Arusha, July 3, 2002 (FH) - The Appeals Chamber for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Wednesday confirmed the acquittal of former Rwandan mayor Ignace Bagilishema. In a summary of the judgment delivered shortly after 5 pm (2 GMT), Bagilishema was declared a freeman.

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Judges Claude Jorda, of France (presiding), Mohamed Shahabuddeen of Guyana, David Hunt of Australia, Fausto Pocar of Italy and Theodor Meron of America heard Bagilishema's appeal on Tuesday. The Chamber said it would deliberate on the issue and inform the parties concerned of its decision in due course. During the hearing on Wednesday, parties were expecting a decision on a motion asking for the lifting of conditions binding Bagilishema, when the court announced its decision to confirm his acquittal. "The Appeals Chamber confirms the acquittal by the Trial Chamber regarding all the charges," said Judge Claude Jorda. "The Chamber orders the immediate release of Ignace Bagilishema and therefore there is no need to rule on the motion (for the lifting of conditions binding him)," the presiding Judge said. A stunned Baglishema remained motionless long after the Appeal Chambers Judges left the courtroom. His defence lawyer French Francois Roux held his cheeks as the decision sunk in and then hugged his client. In a press conference shortly after the decision Bagilishema flanked by Roux said: "At this moment it is difficult to express my feelings. " Speaking in French, Bagilishema said he would continue to fight for justice and reconciliation in Rwanda. Roux thanked members of his defence team for working towards Bagilishema's release. He said that it was a big day for Bagilishema and for international justice. Roux said that his clients acquittal had proved that "International courts are not machinery for condemnation" but institutions of justice. "The goal of the ICTR is not only to deliver justice but also to foster reconciliation in Rwanda," he added. He also said that the acquittal shows that one could have been in Rwanda in 1994 but not necessarily be a genocidaire. Bagilishema, former mayor of Mabanza commune in Kibuye, province in western Rwanda is the first suspect to be acquitted by the Tribunal. He had been charged with seven counts of genocide and crimes against humanity. His trial started on October 27th, 1999. Bagilishema was acquitted on June 7th last year, but the ICTR prosecution filed an appeal following which some judicial conditions were imposed on him pending the appeal hearing. Bagilishema was required to report to the gendarmerie in France where he is currently living, among other conditions. The prosecution had alleged that he had helped plan and execute massacres of Tutsis in the commune of Mabanza, Kibuye province in western Rwanda, of which he was mayor. He was mayor of Mabanza from February 1980 to July 1994. But ICTR's Trial Chamber One, found by a majority of two to one that the prosecution had failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. 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. Bagilishema, 47, was arrested on February 20th, 1999, in South Africa. He is married with six children. SW/DO/FH (BS-0703e)