Arusha, June 7, 2001 (FH) The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Thursday acquitted former Rwandan mayor Ignace Bagilishema on all seven charges against him, saying that the Prosecutor had failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. This is the first time the ICTR has acquitted a genocide suspect.

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Bagilishema himself showed little emotion as the verdict was read out, in contrast to his French defence lawyer François Roux, who looked close to tears. Reading a summary of the 341-page judgement, presiding Judge Erik Mose of Norway referred to the "paucity" of the prosecution evidence on most of its allegations, and said witnesses were found to be contradictory and unreliable. The Prosecutor had alleged that Bagilishema was not only directly involved in genocide, but also part of a wider conspiracy and that, as a mayor, he was responsible for the acts of his subordinates. Judge Mose said the Chamber had given lengthy consideration to these allegations. On none of them, however, did the Chamber find the prosecution evidence convincing. Bagilishema was mayor of Mabanza commune, in the west Rwandan prefecture of Kibuye, during the 1994 genocide. He was charged with seven counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for his alleged role in massacres of Tutsis in Mabanza and neighbouring communes. He was also charged for the alleged crimes of his subordinates (assistants, communal policemen and gendarmes posted to Mabanza). Bagilishema pleaded not-guilty. In the course of the trial, his lawyers presented him as a "good mayor who dedicated himself to the development of his commune and peaceful coexistence between its different ethnic and religious communities". Defence counsel Roux told the court that his client had been "a man alone in the torment", threatened by attackers. Roux is assisted by co-counsel Maroufa Diabira of MauritaniaIn his own testimony, Bagilishema told the court that he had always tried to protect persecuted Tutsis. But he said he did not have the means to counter attacks from outsiders ("Abakiga") who came from the north and were later joined by "the delinquents of Mabanza". Bagilishema said he had asked the authorities of the prefecture for reinforcements, but in vain. Bagilishema's trial started on October 27th, 1999, before Trial Chamber One of the ICTR. For this case, the Chamber was composed of judges Mose of Norway (presiding), Asoka de Zoysa Gunawardana of Sri Lanka and Mehmet Güney of Turkey. The three judges went to Rwanda just before the start of trial, to visit the sites of the alleged crimes. Prosecution in this case brought 18 witnesses, while the defence brought 15, including Bagilishema himself. Bagilishema, 46, was arrested on February 20th, 1999, in South Africa. He was mayor of Mabanza from February 1980 to July 1994. He is married with six children. JC/MBR/FH (BS0607e)