Global Policy Forum

Rwandan Genocide Tribunal Gears Up for


Agence France Presse
January 7, 2005

The international court dealing with the Rwandan genocide will open the year with the resumption of the trials of ex-army and police chiefs, former defense officials and those of the first woman and one of the few clergymen to be indicted thus far by the Tanzania-based tribunal. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) will hear nine trials during the first three months of 2005, including one new case, involving a total of 23 defendants, according to the court calendar made public this week.

The trial of Rwanda's former army chief of staff, general Augustin Bizimungu, and top police officer, Augustin Ndindiliyimana, is to resume on Monday after a three-month suspension and that of Catholic priest Athanase Seromba on January 19, according to the calendar. Bizimungu and Ndindiliyimana -- along with two others who served in senior positions during the 1994 genocide, major Franí§ois-Xavier Nzuwonemeye and captain Innocent Sagahutu -- are accused of ordering or participating in atrocities. Their trial was suspended on October 11 to allow time for a new lawyer to familiarize himself with the case after the resignation on health grounds of Michel Croisier, who had represented Bizimungu.

They have all pleaded innocent to charges of genocide and war crimes and crimes against humanity that occurred after a Hutu president was assassinated and then-government soldiers and Hutu extremists carried out the organised slaughter mainly of minority Tutsis. At least 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis, were killed between April and July of 1994.

Seromba, who turned himself into the tribunal in 2002 after fleeing Rwanda, is the fourth clergyman to appear before the court and faces four genocide-related charges, all of which he has denied. The most serious relates to his alleged April 1994 order for a church in the western town of Nyange to be destroyed by a bulldozer. Some 2,000 Tutsis had taken refuge in the church and all were crushed to death, according to human rights groups.

On January 31, the tribunal will resume hearing the case of the former Rwandan minister for family and women's affiars, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, the only female to come before the court so far and the first woman to be indicted for genocide by an international judicial body. Nyiramasuhuko, who has also unusually been charged with rape, has pleaded innocent as have all five of her co-accused, including her son Arsí¨ne Shalom Ntahobali, who is accused of killing Tutsi women after raping them. The case was suspended in October and is to start up again with defense testimony.

On March 30, the trial of several former defense ministry officials, including the man accused of being "the brains" behind the genocide, colonel Théoneste Bagosora, will resume with the hearing of an appeal of a bar on defense witnesses. Bagosora, the former director of the defense ministry cabinet, and three of his ex-colleagues face charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, which they have denied. On Tuesday, Bagosora's lawyer, Raphael Constant, accused Belgium -- Rwanda's former colonial power -- of failing to cooperate with the court by blocking a meeting he had requested with the Belgian ambassador to the central African country during the genocide, Johan Swinnen.

The international court, which was created by the United Nations, has to date convicted 20 people for their part in the genocide and acquitted three. Its calendar for the first three months of 2005 does not foresee the resumption in trials of the main leaders of Rwanda's former ruling party, which have been on hiatus since May.

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