Altit, what is the relevance of this site for the case?” This question was asked more than a dozen times by Judge Erik Mose during the visit of the Chamber Tuesday to Nyanza, southern Rwanda, to the locations where crimes where allegedly committed by Catholic Priest Hormisdas Nsengimana, former head of the Rwandan Catholic college, prosecuted for genocide before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
The visit on location was made at the request of the defence, led by the Frenchman Emmanuel Altit and of the prosecution, led by Jamaican Brian Wallace.
The visit opened with a short visit inside the Parish Church of Nyanza, where a middle-aged woman, with her rosary in hand, prays on her knees.
At the back of the church is the tomb where were buried after the genocide Jean Bosco Yirirwahandi, Mathieu Ngirumpatse, Innocent Nyangezi and Callixte Uwitonze. According to the indictment, Ngirumpatse was killed in April 1994 by Nsengimana himself while the two others were shot in May by soldiers allegedly sent by the defendant.
Judge Mose and his Chamber colleagues, Serguei Egorov and Florence Ritta Arrey, did not come from Arusha to hear new testimonies on the circumstances of these murders but only to see with their own eyes the places where the alleged crimes were committed in order to better evaluate the testimonies of the witnesses for the prosecution and the defence.
After the parish church, the judges who traded in their gowns for a more ordinary wardrobe, are led by Brian Wallace to the location, where according to the prosecution, Nsengimana would have delivered to a band of killers the Tutsi judge Jean Furaha, one of the victims of the genocide in the region of Nyanza. “Here is the road block where Nsengimana delivered Judge Jean”, explains Wallace. “According to the defence witnesses, there was no road block here”, replied Altit.
According to prosecution witnesses, Judge Jean had come to ask Nsengimana, who was at the time the director of the Christ the King College of Nyanza, to hide him in the buildings of the school. But, continues the prosecution, the priest refused his request and delivered him to his murderers. For the defence witnesses who deny the existence of this road block, the defendant cordially accompanied the judge back, who was then killed a little further by a gendarme.
Less than a half-kilometre from the church, the judges and the parties enter the prestigious college of Nyanza where director Nsengimana taught Latin as well as religion and said mass every day. Even inside the school, opposite to Nsengimana’s old office- which is not part of the tour- the road block question dominates.
According to the prosecution, the purpose of this road block was to deny access to the college to Tutsis from the surroundings who tried to seek refuge there. “According to our witnesses, there never was a road block at this level”, stated Altit, whereas some, among the people present discuss, distracted, another things.
“I am sorry to play the role of policeman”, intervenes Judge Mose, a way of reminding that even a visit on location is governed by the rules of the hearings.
After the college, the “legal visitors” have lunch in the seven vehicles of the United Nations assigned for this transport on location, the preparation which required a three-day visit by the security services of the ICTR.
The afternoon of this relaxed day will be devoted to three locations, the last being the current general headquarters of the local police where the judges and parties will take pleasure posing in front of the cameras of a Norwegian television channel.
The rest will be held in Arusha, headquarters of the ICTR. This trial began on 22 June 2007, the proceedings are almost finished, a day of hearings is still scheduled for 15 September. The closings arguments will be held before the end of the year.