Arusha, September 23rd, '99 (FH) - The defence lawyer for former mayor of Bicumbi (greater Kigali prefecture, central Rwanda) Laurent Semanza told the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Thursday that his client was arrested unlawfully. Semanza was arrested on March 27th, 1996, in Cameroon and was only indicted in October 1997, Belgian defence counsel André Dumont said.

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He asked the prosecutor to explain the delay. Dumont cited a Tribunal rule saying that preventive detention could be no longer than three months, and said his client's fundamental rights had been violated. He therefore called on the court to declare Semanza's arrest and subsequent detention illegal. Semanza was originally detained on the basis of an international arrest warrant issued by the Rwandan authorities. Prosecutors at the ICTR then also submitted a request to Cameroon for provisional measures. The Tribunal subsequently withdrew its request, then re-issued it "without informing Laurent Semanza at all," according to Dumont. He said the Tribunal's failure to inform his client rendered the measures unlawful and unjustifiable. American prosecutor David Spencer said the prosecution had decided not to seek Semanza as Rwanda had an extradition request out for him. But when the Yaounde Appeal Court in February 1997 rejected the Rwandan request, the ICTR immediately reintroduced its detention order. Semanza was arrested along with some ten other Rwandans, of whom several were transferred to the ICTR. These included former top defence ministry advisor Théoneste Bagosora, former boss of RTLM radio Ferdinand Nahimana, former military intelligence chief Anatole Nsengiyumva and former policy advisor to the foreign ministry Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza. Also on Thursday, the defence introduced a request for the court to throw out charges relating to violations of the Geneva Conventions on war crimes. Dumont said these charges were "devoid of any legal basis". Prosecutor Spencer argued that the charges were scrupulously documented with references to the relevant articles of international law. The charges, he reminded the court, included murder, rape, cruel and degrading treatment. Russian judge Yakov Ostrovsky said it was not clear from the indictment whether these were war crimes or crimes against humanity. Semanza is charged with fourteen counts relating to massacres of ethnic Tutsis in the Gikoro and Bicumbi communes between April and July 1994. The indictment also accuses him of "planning, ordering and encouraging militia and other people to rape Tutsi women". Semanza, 55, was appearing before Trial Chamber Three of the ICTR, presided by Jamaican judge Lloyd George Williams. The other two judges sitting in court were Yakov Ostrovsky of Russia and Pavel Dolenc of Slovenia. AT/JC/FH (SE§0923e)