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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, February 05, 2013 11:04 am

Rwanda dismayed by genocide court acquittals

By EDMUND KAGIREAssociated Press

Rwanda's top prosecutor on Tuesday expressed dismay over the International Criminal Tribunal's decision to acquit two former Cabinet ministers on genocide charges.

Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga said that the acquittals were wrong and disappointing.

The appeals chamber of the Arusha-based tribunal on Monday overturned 30-year sentences handed down to Justin Mugenzi and Prosper Mugiraneza, who were both Cabinet ministers at the time of Rwanda's 1994 genocide. The appeals chamber ordered their immediate release.

The duo had been convicted to 30 years in September 2011 after being found guilty of conspiracy to commit genocide and inciting the public to commit genocide. More than 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus died in Rwanda's 1994 genocide.

"Rwanda is dismayed by these acquittals. It is wrong to acquit the two former Cabinet ministers, just like all the other acquittals the tribunal has made. We are totally disappointed," Ngoga said. "If we have to go by this precedent, then all pending appeals involving cabinet ministers and political leaders should be acquitted. We shall end up with a situation where the tribunal has only prosecuted the rank and file, leaving out the big fish."

Ngoga suggested that because a 30-year sentence was completely thrown, one of the chambers - either the trial court or the appeals court - is extremely incompetent or the other is extremely intelligent.

The prosecutor warned that the United Nations tribunal risks dismantling its own legacy following several acquittals over the last two years. The tribunal is expected to close by the end of 2014.

Mugenzi and Mugiraneza had been convicted for their role in the removal of the Tutsi mayor of the southern Rwanda town of Butare.

The two men were also accused of using their political power to mobilize Hutu civilians against their Tutsi counterparts. Butare had remained relatively peaceful after the April 6 downing of the plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana, the incident that triggered the genocide.