Arusha, August 17th, '99 (FH) - Three former ministers of the Rwandan interim government on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to genocide charges before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). The three were former Minister of Foreign Affairs Jérôme Bicamumpaka, former Minister of Commerce and Industry Justin Mugenzi and former Minister for the Civil Service Prosper Mugiraneza.

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They are jointly accused with former Health Minister Casimir Bizimungu, whose intitial appearance was postponed because his lawyer was absent. Each of the accused is charged with nine counts of genocide or complicity in genocide, direct and public incitement to genocide, crimes against humanity including rape, and violations of the Geneva Conventions on war crimes. The prosecution charges that from the end of 1990 to July 1994, the accused conspired amongst themselves and with others to "draw up a plan to exterminate the Tutsi civilian population, eliminate members of the opposition and keep themselves in power". According to the indictment, this plan included "recourse to ethnic hatred and violence, training and distribution of arms to militiamen and compiling lists of people to be eliminated". The accused were part of the interim government of former Prime Minister Jean Kambanda, who pleaded guilty to genocide and crimes against humanity on May 1st, 1998. The prosecution says that as soon as the interim government was formed, "several members of the cabinet joined in the extermination plan and procured the necessary means to implement it". "They incited the population to eliminate the enemy [the Tutsis] and their accomplices," the prosecution says, "distributed arms, dismissed local authorities who opposed the massacres and replaced them with others loyal to the cause, and adopted directives to facilitate massacres of the Tutsi civilian population. "The indictment notes that each of the accused was responsible for the government policy adopted in his domain. It also stresses that as a member of the government, each of the accused "attended cabinet meetings, was aware of the socio-economic situation in the country and/or was informed of government policy and/or participated in making and implementing the policy of the interim government. "According to the prosecution, "none of the accused ever publicly denounced the interim government's policy, nor resigned between April 9th and mid-July 1994 as the Constituion specifically allowed them to do". The anti-Tutsi genocide and massacres of political opponents left up to one million people dead in Rwanda in less than three months. Mugenzi, Bicamumpaka and Mugiraneza were arrested in Cameroon on April 6th this year and transferred to the UN detention facility in Arusha on July 31st. Bizimungu was arrested in Kenya on February 11th, 1999, and transferred to Arusha on February 23rd. One accused refuses to pleadBicamumpaka refused to enter his plea before the court, leading the judges to enter a "not guilty" plea. The former Foreign Affairs Minister requested that the hearing be postponed until the ICTR Registry had answered his request for a Canadian lawyer, Francine Veuillet. The tribunal deemed that he could plead with the assistance of a "duty counsel". Bicamumpaka was assisted on this occasion by French lawyer Raphaël Constant, defence lawyer for former Defence Ministry advisor ("chef de cabinet") Théoneste Bagosora. Mugenzi was assisted by Michel Boyer, the Canadian lawyer normally assigned to former mayor of Ngoma (Butare prefecture, southern Rwanda) Joseph Kanyabashi. Mugenzi was assisted by Frédérique Poitte, the French counsel for former student and suspected militiaman Arsène Shalom Ntahobali. AT/JC/FH (BZ§0817e)