Justice delayed? Justice denied? Justice served?
What does the retrial of genocide convict Augustin Ngirabatware mean for international criminal law and the victims of the 1994 genocide?
Exactly twenty-five years ago, crimes of genocide were taking place in Rwanda. In just 100 days – from April to July 1994 – an estimated 800,000 Rwandan citizens were killed. A further two million Rwandans (a third of the population) fled to neighbouring countries, as did the Rwandan army and officials of the genocidal government.
Despite the twenty-five years that have passed, arrests and trials continue to take place.
On 19th March 2019, a 69-year-old Rwandan genocide suspect – known as Venant R. – was arrested in the Netherlands. The suspect was Regional Director of an agricultural institute located outside of the city of Butare during the 1994 genocide. Venant R. will most likely be extradited to Rwanda for trial.
In September of this year, one of the alleged masterminds behind the 1994 genocide – Augustin Ngirabatware – will face a review hearing at the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT). The MICT took over from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which was instituted by the UN to try those most responsible for the 1994 genocide.
Ngirabatware was a key member of Rwanda’s government prior to – and during – the 1994 genocide. In July 1990, he was appointed Minister of Planning for the National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development (MRND), where he also served as a member of the Gisenyi Préfecture Committee and the Technical Committee of Nyamyumba Commune.
On 17th February 2007, Ngirabatware was arrested in Germany and a year later he was transferred to the ICTR’s detention centre in Arusha. In December 2012, Trial Chamber II of the ICTR convicted Ngirabatware of committing direct and public incitement to commit genocide, and instigating, aiding and abetting genocide, based on his role in distributing weapons and making speeches at two roadblocks in Nyamyumba Commune on 7th April 1994. Ngirabatware was also convicted (under the extended form of Joint Criminal Enterprise) of rape as a crime against humanity.
Ngirabatware was sentenced to 35 years of imprisonment in December 2012. Two years later, the ICTR’s Appeals Chamber reduced this sentence to 30 years.
The former MRND minister later requested 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.
A review hearing is now scheduled to take place in September 2019.
The Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG) has described the decision to review the judgment as unfair to the victims of the 1994 genocide, and regard it as a means to support Augustin Ngirabatware in distorting the truth. According to their Executive Secretary, Dr. Bizimana, the review of Ngirabatware’s case only serves the purpose of perverting the course of justice: “If you look at the UN’s Special court for Sierra Leone 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”.
Both the ICTR and the MICT have weathered multiple storms during the course of their existence. Could this be another hurdle for the mechanism designed to enforce international criminal law? Will the retrial of Ngirabatware in September be a case of justice delayed, justice denied, or justice served?
In any case, the events that shocked the conscience of mankind twenty-five years ago continue to loom over the citizens of Rwanda and the international justice system created to fight impunity is about to face one of its toughest challenges yet.
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