KIGALI - The Government of Rwanda has reacted to the decision by the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR) to overturn a 20-year sentence and acquit Protais Zigiranyirazo, describing it as a ‘sad moment’ for justice.
The Arusha-based United Nations tribunal yesterday overturned a 2008 conviction and 20-year sentence handed to Zigiranyirazo commonly referred to as “Mr. Z”.
ICTR Appeals Chamber Judge Theodore Meron ordered for the immediate release of Zigiranyirazo saying that the Trial Chamber had committed ‘serious errors’ in the 2008 conviction and sentencing of the suspect.
Zigiranyirazo was a brother-in-law to former President Juvenal Habyarimana and very influential member of ‘Akazu’ group that consisted of people close to the late President.
The group is largely responsible for masterminding the genocide. Zigiranyirazo was accused of being a key architect of mass massacres during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
In an interview with The New Times yesterday, Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama described the decision as “a sad one” especially to those who know the history of Zigiranyirazo during the genocide.
“Rwanda has legally committed itself to accept decisions by all courts whether national, regional or international. However this does not mean that we welcome the decision to acquit ‘Z.’
“It is a sad decision for all Rwandans who know what this man did. He is a member of ‘Akazu’-a group classified for its serious participation in the genocide, the inner circle of genocide organisers,” said Karugarama who also doubles as the Attorney General.
He said that Rwanda would readily appeal the decision by ICTR ‘if there was a way of doing so or organ to appeal to’, adding that the country will accept the decision for respect of legal norms but would not accept it as a deserving one.
“It is a sad day for Rwanda, it is a sad day for genocide survivors to see a member of Akazu, an organiser of the genocide acquitted,” Karugarama said in an interview.
Karugarama dismissed the allegations that the court made errors, wondering which type of errors the court would have committed in 2008 that would eventually turn a guilty person into an innocent one.
“What type of errors are these that would eventually turn a genocide planner into an innocent person?” Karugarama wondered.
Zigiranyirazo was accused of leading a convoy that attacked Tutsis who were seeking refuge on a hill in the former Gaseke commune, former Gisenyi prefecture a few days after the genocide began.
About 1,000 people were killed and the convoy later returned to attack survivors, according to the indictment.
Who is Mr. Z?
Born in 1938 in Giciye Commune, Gisenyi Prefecture, Zigiranyirazo commonly known as Mr. Z was both a businessman and politician.
He is the former governor of Ruhengeri prefecture now in the Northern Province. He was also accused of collaborating in the 1985 murder of Dian Fossey, an American national well known for her passion for the Mountain Gorillas.
He lived in Canada in the early 1980s but was expelled in 1983 and subsequently returned to Rwanda and became a businessman.
He is the brother of Agathe Kanziga, Habyarimana’s wife and through this relationship he became a member of ‘Akazu’ literally meaning a small house, a term used to refer the entourage of President Habyarimana.
By virtue of this relationship, he was in a position of strong influence and political power. As such he exercised control and de facto authority over the military, the Interahamwe militia, high ranking State administration officials, and the population in general.
Zigiranyirazo is alleged to have adhered to, executed and participated in a plan aimed at the extermination of the Tutsi and members of the opposition.
Between 6 April and 17 July 1994, Zigiranyirazo is said to have reached an arrangement with other members of the government and the military authorities of the prefectures of Kigali-Ville and Gisenyi to plan, prepare and facilitate attacks against the Tutsi throughout Rwanda, more precisely in the Gisenyi prefecture.
Around the month of September 1993, Zigiranyirazo is said to have been present at a meeting close to his home in Gisenyi, where he reportedly reached an agreement to take up action against the Tutsi.
In April 1994, Zigiranyirazo invited the mayors and commune councillors to a meeting at the Palm Beach Hotel in Gisenyi to plan and organise the extermination of Tutsis.
During the same period, Zigiranyirazo is also reported to have met with the military authorities of Gisenyi and Ruhengeri on an almost daily basis in order to plan the organisation and the execution of the genocide in Gisenyi.
He was also accused of having financed the creation of the Interahamwe.
Around 11 April 1994, Zigiranyirazo is alleged to have conspired with his sister and others by drawing up a list of influential Tutsis to be executed.
Around 14 April 1994, Zigiranyirazo reportedly ordered the military and the Interahamwe at the Kiyovu roadblock to search the neighbouring houses and to kill the Tutsis that were to be found there.
In July 1994, faced with the advance of the Rwandese Patriotic Front troops, Zigiranyirazo fled the country. On 26 July 2001, he was arrested in Brussels, Belgium.