11 October 2007

Rwanda: Defendants in Four Trials On Hunger Strike

Arusha — The hunger strike observed this week by several prisoners of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) did not affect the course of the proceedings.

Four trials continued during this week: Karemera et al., Government II, Rukundo and Bikindi.

The strikers (40 out of 55) intended to protest against transfers requests of cases to Rwanda in view of the end of the ICTR mandate in December 2008. They were supported by the association of lawyers. This protest ended Wednesday evening.

In the Karemera et al. case, in progress since September 2005, the prosecutor continued the presentation of his case. He should rest his case in March 2008.

The judges heard this week two protected witnesses.

Edouard Karemera was vice-president of the governing party in Rwanda in the 1990's: He is on trial alongside Mathieu Ngirumpatse, who was the president, and Joseph Nzirorera, the secretary-general.

A witness stated that the leaders of this party supported the exactions committed by the Interahamwe militia, executioners of the Tutsi genocide. The Interahamwe constituted the youth wing of the party, which the defendants were members of the executive committee.

On Thursday, the proceedings in this trial were suspended until 22 October.

In the "Government II" trial, in progress since November 2003, the week was largely dominated by the cross-examination by the prosecutor of the former Foreign Minister, Jérôme Bicamumpaka, one of the four defendants.

Bicamumpaka is the second to last to present his case. He is on trial alongside his former colleagues Casimir Bizimungu (health), Justin Mugenzi (trade), and Prosper Mugiraneza (civil service). Mugiraneza has not yet called defence witnesses.

Another defendant who testified on his own behalf this week was Abbot Emmanuel Rukundo. In 1994, he was a military chaplain. He is being tried alone. The proceedings were to conclude next week.

During his testimony, Rukundo stated that he was by no means interested by the military chaplaincy but he had accepted it by obedience to his bishop.

The prosecutor alleges that the chaplains were recruited among the priests who had shown radicalism against Tutsis.

Accused of genocide and crimes against humanity committed in central Rwanda, Rukundo has pled not guilty. His trial opened in November 2006.

Three other priests are detained by the ICTR.

The trial of Simon Bikindi, as for him, started in September 2006. The defendant is currently presenting his case.

Renowned Musician, Bikindi is accused of having incited the Tutsi genocide through his songs.

Defence witnesses, among which include several members of his folkloric ballet Irindiro, affirmed that Bikindi sang for peace and the unity of Rwandans.

Bikindi is among the three scheduled trials for next week, beside Government II and Military II, which involves four officers. This last case has been suspended since mid-June. It is also at the defence stage.

On Friday afternoon a status conference is scheduled for Ephrem Setako, an officer of the RAF arrested in 2004 in the Netherlands.

After the long week-end of Eid al-Fitr, which begins Thursday evening and finishes Monday evening, the Ndindiliyimana trial, alias "Military II", should restart Tuesday.

This trial, which opened in September 2002, is at the defence stage. General Bizimungu is on trial alongside the former Chief of Staff of the gendarmerie, General Augustin Ndindiliyimana; the former Commander of the reconnaissance battalion within the Rwandan Army, Major François Xavier Nzuwonemeye; and his assistant, Captain Innocent Sagahutu. Prosecuted for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, they have all pled not guilty.

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