6 September 2006

Rwanda: Perturbation At the ICTR Caused By Arrest of a Lawyer Accused of Genocide

Arusha — The arrest in Arusha at the end of the past week of Callixte Gakwaya - a Rwandan lawyer working for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) - has triggered turmoil until Tanzanian authorities released the suspect - a decision that infuriated Rwandan authorities.

Representing Mr Yussuf Munyakazi - a former head of the Interahamwe militia -, Gakwaya is accused by Rwanda of having participated in the genocide that took place in the country in 1994. According to the ICTR, Rwandan authorities had never voiced their suspicions before Gakwaya was appointed lead attorney. He used to work as an assistant lawyer within the defence team of Niyitegeka, a former minister sentenced to life imprisonment.

When Rwanda filed the accusation in February 2006, Gakwaya took refuge in Mozambique, a country with a common border with Tanzania. Rwanda consequently issued a warrant of arrest transmitted to the ICTR and Tanzania. The lawyer was arrested on Friday in Arusha.

As soon as the arrest was announced and again on Monday when the hearings resumed, lawyers pleading before the ICTR expressed their concern and stressed the fact that this arrest violates the deal concluded between the ICTR and Tanzania that guarantees them immunity in the frame of their activities.

Several hearings have been suspended due to the threat of certain lawyers to go on strike. Many meetings have been held without defence lawyers agreeing on a common position. In a press release this Tuesday afternoon, the tribunal's clerk, without announcing the release of the lawyer, stated that Tanzanian authorities had been made aware of these « strong concerns » regarding Gakwaya's case.

On Wednesday morning, the tribunal's spokesperson Timothée Gallimore declared during a press conference that the ICTR « had no responsibility in the arrest and release of Callixte Gakwaya ». His liberation, he says, is the consequence of the intervention of « local friends ». The lawyer has retrieved his passport, according to an unofficial source.

But for Aloys Mutabingwa - the Rwandan representative to the ICTR - there is absolutely no doubt: the tribunal has had « a clear and direct role » in this liberation. « We cannot maintain the same degree of cooperation with this court », he trounced, announcing that his country would « refer the matter to the Security Council ».

Since the opening of the tribunal, Rwanda has repeatedly accused the ICTR of employing alleged genociders. Two employees have been charged with genocide crimes. One of them, recognized by a witness, is now awaiting to be judged. A list of wanted suspects Rwanda has recently published comprises the names of twelve employees of the ICTR.

Investigations have been opened and decisions are expected. These suspicions against ICTR employees, not systematically backed up by either evidence or testimony, naturally worry defence teams. In order to perform their duties, the tribunal's lawyers effectively employ Rwandan investigators who sometimes happen to be close to the accused. Some of them actually prefer to stay away from Arusha as long as the investigations are not concluded and that the tribunal has not clearly defined its position on the matter.

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