How ICTR has let down Rwanda

  • By Edwin Musoni
  • February 12, 2014
People at Kigali Genocide memorial during a past commemoration event. File.

Genocide survivors and other Rwandans have reacted with shock to the decision by an appeals bench at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to acquit yet more high profile individuals accused of playing a key role in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Survivors and Rwandans in general view the pattern of decisions to overturn or significantly reduce initial verdicts rendered by the same court against several former political and military leaders as a great disappointment to a nation that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the Genocide.

Critics have in particular singled out the president of ICTR Appeals Chamber, Theodor Meron for controversially overturning a series of rulings by the lower chamber, thus resulting in the release of or significant reduction in sentences for individuals who were in power at the time the Genocide took place, killing more than a million people in its wake.

Judge Meron yesterday ordered the release of the former chief of staff for gendarmerie, Maj. Gen. Augustin Ndindiliyimana, and the commander of the reconnaissance battalion, Maj. Francois-Xavier Nzuwonemeye, who were both accused of actively training, arming and commanding the Genocide militia.

The appeals bench also reduced the sentence of Capt. Innocent Sagahutu, from 20 to 15 years. Sagahutu was second-in-command of the Reconnaissance Battalion of the Rwandan Army (FAR) responsible for Company A of the same battalion.

The court had in May 2011 sentenced Ndindiliyimana to 11 years imprisonment for genocide crimes, while Nzuwonemeye and Sagahutu had both been sentenced to terms of 20 years for crimes against humanity and war crimes.

“These are men who planned the massacre of our people. Now the ICTR has outrageously allowed them to walk scot free,” said Egide Nkuranga, the vice president of Ibuka, an umbrella organisation for Genocide survivors. 

He said survivors’ efforts to see justice delivered had consistently been blocked by ICTR judges, especially judge Meron.

“We have provided sufficient evidence about these men’s role in the Genocide but what happens in Arusha is that criminals have more rights than the victims,” said Nkuranga.

The Ibuka official accused Judge Meron of playing politics instead of  dispensing justice.

Meanwhile the ICTR chamber said it would hand down its decision on a fourth defendant, former army chief Augustin Bizimungu, at a later date. The four men were in a trial code-named Military II.

Bizimungu had been sentenced to 30 years in prison for crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The Spokesperson of Rwanda’s National Public Prosecution Authority, Alain Mukuralinda, regretted the decisions, saying it’s unfortunate they cannot be appealed.

“In our subsequent review, we may find evidence linking the Presiding Judge to these alarming acquittals and would not hesitate to make our position known,” said Mukuralinda.

Recent reports indicated that Judge Meron, 83, has greatly influenced court decisions by exerting undue influence on judges to let high-profile war crimes suspects go free.

Last year, a leaked letter written by a Danish judge, Frederik Harhoff, addressed to 56 people from different authorities, indicated that Meron had exerted “persistent and intense” pressure on his fellow judges to acquit high-profile suspects.

Meron has also previously served as a judge at the ICTY in the Hague.

Last year, Florence Hartmann, former spokeswoman for the former prosecutor of the ICTY, asked the UN Security Council to open an investigation into Meron following the allegations made in Harhoff’s letter.

Hartmann said that the Security Council had no choice but to launch an investigation after Meron was accused of being behind the acquittals of Croatian generals and Serbian officials.

“Judge Harhoff specifically indicates a violation of the Statute of the Tribunal by Theodor Meron. By statute, judges must be independent in making their decisions,” said Hartmann.

She did not rule out the possibility of revision of the verdicts, if it is determined that independence and impartiality of judges was not respected.

In the past, the American judge was on the bench that acquitted Protais Zigiranyirazo in November 2009 and, later on, Justin Mugenzi and Prosper Mugiraneza.

Meron also sat on the appeals bench that considerably reduced initial sentences for top Genocide architect Theoneste Bagosora and Anatole Nsengiyumva in 2011.

 All these men were key figures in the genocide machinery that lost power when the then RPA rebels took Kigali and effectively ended the Genocide on July 4, 1994.

In the recent past, there have been calls for Meron to step down from the ICTR cases and reviews of the decisions he had been party to.

“It’s only appropriate that he ceases to take part in ICTR cases and have retrials for cases in which he is believed to have greatly influenced the other judges,” Jean de Dieu Mucyo, the Executive Secretary of the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG), said last year.

To date, the UNSC has done nothing about the complaints against judge Meron.

With the UN-backed tribunal due to close shop this year, many say its legacy will remain highly questionable.

So far, six former ministers who served in the interim government led by the Genocide Jean Kambanda, have been acquitted despite a detailed guilty plea entered by Kambanda on the role of his government in the most vicious killings known to man.

ICTR was established in 1995 to try key masterminds of the Genocide against the Tutsi, but many among the architects of the killings are either still at large or were acquitted by the court.

Critics accuse the court of benefiting only its highly paid technocrats while Genocide survivors continued to wait for justice in vain.

The court has spent close to US$ 2 billion (approx. Rwf1.5 trillion) on 75 cases in a period spanning nearly two decades.

Fact File

Maj. Gen. Augustin Ndindiliyimana

From 1973, Ndindiliyamana held ministerial positions (notably as Minister for Youth and Minister of Defence) under the regime of President Habyarimana. On 2 September 1992, he was named Chief of Staff of the National Gendarmerie, a position which he held until July 1994. In this capacity, he exercised authority over the entire National Gendarmerie. The National Gendarmerie was in charge of maintaining public order and peace as well as the observance of the laws in force throughout the country. Moreover it had the duty to assist anyone in danger.

 Maj. Francois-Xavier Nzuwonemeye

In 1993, Nzuwonemeye exercised the function of Commander of the 42nd Battalion. He was subsequently appointed Commander of the Reconnaissance Battalion within the Rwandan army. He held this post until July 1994. In this capacity, he exercised authority over all the units of this battalion.

The reconnaissance battalion allegedly tracked down, arrested, sexually assaulted, and killed then Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana.

 Capt. Innocent Sagahutu

During the Genocide, Capt Sagahutu was second-in-command of the Reconnaissance Battalion (RECCE) and commander of this battalion’s A company, serving under battalion commander Maj. Nzuwonemeye.

He and other officers are accused of conspiring to exterminate Tutsis and helped to train the interahamwe militia.

Sagahutu allegedly directed participated in the distribution of weapons and preparation of lists of people to be eliminated. 

Prosecution charged him with eleven counts; conspiracy to commit genocide, genocide or complicity in the alternative, various crimes against humanity including extermination, rape and murder, and war crimes.

Contact email: edwin.musoni[at]


I doubt on the mental capability of a 83 year judge; what he has done is beyond any understanding ( I think that even the acquitted hardly believe the outcome of the judgment).

08:36:47 Wednesday 12th, February 2014 Kigali - TABARO

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It only take a Rwandan bravery to withstand all these injustices. What a timing of these unprofessional judgements when the people of Rwanda are mourning the innocent lives, same that these protected genocide criminals took-off lives?

If this is the style that the West have chose to wind-up the ICTR - let is be - the early the better that the architects of all these mess know that some histories do not repeat themselves in Rwanda. It is again and again reiterated NEVER EVER AGAIN.

It bad that the same people succeeded to narrate questions of past times. You may have already, or will leave to appreciate the fact that this is new Rwanda, a determined and dignified nation whose progress and national building would not be deterred by cheap politics.

10:36:05 Wednesday 12th, February 2014 Rusizi - Abdul Kanoti

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As our ancestors told us, "Nta utanga icyo adafite". Only the incorrigly trusting would have expected any justice for the Genocide victims from this parody of a court.

As Yolande Mukagasana righly observed on a previous occasion when Theodor Meron has given us a similar performance befitting his advanced level of senility: "Arusha justice is not ours. It is yours. ICTR was created to cleanse your conscience."

It continues to amaze me that, despite Rwandans' repeated abandonment by the UN, not just in 1994 but previously in 1959-1964 and 1973, some of my compatriots still expect that they might get some justice from that same UN.

I am reminded of the habituslly battered wife who continues to cling to the hope that their violent spouse might turn a new leaf and stop inflicting violence on them, despite clear evidence that this is a forlon hope.

Where Rwanda is concerned, 1994 and the two multi-year and multi billion dollar per year bureaucratic boondoggles, the ICTR and MONUC/MONUSCO - one to our east and the other to our west - are perfectly emblematic of what the UN represents: total failure in matters of security, justice and peace, but highly profitable for the professionals, administrators and other bureaucrats who run them or service them and would love nothing more than that they never close.

As we contemplate the ICTR and its senile gerontocrat at work - in a manner of speaking - the wisdom of Rwanda's refusal to dubscribe to that other travesty of a court - the ICC, which would have given us a permanent ICTR, becomes even clearer.

15:53:33 Wednesday 12th, February 2014 - Mwene Kalinda

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