Genocide survivors decry retrial of convicted mastermind by UN court

Mourners during a past commemoration event at Murambi Genocide Memorial. Sam Ngendahimana.

Genocide survivors and the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG) have described the retrial of the genocide convict Augustin Ngirabatware, the former minister for planning in the genocidal government, as unfair and perverting the course of justice.

They were commenting on the recent decision by the Arusha-based Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) to retry the case following Ngirabatware’s request.

The proceedings in the retrial case are slated to begin on September 24, according to the Tanzania-based court’s website.

MICT took over from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) that was instituted by the UN to try masterminds of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Ngirabatware was sentenced by an ICTR Trial Chamber to 35 years of imprisonment in December 2012 but appealed two years later and the court’s Appeals Chamber reduced his sentence to 30 years of imprisonment.

The former minister later requested for a review of the trial on the grounds that he had new facts that would clear him of the crimes for which he was convicted.

In June 2017, the Appeals Chamber issued a decision granting Ngirabatware’s request for review of the appeal judgment.

The umbrella organisation of Genocide survivors (Ibuka) and CNLG have described the decision to review the judgment as unfair and supporting the convict to distort the truth.

They put the blame on the tribunal’s controversial substantive leader, Theodor Meron.

“That is complicating things. It has been realised that Judge Theodor Meron’s conduct as a judge is unfair; if you look at Ngirabatware’s role in the Genocide, he was given a much light sentence. The least that can be done is to let him serve his sentence,” Naphtal Ahishakiye, the Ibuka executive secretary, said yesterday.

Ahishakiye stressed that while ICTR and its successor have played a role in promoting justice, there are still weaknesses that should be worked on to continue serving its purpose.

“There are still weaknesses that we want to be corrected; recently, after we raised our voices about his (Meron’s) unfair discharging of his duties, instead of listening to our concern, he took a decision of not listening to any survivors, we wish to have the right and opportunity to contribute to the better functioning of MICT court,” he added

According to Prof Jean Damascene Bizimana, CNLG executive secretary, the review of Ngirabatware’s case only serves the purpose of perverting the course of justice.

“It is an attempt to pervert the course of justice, Ngirabatware had appealed before and was handed 30 years as a result, he asked for a review of the case again and I don’t understand why he was given the special opportunity to have his judgment reviewed,” he said.

Unfair justice

Bizimana said that the Government has, on several occasions, said that Judge Meron is unfair and MICT laws are ignored willingly.

“We urged that the laws governing the UN Court be amended so that no single judge should possess unilateral powers as Meron does because it is one of the problems faced with the court,” he said.

“If you look at the UN’s Special court for Sierra Leonne decisions are taken considering the interest of victims, whether the convict had been corrected enough to live in society with others and considering the wish of the country where the convict committed the crime from, all those were not considered by ICTR and now its successor,” he added.

Signs of wrong judgment

Commenting on the case of five people who were recently arrested in Rwanda and transferred to Arusha for trial after they were found bribing and coercing witnesses to reverse testimonies that pin Ngirabatware, Bizimana said that it was an indication that after all, there are no grounds for the convict to seek retrial.  

The five people – including four men and a woman – were arrested on the indictment of the UN court’s Chief Prosecutor and were on Monday transferred to the UN Detention Centre in Arusha.

“What we ask the court is to uphold the conviction because I don’t think the court made a mistake on two separate occasions,” he added.

Ngirabatware was arrested in September 2007 in Germany and transferred to the ICTR in October 2009.