Acquitted But Still Not Free

ICTRIn February 2014, Lead Counsel Chief Charles A. Taku and I (with our defence team) won the acquittal of our client, Major F.X. Nzuwonemeye, former Commander of the Reconnaissance Battalion, Rwandan Army in April 1994, in the Ndindiliyimana et al. (“Military II”) case at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).  The Appeals Chamber reversed the Trial Chamber’s convictions for crimes against humanity and violations of common article 3, for the murders of the Belgian peacekeepers and former Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana.

Major Nzuwonemeye joined the other ICTR acquitted persons and those who have completed their sentences (about ten in total), who live under U.N. auspices in a “safe house” in Arusha, Tanzania.  One person, Dr. Andre Ntagerura, has lived in a “safe house” since his acquittal at trial in 2004.   The reason is that no country where these men can live in safety and without fear will accept them.   They are separated from their families.   Many of their families live in Europe, in countries where these men were initially arrested, prior to transfer to the ICTR.

These men are former members of the Rwandan government and military in 1994 – the very enemy against whom the Rwandan Patriotic Front, led by Rwanda’s current President Paul Kagame, waged war.   A year or so ago, Rwanda expressed its willingness to accept these persons.  Based on the government’s past and current practices and attitudes towards its opponents (both inside and outside the country), the men fear for their safety if they were to set foot on Rwandan soil.

Their fears are unequivocally justified.  The environment in Rwanda under the current government is unsafe for anyone or any party perceived to be in opposition to the regime.  As The Economist’s editorial on the Parliamentary elections in September 2013 stated, “Political opposition has been allowed only where it does not question the RPF’s role as the country’s saviour.”

The opponents of the RPF – whether political candidates, or journalists or other individuals – are imprisoned or found dead.  In the last Presidential election in 2010, the First Vice-President of the Democratic Green Party [one of the three opposition parties excluded from the ballot], Andre Rwisereka, was found dead a few weeks prior to the elections.  Leaders (as well as members) of other opposition parties, such as Me. Bernard Ntaganda, Deogratias Mushayidi, Dr. Theoneste Niyitegeka, and Victoire Umuhoza Ingabire remain incarcerated.   Journalists have been killed inside and outside the country.  In fact, Rwanda ranks 162nd out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

Victoire Ingabire, President of the Unified Demcratic Forces (FDU-Inkingi), a coalition of Rwandan opposition parties, returned to her home country after 16 years in exile in the Netherlands to challenge President Kagame in the last Presidential election.  Instead, she was arrested and prosecuted for “genocide ideology,” “divisionism” and other charges related to terrorism and is now serving a sentence of fifteen years (see, Amnesty International’s  2013 publication, Rwanda in Jeopardy:  The First Instance Trial of Victoire Ingabire).   In a Resolution (23 May 2013), the European Parliament stated that it “strongly condemns the politically motivated nature of the trial” and noted that “respect for fundamental human rights, including political pluralism and freedom of expression and association, are severely restricted in Rwanda, making it difficult for opposition parties to operate and for journalists to express critical views.”   Continue reading