17 January 2013

Rwanda: Mugesera's Trial in Substance Starts, Accused Requests Four-Year Delay

Photo: John Mbanda/The New Times
Genocide suspect Leon Mugesera (left) with his lawyer.

The High Court on Thursday started the trial in substance against Genocide suspect Leon Mugesera despite the accused having just requested a delay of four years to prepare his defense.

When the accused appeared in the courtroom, he requested the judges to delay the trial arguing that they should wait for the supreme court's decision on his objection against two of the judges in the substantive trial. "Standing before the same judges to whom I objected would be like being judged by my accusers. That is why I request to wait for the Supreme Court decision because a judge is not superhuman," Mugesera told the court.

Mugesera had objected against judges Athanase Bakuzakundi and Eugene Ndagijimana saying that legal procedure doesn't accept judges who were involved in pre-trial hearings to continue with the substantive trial, but the court later ruled that the same judges have competence to try him.

And yesterday, presiding judge Athanase Bakuzakundi maintained that ruling and ordered the trial to go ahead.

Yet Mugesera was not finished. He refused to enter a plea, but instead requested 'enough time and necessary facilities that are extremely important' to prepare his defense. "The prosecution took about nine years gathering all facts; I do not even request the same time, but at least four years to be well prepared," Mugesera announced.

In addition, he requested legal aid in terms of fees for his three lawyers, two researchers, experts and witnesses, saying that he is unable himself to pay all of that.

The prosecution objected, arguing that the court has nothing to do with the management of the lawyers of the accused. The judges too rejected because, they said, the court had already ruled on requests for more time to prepare the defense. They also observed that they could not address the issue of lawyers' fees since it had not been brought up in the pre-trial hearings.

Still, Mugesera refused to plead guilty or not guilty, saying that he could not do so before the contested judges because, in his words, "they are biased."

Therefore, the prosecution started their indictment statement by playing back Mugesera's hate speech made on November 22, 1992 in Kabaya (former Gisenyi prefecture), a speech that is considered as a rallying call for the Genocide against the Tutsis.

Mugesera regularly interrupted, questioning the authenticity of the recording, despite the judges asking him to write down his remarks to use them later during his defense.

Mugesera is accused of five genocide charges including inciting people to commit Genocide, masterminding and planning genocide and spreading hate among people.

Commenting on the first charge, prosecutor Jean bosco Mutangana quoted some of Mugesera's words in the speech such as calling Tutsi "cockroaches," which he said incited killers to exterminate Tutsis. "All this proves that Mugesera incited people to commit genocide," said Mutangana.

The prosecution is scheduled to comment on the remaining four charges against Mugesera before he starts his defense.

Mugesera, 60, a PhD holder in linguistics, was deported about a year ago from Canada where he had been living for about 20 years.

The father of five is assisted by three lawyers namely Jean Felix Rudakemwa, a Rwandan, Gershom Otachi, a Kenyan national and Melissa Kanas from the USA; the latter two were absent in the court.

The hearings are scheduled to continue daily from 8:30 am until 2 pm.

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