Arusha, February 5, 2013 (FH) – Rwandan Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga has called the ICTR’s  acquittal on appeal of two former Rwandan ministers “extremely disappointing”.

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The Appeals Court of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) yesterday ordered the release of ex-Trade Minister Justin Mugenzi and ex-Public Service Minister Prosper Mugiraneza, both of whom were in power at the time of the genocide. The lower court had sentenced them to 30 years in jail.

“This is an extremely disappointing decision by the appeals chamber of the ICTR,” said Ngoga in a statement. “The appalling discrepancies in decisions, between the trial and appeals chambers in a number of cases including this one raises serious questions.”

“The most recent decisions of the appeals chamber have tended to adopt simplistic treatment of facts and are creating a trend of exonerating Political leadership from responsibility in the Genocide,” adds Ngoga. “There is reason to believe that this trend will continue.”

He also says some of the Tribunal’s decisions are undermining its legacy, despite “a generally important role the ICTR has played in Post Rwanda Genocide”, and that this is “sad”.

Jean-Pierre Dusingizemungu, head of the main genocide survivors’ organization IBUKA also said he was “deeply saddened” by the judgment. In an interview with Radio Rwanda, he said the appeals court decision “adds grist to the mill of those who would deny the genocide”.

The lower court had found Mugenzi and Mugiraneza guilty of conspiracy to commit genocide and direct and public incitement to commit genocide, based largely on their presence at two key meetings: a cabinet meeting held on April 17, 1994, in Gitarama (central Rwanda), and an investiture ceremony two days later for a new prefect of Butare, in southern Rwanda. The cabinet had decided to sack the Tutsi prefect of Butare, Jean-Baptiste Habyarimana, who was considered the last obstacle to the genocide in his prefecture. His removal was announced publicly the next day in a stadium in Butare, in the presence of government ministers and other civil and military leaders.

After he was removed from office, the prefect Habyarimana was killed and massacres, which had so far been limited, became widespread and systematic in Butare prefecture. The judges of the lower court accepted the prosecutor’s argument that through their presence, Mugenzi and Mugiraneza participated in a conspiracy to commit genocide and were guilty of incitement to genocide through approving, even tacitly, the incendiary speech delivered in Butare on April 19, 1994, by the interim president Théodore Sindikubwabo. Sindikubwabo is thought to have died in exile in former Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo.

However, the Appeals Court drew different conclusions. It found that while the sacking of the prefect Habyarimana certainly contributed to the increase in the killing, the government could have taken the decision for “political and administrative reasons” rather than necessarily to spread the genocide. The government had complained about Habyarimana’s absence from meetings. The appeals judges also took into consideration the defence argument that the two ministers did not know their president was going to make an incendiary speech.