Today, Thursday 26 March 1998, Defence Counsel - Nicolas Tiangaye and Patrice Monthé - delivered their closing arguments before Trial Chamber 1, in the trial of Jean-Paul Akayesu, former bourgmestre of Taba, thereby bringing the trial to an end. The Chamber will deliberate and render its Judgement in due course.
Presentation of Factual Arguments
What happened in Rwanda in 1994 was the greatest human tragedy at the end of the twentieth century, stated Nicolas Tiangaye as he presented the factual arguments of the Defence. He expressed the sympathy and solidarity of the Defence with the innocent men, women and children who were slaughtered. Suffering, he said, has no nationality and is a matter of universal conscience.
Defence counsel then went on to disagree with the conception of Rwanda's history as presented by the Prosecution, and to point out what the Defence considered weaknesses and inconsistencies in the witness testimonies presented by the Prosecution at trial. The Defence pointed out that the Prosecution had conceded that Jean-Paul Akayesu had fought the Interahamwe and saved lives before 18 Apri11994, but argued that from that date on, following a key meeting, Jean-Paul Akayesu had changed his attitude, ordering and participating in acts of genocide. The Defence contended, by contrast, that Jean-Paul Akayesu never changed and that he continued to save lives in April-May 1994 until he finally fled Taba Commune. The Defence painted a picture of a man who had lost de facto control of the commune of which he was bourgmestre to a group of Interahamwe led by a man called Silas Kubwimana, on whom the real responsibility for the killings in Taba lay. Akayesu, the Defence said, was merely a scapegoat.
Closing the factual side of the Defence presentation, Nicolas Tiangaye challenged the right of the Prosecutor to speak in the name of the international community when the same community had not acted to stop the genocide. Tiangaye cited General Romeo Dallaire, former commander of United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR), who had said that if the mandate of UNAMIR had been changed, and more troops provided, thousands of Rwandan lives could have been saved. But the international community had lacked the political will to act. Tiangaye referred to a statement allegedly made by the former President of France, François Mitterrand - "What can France do when local leaders decide to settle their disputes with machetes? After all, it's their country" - as typifying Western attitudes to the crisis.
Finally, Defence counsel asked the Judges to acquit the accused, reminding them that there were acquittals at the Nuremberg trials of Von Papen and others, and that a wrongful conviction would lend credence to the Tribunal's detractors and weigh heavily on their consciences.
Presentation of Legal Arguments
In the afternoon, Patrice Monthé addressed the legal aspects of the Defence case, questioning whether the Prosecution had sufficiently established that the elements of genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of common article 3 and Additional Protocol II had been satisfied on the evidence presented before the Chamber.
With the delivery of the Defence's arguments, the trial will now come to a close, the Prosecution having declined to present argument in rebuttal, pursuant to Rule 86 of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence.
British Minister for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs visits the Tribunal
The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom, Mr. Tony Lloyd (MP) today visited the Tribunal and held talks with the President Judge Laïty Kama, Judges, the Deputy Registrar, Mrs. Imelda Merle Perry, and officials of the Tribunal. The talks centred on cooperation between the British government and the Tribunal.
During the talks, Mr. Lloyd underscored the importance of the Tribunal, which he described as a pathfinder, in the promotion of international criminal justice. He added that the British government will continue to assist the Tribunal in its judicial work.
The President and the Deputy Registrar briefed the Minister on the operations of the Tribunal and the present status of cases before the two chambers. They thanked the British government for the assistance it has always extended to the Tribunal, particularly in the field of Witness and Victims Support.
The Minister also took time to attend the session on the closing arguments in the case of Jean-Paul Akayesu.