If you asked any media persons in Arusha of what they would comment about this day at the Arusha International Conference Centre (AICC), they will certainly tell you it was not a usual one.
Many woke up to a usual golden glow in the sky, with Mountain Meru unveiling its usual mist in Tanzania’s northern town of Arusha. However, events took a different turn as people settled to attend the day’s two rulings.
The trials were of Protais Zigiranyirazo, also known as ‘Mr Zed’, and a brother-in-law of former President Habyarimana and the Military trial, which officials at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) described as a groundbreaking judgment in the history of the UN court.
The Courtroom 3 and the Laity Kama courtrooms were the busiest this year as they hosted the two hearings. Security was unusually tight at the courtrooms with thorough scrutiny and check ups of whoever attended the hearings.
A day before the judgments, foreign journalists had jammed the office of the Chief of Press unit Mr Bocar Sy seeking for accreditation to cover the events.
Journalists from Rwanda Television (RTV), CNN, AFP, Kenya Broadcasting Council (KBC), Radio France International, among others, filled forms, which authorized some of them to do filming of the tribunal and others to cover the events.
In the day’s first judgment of Zigiranyirazo that took place in Courtroom 3 at 10; 00am, many arrived at the public gallery two hours before the hearing started, just to avoid the heavy human traffic that ensued when the hearing started.
Minutes before his judgment, Zigiranyirazo was paraded before members of the press, who took many photos and images of him posing with his defence counsels.
Dressed in a cream suit, black shirt and pink tie, the 70- year old and former governor of Kibuye, Western Province, looked composed as media men got the best of his shots.
‘Mr Zed’, like he is popularly known, was later sentenced to twenty years in jail on two counts of Genocide and extermination.
But what made this day a memorable one? Time had come for the much-awaited verdict in the widely publicised Military I trial to be rendered.
The Military I trial surely deserved a long wait as it comprised of the most influential military officials who planned and executed the Genocide.
What added much attention to it though was that it comprised of Col. Theoneste Bagosora, a man who earned himself fame the world over for his unequivocal role in killing thousands of innocent Tutsis during the 1994 Genocide?
He surely lived to the saying that; ‘When you fail attracting fame for the good reasons, you go for the bad ones.’
As a Director of Cabinet in the Ministry of Defence, Bagosora was found guilty by the court on this day for killing several politicians including former Prime Minister Agatha Uwilingiyimana and also responsible for the organised killings perpetrated by soldiers and militiamen at a number of sites throughout Kigali and Gisenyi.
The Laity Kama courtroom where the military 1 judgment took place was overwhelmingly congested, several hours before the hearing commenced.
Security was beefed up at the entrance with three checkpoints manned by UN security staff— who ensured complete check ups of whoever entered the courtroom.
“I almost missed a seat but I explained my way through that I’m a journalist and I was let in. I was about to cover the Bagosora case while standing because many people did just that,” says Nicodemus Ikonko, a journalist with Hirondelle news agency.
People from all lifestyles thronged the reasonably large courtroom to take a glimpse of the ‘blood-stained’ former military men, who among their group of four, three were sentenced to life imprisonment for killings, and one Brigadier Gratien Kabiligi who was acquitted.
When the judge declared that Kabiligi had been acquitted, the accused stood up and raised his two thumbs, illustrating that he had emerged victorious.
However, many legal analysts who spoke to this reporter, shortly after the judgment expressed shock at the acquittal of Kabiligi, whom they believe pioneered several killings in the countryside.
“This has greatly shocked us; we can believe this man has been set free. There is every evidence that he had an instrumental role in the Genocide,” said one of them, who preferred to remain anonymous.
Apart from Bagosora, the two other members of the Ex-Far who were sentenced to life in jail are Major Alloys Ntabakuze, former commander of the elite Para Commando battalion and Lieutenant Colonel Anatole Nsengiyumva who was the commander of the military operation sector of Gisenyi.
The four were also paraded and journalist took their photos. In the public gallery of the courtroom, there sat a group of relatives and spouses of the accused.
The former military men occasionally waved to their relatives moments before judge Eric Mose read out the judgment to them.