Arusha, January 18, 2000 (FH) - Kigali's representative to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) says his country was right to suspend cooperation with the ICTR after its Appeals Court ordered the release of a top genocide suspect, the independent news agency Hirondelle reported on Friday. "The revival of cooperation should not be misconceived as a retreat by the government of Rwanda or as the result of a mistake which we might have made," Martin Ngoga told journalists late Thursday.

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"We have just revived cooperation because the relevant authorities in the Tribunal have taken significant steps towards normalization of the situation, so we are looking forward for a better decision. "Kigali suspended cooperation following the Appeals Court's November 6th decision ordering the release of Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza on procedural grounds. Shortly afterwards, new UN Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte announced she was requesting a review of the Appeals Chamber decision, on the grounds that she had "new facts". The Appeals Chamber has agreed to hear that request next Tuesday. Ngoga said that the government of Rwanda would also appear as an "amicus curiae" (friend of the court) and that a team of lawyers would be arriving shortly from Kigali. Attorney-General Gerald Gahima is expected to be among them. Rwanda will argue that if Barayagwiza is released, he should be sent to Rwanda, not to Cameroon where he was originally detained. The Appeals Chamber has ruled that the Rwandan government can appear as amicus curiae if the release issue arises. "We will be in court, but whether we are going to argue or not, we shall know about that later," Ngoga said. Rwanda announced on February 10th that it was officially resuming ties with the ICTR, but has stressed that the Barayagwiza decision will still be crucial for future relations. Ngoga refused to be drawn on whether Rwanda might cut ties again if the Appeals Chamber maintained its decision. He denied that the suspension of cooperation had amounted to political pressure or blackmail. "It is not a question of politicizing the genocide affair or pressurizing the Tribunal," Ngoga said, "it's a question of asking the international community to do what it is supposed to do in respect of what happened in Rwanda. "We had a procedure which was used to block the very objective that was intended, which was used to prevent trials against the suspects of genocide [. . . ]. The Tribunal has a couple of objectives which it has to meet, so if it turns itself into a body which cannot meet those objectives, then to most of the Rwandan people it becomes useless. So it was not blackmail, it was an obvious reaction under the circumstances. "Nevertheless, he said his presence in Arusha was a sign that "the government of Rwanda wants to be on record as having fully participated in following up the activities of the Tribunal, because it is not in dispute that it is the Rwandan government and the Rwandan people who are most concerned [. . . ]. We want to tell our people that we have followed the activities of the Tribunal, that we have praised the Tribunal where it did well, and we have corrected the Tribunal where it went wrong. "European arrestsThe resumption of cooperation also followed a recent wave of arrests of Rwandan genocide suspects in Europe. Since December, two have been arrested in France, one in Belgium, one in Britain and one in Denmark. Ngoga said his government praised the efforts of the Prosecutor on these arrests. "We consider those arrests as being very, very important, especially because they are involving top suspects," he said, " and because they are being effected in western countries. The suspects of genocide thought they could enjoy safe haven in western countries. Now that we are having arrests from those countries, it is a big development. "Ngoga said he hoped that such arrests would continue, and that the countries concerned would help get the suspects to the ICTR detention facility in Arusha "without undue delay so that the Barayagwiza affair does not reoccur". He also stressed the need for faster trials. "Now that we are having more and more arrests, we are appealing to the relevant authorities to do the trials faster," he said. Ngoga said the government of Rwanda would make proposals to the ICTR, based on the Tribunal's own Rules of Procedure, on how unnecessary delays could be avoided. "We are going to propose better methods for faster trials soon," he said. The ICTR has now passed sentences on seven people, including two who pleaded guilty and therefore did not require a full trial. All seven have gone to appeal. The Appeals Chamber this week rejected the appeal of former Rwandan militaman Omar Serushago, who was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment after pleading guilty. His case thus became the first to close. Ngoga welcomed this development, saying his government would use final judgements to obtain compensation for genocide victims. "We are making arrangements [. . . ] to make use of this judgement to obtain compensation for the victims as it is provided for in the Rules of Procedure ," he said, "but we are still encouraging faster trials so that we can have more and more judgements on substance by the Appeals Chamber so that we can go ahead with our arrangements to get compensation for the victims of genocide. "It is not easy to explain for the victim of genocide who is waiting for compensation, who has been waiting for five years. " Asked how compensation might work and where it would come from, he explained that this would require a court process in Rwanda. Compensation would come from the assets of the accused, he said. However, accused at the ICTR have been declared indigent, and the UN pays for their lawyers. Asked about this, Ngoga said: "I think they are not indigent as such. The Tribunal considers them indigent, but we are able to locate some of their assets, where we can get compensation. [. . . ] We are going to cooperate with the victims, in fact it's the primary role of the victims to locate where the compensation can be obtained. " He said these assets were mostly in Rwanda. Ngoga spoke positively of plans by the Tribunal to extend help to victims and witnesses in Rwanda through a so-called "restitutive justice" programme. "We are in full support of that," he said, "and we are encouraging the relevant departments in the Tribunal to implement it without undue delay. You know, the Tribunal is spending a good amount of money to maintain the detainees, so we want the relevant mechanisms to be extended to the victims of genocide. "He said the first priority in the restitutive justice programme should be witnesses who come to testify at the Tribunal. "If it happens, for example, that a victim of rape comes here and testifies and the accused is convicted, then the victim is taken back to Rwanda, nobody cares in the process if she's HIV positive or whatever, nobody cares about the way the victim can go on with life. " He said the ICTR should take care "especially of those who cooperated with the Tribunal to bring about justice, to make it achieve its objectives". Open trials?Asked about the ICTR's policy of systematic witness protection, Ngoga said that security concerns were often exaggerated. "This business of witness protection benefits very little prosecution witnesses," he said. "The beneficiaries of this arrangement are the defence witnesses who use the arrangement to achieve other goals. Personally, as a person who has been prosecuting in Rwanda, as a person who has been there, there is no problem of security of witnesses, either before testifying or after -- for either side, because we also have both prosecution witnesses and defence witnesses in Rw and we have no problems. "Witnesses in Rwanda testify openly before the courts there. At the ICTR, however, both prosecution and defence witnesses from Rwanda have their identity concealed. They are referred to by a letter of the alphabet, rather than a name, and the public are not allowed to see them. Recently, one prosecution witness in the trial of former mayor Ignace Bagilishema gave his whole testimony behind closed doors, because it was feared his identity could otherwise be known. The same witness has given open interviews to foreign and local journalists in Rwanda. Ngoga was careful not to criticize the ICTR's policy too harshly, but said he would nevertheless prefer open trials. "If everything were public it would be better," he said, "but if the Tribunal thinks it's better to conceal the identities of the witnesses we are not contradicting that, although we don't think the security of witnesses is a problem, especially when they are in Rwanda. "He said witnesses might face more danger elsewhere. "Suspects here have more means to cause insecurity to the witnesses," he said, " but I do not think that can be possible in Rwanda. It used to happen in the beginning, but right now the government has enough mechanisms to take care of the security of its nationals. " When asked, Ngoga said he would favour a system whereby witnesses were given physical protection in Arusha but testified openly before the court. JC/FH (MG%0218e)