Jean-Paul Akayesu, former Bourgmestre of Taba commune, today began testifying in his defence and told the court how he tried in futility to contain widespread killings of Tutsis in his commune after the death of President Juvenal Habyarimana on 6 April 1994. His testimony is the first by an accused before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
Akayesu told Trial Chamber 1 that he was helpless and received no support, even after requesting for gendarmes to maintain law and order, from the Prefect of Gitarama. He said serious widespread killings of Tutsis by Interahamwe began after 18 April 1994 in Taba commune. "I tried to save some Tutsis and appeal for law and order. However I was accused of supporting RPF and my life was threatened," he told the court.
The accused said that even the Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) broadcast allegations that he was a "tall and brown Tutsi who was supporting the RPF. "At one time, he said, he was saved by a gendarme from being killed by a Rwanda army sergeant who accused him of harbouring Tutsi refugees.
He further denied that if he was ever transformed from being the guardian of law and order in his commune to being a perpetrator of Tutsi killings after 19 April 1994. "It is a sin to say I changed. Why did the Interahamwe want to kill me, or why did they kill my policeman and stab the other, if I had changed," he asked.
Akayesu told the court that with the approach of the RPF army he and his family fled from Taba westwards and crossed into Zaire on 17 July 1994. The trial continues tomorrow with cross examination of the accused by the Prosecution.
Akayesu is facing charges of genocide, crimes against humanity , and violations of Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions. He has pleaded "not guilty” to all 15 counts charging him with being responsible for the death of thousands of Tutsis in his commune, where 2000 people were killed in 1994.
His appearance marks the end of the Defence case in which 12 witnesses testified in the trial which began on 9 January 1997. He is .defended by Counsel Nicolas Tiangaye from the Central African Republic.
Theoneste Bagosora Trial Adjourned
A motion by the Prosecution for an adjournment of the trial of Theoneste Bagosora was heard today before Trial Chamber 2. The trial of Bagosora, former Director of Cabinet in the Ministry of Defence in Rwanda, had been scheduled to begin today.
The Prosecutor argued that it was crucially important for the administration of justice that the Kayishema and Ruzindana trial before the same Chamber be permitted to continue to its conclusion without being interrupted by the commencement of a new trial proceeding.
It was further argued that the disclosure of evidence to the Defence ordered by the Trial Chamber was not yet complete "due to the size of the disclosure task, the need to edit materials, and lack of resources." A ruling on the motion will be made on Monday 16 March 1998. Bagosora is defended by Counsels Raphael Constant from France and Jacques Larochelle from Canada.