afrol News, 8 June - The United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) yesterday found a former mayor not guilty on seven counts of genocide and crimes against humanity, marking the first time the war crimes court has acquitted someone accused of participating in the 1994 massacres.
The Tribunal acquitted Ignace Bagilishema, former Bourgmestre of Mabanza Commune in Rwanda's Kibuye Prefecture, of all charges against him, after ruling that the testimonies of the witnesses were riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions, and that the Prosecution had failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
In the indictment, the prosecutor alleged that the accused had held meetings in which he encouraged the local population to kill Tutsis in early April 1994, UN media report.
It was alleged that Mr. Bagilishema personally attacked and killed Tutsi men, women and children residing and seeking refuge in Mabanza Commune, ordered Interahamwe militiamen to dig a mass grave in the commune office in Mabanza and directed massacres of Tutsi refugees in various areas of Kibuye Prefecture.
The defence, however, contended that Mr. Bagilishema had actually held "pacification" meetings during the genocide in an attempt to restore security and harmony in Mabanza. The Trial Chamber found that the evidence supported the accused's contention that he had acted to prevent killings of Tutsis and re-establish law and order.
Several witnesses who testified for the Prosecution could not recall the personal presence of the accused at the scenes of the massacres, and gave conflicting accounts. Mr. Bagilishema's personal individual criminal responsibility for the crimes could thus not be established.
- The Chamber finds that the Prosecution's charge of genocide must fail because the Chamber cannot find that the accused was present when the Tutsi detained during the attack were killed, the judges ruled on one of the allegations against Mr. Bagilishema, 46, who had been arrested in February 1999 in South Africa under an arrest warrant issued by the Tribunal.
Reactions within Rwanda to the Tribunal's acquittal verdict were however of shock. The Rwandan Government said it is shocked by the acquittal of Bagilishema, who it described as one of the most "notorious" criminals from the genocide. The tribunal has found only eight people guilty so far.
The prosecutor has already said that he intends to appeal against the acquittal, and has also requested that the tribunal keep Mr Bagilishema in custody for another 30 days, in case he flees or poses a threat to witnesses.
Based on UN sources, press reports and afrol archives