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Rwanda genocide tribunal overturns two convictions

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday overturned [press release] the genocide convictions of former Rwandan ministers Justin Mugenzi and Prosper Mugiraneza after concluding that the trial chambers had erred in assessing key pieces of evidence. Mugenzi and Mugiraneza were arrested [case profile, PDF] in 1999 and indicted [indictment, PDF] on eight counts of genocide-related crimes for their alleged role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide [BBC backgrounder]. The prosecution alleged that from 1990 to 1994, Mugenzi, then-acting Minister of Trade, made public statements inciting violence against the Tutsis and approved concealment of mass graves. Mugiraneza, then-acting Minister in charge of civil servants, allegedly issued orders and directives encouraging mass-killings. The ICTR convicted [judgment, PDF] both men in 2011 based on participation in a "joint criminal enterprise" that took place at a ceremony where then-President Theodore Sindikubwabo gave an "inflammatory speech inciting [the] killing of Tutsis." On appeal, the judges found that the the trial court had erred in assessing crucial evidence relating to the men's prior knowledge of the speech's content, and thus reversed the convictions and ordered their immediate release. According to media sources, the Rwandan government is likely to speak out against the ICTR's decision [BBC report], as both men were influential figures in the government during the 1994 massacre in which more than 800,000 Tutsis died at the hands of extremist Hutus.

The ICTR was established by UN Security Council in 1994 to investigate and prosecute alleged prominent players of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Since then, the ICTR has heard more than 70 cases [ICTR case index], and is set to dissolve in 2014 after hearing its final 15 appeals in light of the completion of its trial mandate. In December, the ICTR convicted [JURIST report] former Rwandan minister Augustin Ngirabatware and sentenced him to 35 years in prison to conclude the tribunal's final trial. Ngirabatware was found guilty on charges of genocide, incitement to commit genocide and rape as a crime against humanity. Also in December, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution to extend the terms of five judges [JURIST report] at the tribunal. In July the ICTR transferred four genocide convicts to the Republic of Mali [JURIST report] to serve their sentences. A month earlier the tribunal transferred the case of Aloys Ndimbati [JURIST report], a former local government official in Rwanda who has been charged with genocide, complicity in genocide, incitement to commit genocide and crimes against humanity including murder, rape and persecution, to the authorities of the Republic of Rwanda. Earlier that month Bernard Munyagishari's case was the fifth to be transferred [JURIST report] to the country's court system.

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