Skip to main content

UN tribunal for Rwanda issues first acquittal verdict in war crimes trial

UN tribunal for Rwanda issues first acquittal verdict in war crimes trial

The United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) today 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. 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.