17 May 2019

'This is just a kick in the pants' - husband of killed Kiwi

8:35 pm on 17 May 2019

The husband of a New Zealander killed in a 1999 attack on a group of tourists in Uganda says he feels two of the accused murderers are being used as bargaining chips between Australia and the United States.

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Photo: 123RF

The two Rwandan men were brought to Australia in November as part of a contentious refugee swap after efforts to convict them failed.

Two New Zealanders, 27-year-old Rhonda Avis and 26-year-old Michelle Strathern, were among the eight people killed in the attack.

Ms Avis' husband, Mark, feels the victims' families have been kept in the dark and he doesn't know whether the men are in detention or walking free.

"They're bargaining chips and that's how, obviously, the American and Australian governments feel that they can just do whatever they want, it doesn't matter the effect it has on other people and their situations," he said.

"This is just a kick in the pants, really."

The men were taken to the US for trial following the killings but the case was dropped because their confessions in Rwanda were found to have been obtained by torture.

US media outlet Politico first reported the arrangement for them to go to Australia.

In 2016, then-Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull struck a refugee swap deal with former US president Barack Obama.

The US agreed to accept hundreds of refugees from Manus Island who had passed detailed security vetting but would not be resettled in Australia.

The deal angered US President Donald Trump, who believed his predecessor had struck a deal that was not in his country's interest.

In their first call after Mr Trump was sworn in, the US President vented his frustration at Mr Turnbull about having to honour the deal.

According to Politico, the two men were arrested shortly after the 1999 attack and have been in a Virginia jail for more than a decade.

US prosecutors charged them with terrorism offences and demanded the death penalty.

But the case was dropped in 2006 when a judge found the men's confession to the crimes were obtained after torture in a Rwandan detention centre.

US terrorism laws allowed the men to be left in custody for 15 years, despite the lack of a prosecution and criticism from human rights groups.

Relocating the men to Australia enabled the US to avoid a thorny legal issue.

The men could not be returned to Rwanda because they would likely be mistreated or harmed, but could not be tried in the United States and wanted to remain in the country.

Josh Gerstein, who broke the story for Politico, said although the men were not convicted of involvement in killing the tourists, they were denied asylum in the US because they were deemed to have been perpetrators of persecution of other individuals.

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