case heard by the Tribunal. Innumerable pages of pleadings have resulted in about 300 written decisions...

The evidence of this trial has reiterated that genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes were perpetrated in Rwanda after 6 April 1994. The human suffering and slaughter were immense. These crimes were directed principally against Tutsi civilians as well as Hutus who were seen as sympathetic to the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) or as opponents of the ruling regime. The perpetrators included soldiers, gendarmes, civilian and party officials, Interahamwe and other militia, as well as ordinary citizens. Nevertheless, as the evidence in this case and the history of the Tribunal show, not every member of these groups committed crimes.

Also other persons than Tutsis and moderate Hutus suffered in 1994. The process of a criminal trial cannot depict the entire picture of what happened in Rwanda, even in a case of this magnitude.
On the Prosecution's contentious conspiracy argument, the court said:
The Chamber certainly accepts that there are indications which may be construed as evidence of a plan to commit genocide, in particular when viewed in light of the subsequent targeted and speedy killings immediately after the shooting down of the President’s plane. However, the evidence is also consistent with preparations for a political or military power struggle and measures adopted in the context of an on-going war with the RPF that were used for other purposes from 6 April 1994.

Consequently, the Chamber is not satisfied that the Prosecution has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the only reasonable inference to be drawn from the evidence is that the four Accused conspired amongst themselves or with others to commit genocide before it unfolded from 7 April 1994.
The ICTR was established by the UN Security Council in 1994 to try those suspected of having committed genocide during the 1994 Rwandan conflict between Hutus and Tutsis. Under UN Security Council Resolution 1503 (2003) [PDF text], it was supposed to complete all trials by the end of the year, and to complete all of its work, including appellate review, by 2010. In June, however, the ICTR prosecutor asked the Council [JURIST report] to extend the ICTR's mandate, noting that the recent arrests of several genocide suspects meant that the court would not have time to finish several first-instance cases until 2009.

 

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