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Rwanda: Convicted ex-Ingabire assistant Joseph Ntawangundi says “sorry” in Gacaca court appeal

Joseph Ntawangundi, convicted of genocide charges

Joseph Ntawangundi, convicted of genocide charges

Mr. Ntawangundi stunned an appeals Gacaca court on Thursday when he knelt down saying he was “sorry”. He also pinned his exiled opposition colleagues.

Kigali: New details coming from the controversial Genocide case of opposition politician Joseph Ntawangundi indicate that contrary to the previous trial where he denied a personal role in the killings, he now affirms he took part, RNA reports. He even knelt before the Gacaca court.

In the appeals hearing in Ngoma district (eastern Rwanda) which started Thursday, Gacaca judges pressed Mr. Ntawangundi not to speak in general terms where he has maintained that he only watched as his staff killed Tutsis. The judges demanded that he speaks about his role – saying they wanted to know the specific people he saved or which ones he saw being killed, and what he did exactly.

The aide of the leader of the yet-to-be registered United Democratic Forces Inkingi, Ms Ingabire Victoire was jailed for 17 years last month for his role in the Tutsi mass slaughter at the Agro-Veterinary school of Gitwe. Despite pleading guilt and saying sorry to the previous Gacaca hearing, Mr. Ntawangundi stood ground that he just had a passive role.

Now in his appeal at Rukira sector, Mr. Ntawangundi confirms that he personally ordered for the hunting and killing of eight people. Among them includes the school’s teacher and his young brother who he apparently ordered guards to kill. Mr. Ntawangundi also revealed that he ordered the militia to search for six other people for death.

In the appeal, he was seeking to be given a reduced sentence, which was dismissed and the 17-year term upheld. Before the appeals proceedings started, he promised to tell the “truth”.

However, a new twist to the appeals trial came when Mr. Ntawangundi repeatedly knelt down before judges and prosecution witnesses. “I am sorry for trying to hide my role and even denying my own child,” Ntawangundi said, but the judges also kept reminding him not to kneel.

When judges asked why he had not revealed the same “truth” to the previous Gacaca court, Mr. Ntawangundi dropped what became the bombshell of the entire case. He narrated that he and the other exiled opposition politicians had decided never to accept the Gacaca courts.

He said that it was the same spirit he brought when he returned to Rwanda and into his trail – to deny everything because he did not consider the Gacaca courts as credible. But that after watching witnesses including his own partner with whom they had a son, Mr. Ntawangundi said he realized he had no other place to hide, but ask for forgiveness.

“From this moment, I completely disassociate myself from that view which does not accept the Gacaca courts from the people who oppose the RPF government,” said Ntawangundi.

According to Article 58 of the Gacaca court, a person’s guilty plea can only be given credence during the first trail. The appeals judges simply upheld the sentence, refusing to even listen to him as he constantly said he was “sorry”.

As the court ended its session, in his prison’s uniform, Mr. Ntawangundi could be heard saying: “I wish I had said during the start of the trail what I said today. It would have been helpful to my case and maybe got a less sentence.”

Joseph Ntawangundi was arrested upon his return on the grounds of a judgment delivered in absentia by a Gacaca court in 2007. The tribunal had then sentenced him to 19 years in jail for his “complicity” in the 1994 genocide. Back in the country, he was entitled to a rehearing trial.

At the retrial, the defendant claimed that he had never been the school’s principal and that he was in Sweden during the Genocide. However, he finally admitted that he had been running the school for three months when the Tutsi Genocide started.

Speaking to witnesses who pinned Mr. Ntawangundi, they say there are still many issues that remain unresolved. Some wonder why he at first said he was not the person mentioned in the case, then turned around accepting. Some witnesses are also saying they are beginning to have a problem trusting anything Mr. Ntawangundi has said.

Witnesses also say they cannot forgive him because he did not detail how their people were killed. The Gacaca court usually at the end of a trail encourage the guilt party and victims to reconcile, but those of Mr. Ntawangundi say he has not been fully truthful – making him not to deserve to be forgiven.

Mr. Ntawangundi still has chances for appeal but it will be more difficult because he will be required to come up with specific aspects of the case he thinks were disregarded.

[ARI-RNA]

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