Human Rights Brief

A Legal Resource for the International Human Rights Community


Volume 12 Issue 2
Winter 2005

Georges Rutaganda v. The Prosecutor
Case No. ICTR-96-3-A

by Nicolas M. Roulea*
edited by Anne Heindel**

On May 26, 2003, the ICTR Appeals Chamber rendered its judgment in Georges Anderson Nderubumwe Rutaganda v. The Prosecutor. In December 1999, Rutaganda was found guilty by the Trial Chamber of participating in crimes committed during April to June 1994 in the pr�fectures of Kigali and Gitarama involving his distribution of weapons to members of the Interahamwe, his direction of men under his control to detain and then kill ten Tutsis, his direction and participation in massacres at the �cole Technique Officielle (ETO school) and the Nyanza gravel pit, and his killing of Emmanuel Kayitare. For these acts he was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity (murder and extermination) and sentenced by the Trial Chamber to a single term of life imprisonment. Rutaganda appealed against all his convictions and the Prosecution appealed Rutaganda's acquittal for murder as a violation of common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions. The Appeals Chamber set aside Rutaganda's conviction for murder as crime against humanity for the killing of Emmanuel Kayitare, reversed his acquittal for two counts of murder as violation of Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions, and affirmed the single sentence of life imprisonment.

In discussing the standard for appellate review, the Appeals Chamber affirmed that an appeal was "not an opportunity for the parties to reargue their case," but must be based on "an error on a question of law invalidating the decision" or on "an error of fact that has occasioned a miscarriage of justice." Regarding an error of law, the party raising the allegation must identify the alleged error, present support for the contention, and explain how the error invalidates the decision. Regarding errors of fact, the Appeals Chamber must show a high level of deference to the Trial Chamber's findings. Only when the Trial Chamber's findings of fact "could not have been accepted by any reasonable person," or when the evaluation of the evidence is "wholly erroneous" may the Appeals Chamber substitute its own findings. When this requirement is met, the party arguing that there has been a miscarriage of justice must further establish "that the error was critical to the verdict reached by the Trial Chamber" and that "a grossly unfair outcome has resulted from the error."

The Appeals Chamber assessed and rejected Rutaganda's contention that his right to a fair trial was violated due to bias on the part of the Trial Chamber in the treatment of his testimony and during the examination and cross-examination of witnesses. It also rejected Rutaganda's argument that the Trial Chamber had erred in finding that, in accordance with the test developed in the Akayesu Trial Judgment, specific intent for genocide could be inferred in part from the "general context of the perpetration of acts by others." In upholding the Akayesu approach, the Appeals Chamber noted that it did "not imply that guilt of an accused maybe inferred only from his affiliation with a 'guilty organision,'" but required a determination of an accused's intent "on the analysis of his own acts and conduct" at the time the crime was committed. It found that the Trial Chamber had determined Rutaganda's specific intent on the basis of his direct participation in specific crimes against Tutsis and that this intent had been demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt.

Except in regard to Rutaganda's responsibility for killing Emmanuel Kayitare, the Appeals Chamber determined that all of his allegations of errors of law and fact relating to the assessment and treatment of evidence were unfounded. As to the Kayitare killing, the Appeals Chamber rejected the Trial Chamber's finding that the testimonies of two witnesses were corroborative of each other as to the circumstances of the crime when they differed on most material facts. Although corroboration of witness testimony is not a requirement under ICTR practice, the Appeals Chamber determined that, because it was required to "assess the evidence presented at trial as an indivisible whole" and could not substitute its own view of the evidence for that of the Trial Chamber, it "must enter a judgment of acquittal 'if an appellant is able to establish that no reasonable tribunal of fact could have reached a conclusion upon the evidence before it.'" Consequently, it overturned Rutaganda's conviction for murder as a crime against humanity.

The Appeals Chamber then examined the Prosecution's contention that the Trial Chamber had committed an error of fact by failing to find a nexus between the crimes for which Rutaganda was convicted and the armed conflict. The Appeals Chamber adopted the view of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the Kunarac Appeal Judgment that "if it can be established . . . that the perpetrator acted in furtherance of or under the guise of the armed conflict . . . it would be sufficient to conclude that his acts were closely related to the armed conflict." It explained that "'under the guise of the armed conflict' does not mean simply 'at the same time as the armed conflict' and/or 'in any circumstances created in part by the armed conflict.'" Moreover, it emphasized that the finding of such a nexus will usually require consideration of more than one of the factors highlighted in Kunarac, including "the fact that the perpetrator is a combatant; the fact that the victim is a non-combatant; the fact that the victim is a member of the opposing party; the fact that the act may be said to serve the ultimate goal of a military campaign; and the fact that the crime is committed as part of or in the context of the perpetrator's official duties." Because the Trial Chamber had made factual findings recognizing a link between the ETO school and Nyanza massacres and the armed conflict, and had determined that Rutaganda had participated in these attacks, the Appeals Chamber held that no reasonable trier of fact would have failed to make the "inferential leap" between Rutaganda's acts and the armed conflict. It therefore overturned Rutaganda's acquittal on two counts of violations of common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions.

The Appeals Chamber did not re-evaluate the Trial Chamber's sentence of life imprisonment due to its determination that the revision of the verdict did not affect the overall gravity of the crimes or the factual basis of the sentence.

*Nicolas M. Rouleau is an LL.B. candidate at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Common Law, French Section, and a visiting student at the Washington College of Law.
**Anne Heindel is the assistant director of the War Crimes Research Office at the Washington College of Law