The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) today unanimously confirmed the judgement of Trial Chamber I by which the latter had acquitted Ignace Bagilishema, former bourgmestre (mayor) of Mabanza, near Kibuye.
Announcing its decision at a hearing in Arusha today the President of the Appeals Chamber, Judge Claude Jorda, said that the Chamber unanimously rejected all of the arguments submitted by the Prosecutor and ordered Bagilishema’s immediate release. The detailed reasons for the decision would be given in writing later.
Bagilishema’s counsel, Maître François Roux of the Montpellier Bar, welcomed the decision. He said that as well as being an important day for Mr. Bagilishema and his family, it was an important day for international criminal law. Only two days after the entry into force of the Statute of the International Criminal Court, the Appeals Chamber had demonstrated that it was for judges, in their full independence to decide who was guilty and who was innocent. He added that it was an important day for Rwanda also and a step in the process of reconciliation to which the work of the ICTR contributed.
On June 7 2001 the Trial Chamber (composed of Judges Erik Møse, presiding, Asoka Gunawardana and Mehmet Güney), unanimously found Bagilishema not guilty of Genocide and serious violations of the Geneva Conventions. By a majority, with Judge Güney dissenting, it found the accused not guilty of one count of Complicity in Genocide and three counts of Crimes against Humanity.
After reviewing all of the testimony and documentary evidence presented during the trial, the Chamber ruled that the testimonies of the witnesses for the Prosecution were riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions. The Chamber found that the Prosecution had failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. This was the first acquittal by the ICTR.
In the appeal, the Prosecutor argued that the Trial Chamber had made errors of fact and of law in arriving at its decision and asked the Appeals Chamber to order a retrial. For Mr. Bagilishema, his counsel argued that the appeal had been lodged out of time and that in any event the Decision of the Trial Chamber was sound.
The Appeals Chamber was composed of Judge Claude Jorda, presiding, and Judges Mohamed Shahabuddeen, David Hunt, Fausto Pocar and Theodor Meron. Judges Hunt and Meron were sworn in as members of the ICTR Appeals Chamber yesterday at a ceremony before Judge Navanethem Pillay, President of ICTR, and Adama Dieng, Registrar, representing the Secretary General of the United Nations.