The Defence of four former senior military officers of the Rwandan Armed Forces began today before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
The accused, Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, former Director of Cabinet in the Rwanda Ministry of Defence; Brigadier General Gratien Kabiligi, former Chief of Military Operations in the Rwandan Armed Forces; Lieutenant Colonel Anatole Nsengiyumva, former Commander of Gisenyi; and Major Aloys Ntabakuze, former Commander of Kanombe Paramilitary Battalion in Kigali are charged with genocide, crimes against humanity, and serious violations of the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol II .
Defence counsel for three of the accused (Bagosora, Ntabakuze and Nsengiyumva) made opening remarks in the trial, known as the “Military I” case which began on 2 April 2002. Kabiligi’s Defence counsel requested a four month delay to present his client’s case because he is newly appointed following the withdrawal of the previous counsel on 25 January 2005 for misconduct.
Bagosora’s Defence team said there was no evidence produced by the prosecution to prove that the accused is guilty of genocide. Counsel Raphael Constant expressed frustration about not being able to get witnesses from Rwanda to testify for his client. According to Constant, witnesses from Rwanda are afraid to appear in the case, despite the protection and support offered to them by the Tribunal. He plans to call about 80 witnesses including experts.
The Defence for Ntabakuze stated that it would bring evidence absolving the accused of the crimes he is charged with. The Defence for Nsengiyumva submitted that it will not only prove the innocence of the accused but also prove that he was known more for saving people during the genocide by keeping in his house many Tutsis who were under threat.
The case is before Trial Chamber I composed of judges Erik Møse of Norway, presiding, Jai Ram Reddy of Fiji and Sergei Alekseevich Egorov of Russia.
The prosecution closed its case on 14 October 2004, having presented 82 witnesses.
Bagosora’s Defence team is led by Raphael Constant of France. Kabiligi’s lead counsel is Paul Skolnik of Canada. Professor Erlinder of the U.S. leads Ntabakuze’s team and Nsengiyumva’s Defence is led by Kennedy Ogetto of Kenya.
Also today, Ralph Zacklin, Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs , addressed the ICTR staff in Arusha and Kigali through a video link on the Evolution of International Criminal Justice towards International Rule of Law. Zacklin is on a 5-day mission to the ICTR from UN headquarters in New York. He met with senior Tribunal officials including the President, the Prosecutor and the Registrar on pending legal matters.