What Happens to the Acquitted?

Leiden Journal of International Law, Vol. 21, pp. 663-680, 2008

18 Pages Posted: 14 Aug 2007 Last revised: 29 Aug 2008

See all articles by Kevin Jon Heller

Kevin Jon Heller

University of Copenhagen (Centre for Military Studies)

Date Written: 2008


According to the ICTR, Emmanuel Bagambiki is an innocent man. The Trial Chamber and the Appeals Chamber have each acquitted the former Prefect of Cyangugu of crimes relating to Rwanda's horrific 1994 genocide, the latter unanimously. And on July 19, Bagambiki was reunited with his wife in children in Belgium, having been granted asylum just days earlier.

It is tempting to conclude that justice has been done in Bagambiki's case. That conclusion, however, would be too facile: Bagambiki was acquitted in February, 2006, nearly 18 months before his family reunion. In the interim he lived in a safe-house in Arusha paid for by the United Nations, wanted by Rwanda for trial on related charges and unable to convince Belgium that he posed no danger to its peace and security. Bagambiki, moreover, is one of the lucky ones: the nightmare of being free but having nowhere to go continues for two of his acquitted roommates in the safe-house, Andre Ntagerura and Andre Rwamakuba, Rwanda's minister of transportation and former minister of education respectively.

Bagambiki's ordeal and Rwamakuba and Ntagerura's ongoing plight illustrate one of the basic problems facing international criminal tribunals: what to do with the acquitted. An acquitted defendant normally has two options: return to his country of origin, or find a third country that will grant him asylum. Both options, however, have been problematic for defendants acquitted by the ICTR and are likely to prove equally problematic for defendants who may be acquitted in the future by the ICC. This short essay explains why - and identifies what the international community should do about it.

Keywords: ICC, ICTR, ICTY, international criminal court, international tribunal, international criminal law, acquitted, innocent, refugee law, immigration law, asylum, ne bis in idem, double jeopardy, Rwanda

Suggested Citation

Heller, Kevin Jon, What Happens to the Acquitted? (2008). Leiden Journal of International Law, Vol. 21, pp. 663-680, 2008, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1005772 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1005772

Kevin Jon Heller (Contact Author)

University of Copenhagen (Centre for Military Studies) ( email )


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