Their judgment comes 12 years after the accused were arrested and nearly eight years after their trial began.
The case, which is one of the ICTR's most important, involves former ministers Casimir Bizimungu (Health), Prosper Mugiraneza (Civil Service), Jérôme Bicamumpaka (Foreign Affairs) and Justin Mugenzi (Trade).
The four are accused notably of inciting massacres of Tutsis during meetings held in different parts of Rwanda in 1994.
In closing arguments on December 1, 2008, prosecutor Paul Ng'arua told the court that the four could have acted to stop the killing if they had chosen, but that "they had no intention to stop the massacres". Instead, he argued, "they poured oil on the flames" through "incendiary speeches", some of which were relayed on the notorious Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) radio station. He said defence arguments that they were powerless to stop the killing were "ridiculous".
Trial began in November 2003 and ended in December 2008, after the court had heard 57 witnesses for the prosecution and 114 for the defence. A verdict was originally expected in 2010 but has been postponed several times.
Faced with the slowness of procedures, Mugiraneza has four times tried in vain to get his case dropped for violation of his rights. The court rejected his last such motion in June 2010, but with a landmark dissenting opinion by one judge.
Casimir Bizimungu, born 1951 in Nyamugali (northern former prefecture of Ruhengeri), is the most well known of the four accused. He was a member of the MRND former ruling party of the late president Juvénal Habyarimana. Bizimungu is a medical doctor holding PhD and M.D. degrees from American universities and speaks both English and French. When he returned to Rwanda after his studies, he was quickly noticed by Habyarimana, who made him Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1989. When this portfolio was given to another party following an agreement with the opposition, he was appointed Minister of Health. Bizimungu retained this post after Habyarimana's assassination on April 4, 1994. He was arrested in Kenya on February 11, 1999, and transferred to the ICTR 12 days later.
Jérôme Bicamumpaka, born 1957, also comes from northern Rwanda. Son of a minister in Rwanda's first post-independence government, he studied economics in Belgium. When he returned to Rwanda, he went into business and later participated in the re-launch of the MDR party. He was appointed Foreign Affairs Minister after Habyarimana's death. Before that he had been known mostly because of his father.
Prosper Mugiraneza, also born in 1957, comes from Kibungo prefecture in eastern Rwanda. He holds a law degree from the University of Rwanda and is a former prosecutor. He was a prominent member of the MRND party. Mugiraneza entered government in 1991 as Minister for Labour and Social Affairs before becoming Civil Service Minister in 1992.
Justin Mugenzi, born 1949, also comes from Kibungo prefecture in eastern Rwanda. He was a founder member of the Liberal Party (PL) and later led its Hutu Power faction. A brilliant speaker, he was among the politicians who most troubled Habyarimana and his regime in party meetings and demonstrations in 1992. The two men reconciled in 1993 after the PL split, and Habyarimana appointed him Minister of Trade.
Mugenzi, Bicamumpaka and Mugiraneza were all arrested in Cameroon on April 6, 1999 and transferred to the ICTR Detention Facility in Arusha on July 31 the same year.
© Hirondelle News Agency