Appeals court confirms ex-minister's acquittal

The Appeals Chamber of UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) confirmed on Wednesday a lower court's decision to acquit a former Rwandan transport minister and a former provincial governor of genocide, a decision the Rwandan government received with reservations.

"We do not expect such a decision from the court. The people in Cyangugu [Province] who suffered the killings may not be able to understand the decision of the court," Alloys Mutabingwa, the special representative of the Rwandan government to the ICTR, told IRIN.

He said other accomplices of acquitted former Cyangugu Governor Emmanuel Bagambiki had been convicted and imprisoned in Rwanda under the country's traditional "Gacaca" judicial system.

"Should these convicted persons be acquitted as well?" he said.

On 25 February 2004, the lower ICTR court ordered the acquittal of former Transport Minister Andre Ntagerura and Bagambiki. However, the court convicted Samuel Imanishimwe, a former paramilitary commander in the province, to 27 years imprisonment. All three had been jointly tried.

Confirming the lower court's decision, the Appeals Chamber, presided over by Judge Fausto Pocar of Italy, said its panel of three judges had unanimously agreed to the acquittal of Ntagerura and Bagambiki.

"We are upholding the lower court's decision and confirming Ntagerura and Bagambiki's acquittals," Pocar said.

The UN court's prosecutor, Hassan Jallow, said: "We have done our best. The Appeals Chamber has the final word on the cases."

Ntagerura and Bagambiki received the court's decision with excitement. Bagambiki said he now wished to quickly join his family in Belgium.

On his part, Ntagerura was uncertain about where he would begin his new life. "I am not sure where I will live. I would have wished to go back to my country, but the environment is not conducive for the time being," he said.

On Monday, during the hearing of the appeal, the prosecution claimed the lower court's decision to acquit was "erroneous" as the two participated in the 1994 genocide", and asked the court to order a retrial.

The senior attorney for the prosecution, James Steward, told the court that when acquitting the two, the chamber did not take into consideration seven witnesses who had testified in the trial, "who were accomplices of the two accused".

The indictments against Ntagerura, Bagambiki and Imanishimwe had charged them with genocide, crimes against humanity and serious violations of Geneva Conventions in connection with the massacres and other crimes committed in Rwanda's Cyangugu Province in 1994.

The lower court acquitted Ntagerura, noting that the prosecutor had not proved beyond reasonable doubt any of the allegations in the indictment. It also ruled that there was no credible evidence that Ntagerura expressed public support for the killings or that he acted as supervisor in Cyangugu Prefecture in 1994. It found that the prosecutor failed to prove the allegations supporting the crime of genocide against Bagambiki.

Ntagerura was arrested in Cameroon in 1996 while Bagambiki was arrested in Togo in June 1998.

Since its establishment in 1994, the ICTR has completed trials for 26 accused, involving 23 convictions and three acquittals. Trials for 28 others are in progress while 15 are awaiting the beginning of theirs.