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Rwanda genocide tribunal overturns conviction of ex-president's brother-in-law

[JURIST] The appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website] on Monday overturned [judgment, PDF; press release] the genocide conviction and 20-year prison sentence for Protais Zigiranyirazo [case materials; Trial Watch profile], ruling that the the prosecution had lacked sufficient evidence to convict him. Zigiranyirazo, the brother-in-law of former Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana, was found guilty [judgment, PDF] last year of genocide and extermination in part for his role at Kesho Hill in which he allegedly ordered the slaughter of approximately 1,000 Tutsi refugees who had gathered at the hill during the 1994 Rwandan genocide [HRW backgrounder]. The judge ruled that not only did the prosecution lack sufficient evidence, but the trial chamber improperly stated and applied the law in convicting Zigiranyirazo, giving insufficient weight to his alibi claims. In rejecting the trial chamber's conviction, the court stated:

The crimes Zigiranyirazo was accused of were very grave, meriting the most careful of analyses. Instead, the Trial Judgement misstated the principles of law governing the distribution of the burden of proof with regards to alibi and seriously erred in its handling of the evidence. Zigiranyirazo’s resulting convictions relating to Kesho Hill and the Kiyovu Roadblock violated the most basic and fundamental principles of justice.
The Rwandan government expressed dismay [New Times report] at the court's decision to release Zigiranyirazo, but said it had no choice but to accept the ruling.

In July, the UN Security Council [official website] extended the terms [JURIST report] for ICTR judges until December 31, 2010, or until they complete their cases. In March, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon pledged his ongoing support [JURIST report] for the ICTR and stressed that the international community must continue to combat genocide. The ICTR was established to try genocide suspects for crimes occurring during the 1994 Rwandan conflict between Hutus and Tutsis in which approximately 800,000 people, primarily Tutsis, died.

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