Arusha — The so-called "Butare Trial," with the highest number of genocide suspects tried jointly so far, opened today at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) but was adjourned until tomorrow after defense attorneys complained that some trial documents have not yet been translated into French.
The attorneys also told the court that witness disclosure documents, photographs and videotapes have not been made available to the defense.
Six genocide suspects from Butare region, central Rwanda, are jointly tried for genocide and crimes against humanity. All have denied committing the crimes between April and June 1994 in Rwanda.
Two other trials with more than two suspects are already underway at the ICTR. These are the so-called "Media Trial" -- against three suspects linked to the Rwandan media -- and the so-called "Cyangugu Trial," against three government officials in Cyangugu Prefecture, southwestern Rwanda.
The Butare Trial is before Trial Chamber II of the ICTR, comprising Judges William Sekule of Tanzania (presiding), Winston Matanzima Maqutu of Lesotho and Arlette Ramaroson of Madagascar.
When the trial opened, the defense attorneys informed the court that the prosecution has yet to disclose some vital materials relating to witnesses who are scheduled to testify during the trial.
The attorneys also complained that the prosecution has withheld information regarding how witness material was gathered. "We don't have any material relating to the first witness to testify in this case," said Josette Kadji of Cameroon, lead counsel for Sylvain Nsabimana, a former mayor of Butare.
Judge Sekule ordered the prosecution to fully co-operate with the defense lawyers in order to speed up the trial. "The defense teams need to get these documents and the prosecutor should be willing to provide these materials."
"We are in the process of administering justice and for the interest of justice to be served, the documents and materials are paramount to the accused," he added.
The judge ordered that all necessary witness disclosures and video materials be made available to the defense teams so that the trial proper can begin tomorrow.
The suspects in the Butare Trial include Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, a former minister for family and women affairs and her son, Arsene Ntahobali. Nyiramasuhuko is the first woman to be tried for genocide and rape. Nicole Bergevin and Guy Poupart of Canada represent Nyiramasuhuko. Rene Saint-Leger of Canada and James Michael Bailey of the US represent Ntahobali
The other defendants are: Alphonse Nteziryayo, the former commanding officer of the military police in Butare; Joseph Kanyabashi, a mayor of Ngoma commune and Elie Ndayambaje, a former mayor of Muganza.
Titinga Frederick Pacere of Burkina Faso and Calvin Saunders of the United States represent Nteziryayo. Kanyabashi's lawyers are Michael Marchand and Michael Boyer of Canada. Pierre Boule of Canada represents Ndayambaje.
Ntahobali told the judges that he did not want to be represented by his lawyers because they have not consulted him since February. Judge Sekule told Ntahobali that the lawyers would continue representing him until the court reaches a decision.
Butare was one of the last areas to succumb to the violence that hit Rwanda between April and June 1994.
At the beginning of today's proceedings, the trial chamber observed a minute's silence in honor of the late Judge Laity Kama of Senegal, who died last month. Before his death, Kama was the presiding judge of Trial Chamber II.