Acquitted of Rwanda genocide, now left in legal limbo

Sitting behind his desk in a secure house in a quiet neighbourhood of Arusha, Prosper Mugiraneza looks at family photos taken before he was arrested in Cameroon 15 years ago.

Arusha: Sitting behind his desk in a secure house in a quiet neighbourhood of Arusha, Prosper Mugiraneza looks at family photos taken before he was arrested in Cameroon 15 years ago.

Since then he has never seen his oldest son, after being charged with playing a leading role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide and hauled to the city in northern Tanzania, the home of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

Intially convicted for inciting mass killings -- at least 800,000 mainly ethnic Tutsis were slaughtered in just 100 days -- he was acquitted on appeal in 2013, theoretically left a free man but in reality a virtual prisoner with nowhere to go.

There are 10 others in the Arusha house, seven of them acquitted and three who have served out their sentences. Most want to move to Europe to join their families, some to Canada, but for the moment they are stuck behind high walls, topped by an electric fence.

ICTR registrar Bongani Majola explained that no country wants to take them in, leaving the court -- which is in the process of wrapping up its last cases and closing its doors -- with a final logistical headache.

"Some countries have said that they are concerned that accepting relocation will contribute to public disturbance," he said, insisting that countries which have agreed to six previous asylum requests -- France, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy -- "have not experienced public disturbance".

Among the 11 is Protais Zigiranyirazo, also known as "Mr Z," once a leading figure in the extremist Hutu regime that oversaw the genocide. He went on trial accused of being one of the main architects of the killings, but was acquitted in 2009 due to lack of evidence.Mugiraneza also served in the extremist Hutu interim government, but insists that all he wants to do now is see his family after 14 years in jail pending trial and appeal, and a year in a safe house.

"We can`t do very much," said Casimir Bizimungu, a former Rwandan health minister who was also acquitted and is stuck in the house, able to go on short walks outside but barred from working and lacking any identification documents.

He said the 11 spend their days eating together, reading a lot -- mainly the bible -- watching TV, surfing the Internet and strolling in the garden. The longest "serving" resident of the house is former transport minister, Andre Ntagerura, who has been stuck there for 10 years.

As soon as the ICTR closes up, host nation Tanzania expects them to move on. They refuse to return to Rwanda, where they say that their safety will be at risk and where they no longer have any family to return to.

"They are in limbo, they are as good as non-existing," Majola said, bemoaning what has emerged as a major challenge for international justice. 

"In the planning, in the establishment of the tribunal, there was thought given to those convicted, but no thought to what would happen to those who were acquitted," he said. "It was simply assumed that they would go back to their orignal places.

"In a national system, when you are tried and when you are found not guilty, society takes you back, society gives you all your rights and privileges. 

"The international criminal justice, which is supposed to be better, actually fails these people and perpetuates the violation of their rights in the sense that they cannot live freely."

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