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UN Team Blasted Over Rwandan Verdict


War crimes chief says prosecutors handled case badly as suspect acquitted

By Steven Edwardsni

National Post
June 8, 2001

The UN's chief war crimes prosecutor criticized her own team as incompetent yesterday after a Rwandan genocide suspect was acquitted of involvement in the massacres. Carla Del Ponte said through her spokeswoman she was confident her office had gathered sufficient evidence to convict Ignace Bagilishema, a former Rwanda mayor charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes during the 1994 mass slaughter of Tutsis in the central African country. But she felt it had been presented badly, leading to a majority decision by the three judges who sit in lieu of a jury to acquit him on all seven counts.

Mrs. Del Ponte said the loss of the case justified her moves to purge her office of prosecutors she considers weak.

Mr. Bagilishema, 46, who has spent two years and five months in jail, did not walk free, however. The judges granted the prosecution's request to retain him in custody pending the outcome of an appeal.

Jane Adong, the lead prosecutor in the case, is among seven prosecutors who, according to private documents uncovered by the National Post last month, are being released as their contracts expire. Sources say Ms. Adong, who is from Tanzania, is fighting Mrs. Del Ponte's bid to oust her.

The trial of Mr. Bagilishema took placed in Arusha, Tanzania, seat of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which the UN created to prosecute the architects of the genocide. Eight have so far been convicted, and about 40 remain to be tried. Yesterday's ruling was the first "not guilty" verdict.

"We are confident of the evidence we have," said Florence Hartmann on behalf of Mrs. Del Ponte yesterday. "But we know it was presented badly in court. Mrs. Del Ponte is aware that the evidence was not presented by the trial teams as well as it could have been. "As you know, the contract of the senior trial attorney was not renewed. The prosecutor has said on many occasions that some of the prosecutors are weak, and she has taken steps to correct this." Mrs. Del Ponte succeeded Louise Arbour, a justice with the Supreme Court of Canada, in 1999 as chief prosecutor of the ICTR and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

In a 341-page judgment for Mr. Bagilishema, the presiding judge, Judge Erik Mose of Norway, writes of the "paucity" of the prosecution evidence and describes prosecution witnesses as contradictory and unreliable. The prosecution had argued that as mayor of Mabanza in western Rwanda in 1994, Mr. Bagilishema was directly involved in the genocide and was responsible for acts of his subordinates. The surrounding area saw 45,000 killed -- 22,000 Tutsis died at a Catholic church and football stadium alone. At least 800,000 died nationally during a three-month orgy of violence.

Prosecution witnesses failed to place Mr. Bagilishema at the scene of several of the massacres, the judges found. The judges ruled Mr. Bagilishema should remain in custody despite a claim by his lawyer, Franí§ois Roux, that "freedom is the norm, detention is the exception" while a case is under appeal. Mr. Bagilishema showed little emotion as he learned the judges had acquitted him unanimously on three charges and by majority on the others.

Judge Mehmet Guney, of Turkey, found there had been sufficient evidence to convict Mr. Bagilishema on complicity in genocide and three charges of crimes against humanity.

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