Witness sad for Rwandan accused of killing tourists in Uganda resettled in Australia
Elizabeth Garland, An American woman who was in hiding at the scene during the killings of eight tourists in Uganda says she is sad that two Rwandans who were once accused of carrying out the atrocity have been resettled in Australia.
The once accused are Leonidas Bimenyimana and Innocent Nyaminani who were resettled in Australia.
Elizabeth Garland was conducting research in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in March 1999 when eight Western tourists were brutally murdered by Rwandan rebels.
She survived by hiding for several hours as between 100 and 150 fighters armed with machetes, axes and guns rounded up visitors and marched them into the jungle.
“I could have very easily been captured and killed myself, I have thought many times about what it would have been like” Dr Garland told ABC NEWS adding that American and British nationals were targeted.
During an FBI terrorism investigation, three Rwandan men eventually admitted to being involved in hacking two American tourists to death.
They were extradited to the United States, where prosecutors pushed for the death penalty.
But Dr Garland said she always had doubts about the case. One man remained in detention in Florida.
“It seemed very improbable that they would have caught the men that did the killing of the American victims, given the number of people involved in the attack,” she said.
The case collapsed in 2006 when a judge ruled the confessions had been obtained via torture in Rwandan prisons.
The men refused to return home for fear of persecution and the US Government would not grant them asylum.
They remained in limbo in immigration detention until the end of last year, when two were resettled in Australia as part of a refugee swap deal first negotiated by the Obama administration and former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.
“I have no idea if these men were guilty but I do know the case was so weak against them that the charges against them were dropped,” Dr Garland said.
“I also know they have been tortured … and imprisoned now for a very long time. So, I was very relieved to have them released.” She added
At the time, Dr Garland was researching what the local people thought of the tourist trade, given the violence and death nearby.
She remains in contact with some of them.
“I was terrified. I thought [the rebels] would find and capture me,” she said, reflecting on the attack.
“So, it’s not an easy thing for me to dismiss, the anger and grief the family members are feeling.”
However, Dr Garland said her feelings on the attack had been changed by her work on international human rights issues.
“I just think that in these very divisive times we are living in that the rule of law, due process, provide us with protections from the abuse of power by states,” she said.
“So, I think it is a good thing to have [the men] out of indefinite detention.”
The Government has repeatedly defended its decision to accept the pair.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said they had undergone scurity checks relating to national security,criminality, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“That resulted in an assessment that they did not represent a risk,” he added.