Rwandan priest acquitted of genocide charges

AP News
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Posted: Nov 17, 2009 11:47 AM

A United Nations court on Tuesday acquitted a Catholic priest charged with genocide, murder and extermination in Rwanda's 1994 genocide after the judge said the prosecution had failed to prove its case.

Father Hormisdas Nsengimana, 55, had been imprisoned for seven years since his 2002 arrest in Cameroon. Judge Erik Mose ordered his immediate release from the U.N. detention facility in Arusha.

"I wish for peace and reconciliation in Rwanda ... I thank God for this (release)," Nsengimana told the press after his acquittal.

At least 500,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed during Rwanda's genocide, which began after President Juvenal Habyarimana's plane was brought down in April 1994.

Nsengimana was alleged to have been at the center of a group of Hutu extremists that planned and carried out targeted attacks in the southern Rwandan town of Nyanza, where he was head of a prestigious Catholic school.

He also was accused of supervising at least three roadblocks that were used to stop and kill Tutsis, according to a statement by The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

Mose said the chamber had assessed all the evidence supporting the three counts against Nsengimana and did not find any credible evidence to implicate him.

"One prosecution witness testified about this event. His credibility is doubtful ... The chamber has not found the allegation proved beyond reasonable doubt," Mose said during the 30-minute ruling.

The prosecutor, Hassan Bubacar Jallow, said they needed more information to look into an appeal.

"We have not received the full text. When we receive it, we'll study it and make our position," he said.

It was the second acquittal by The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda since Monday, when the appeals court overturned a conviction and 20-year sentence faced by Protais Zigiranyirazo, the former Rwandan president's brother-in-law. Zigiranyirazo, known as "Mr. Z," was sentenced to 20 years in December 2008. The Appeals Court said it found serious errors committed by the Tribunal in Zigiranyirazo's conviction.

The tribunal, set up by the U.N. to try key suspects of the genocide, has now convicted 39 people and acquitted eight.

Nsengimana is one of the four Catholic priests indicted by the ICTR. Athanase Seromba, a former vicar in western Rwanda, is serving a life sentence. Emmanuel Rukundo, a former military chaplain, was sentenced in February to 25 years in prison. Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, a former vicar at the Parish of the Holy Family in Kigali, is awaiting trial.

(This version corrects spelling of judge's first name in 2nd graf.)