Arusha, February 16, 2000 (FH) - UN Rwanda tribunal Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte and her deputy Bernard Muna on Wednesday argued that procedural delays during a genocide suspect's initial detention in Cameroon were beyond their control, and that the prosecution had shown due diligence at all stages. Del Ponte and Muna were arguing for the rejection of a motion by former Rwandan mayor Laurent Semanza, before the Appeals Court of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

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Semanza wants his arrest and detention declared illegal, on the grounds that his rights were repeatedly violated. In that case, the Appeals Court would have to order his release. But Del Ponte began by reminding the court of the seriousness of Semanza's crimes. "You should not forget the charges brought against Semanza," she said, "and the counts confirmed in the indictment. The matter at issue is the crime of genocide. We have evidence against Semanza. We could say that Semanza should be convicted of genocide, and genocide requires a life sentence. "Semanza's case is seen as remarkably similar to that of another genocide suspect, Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, whom the Appeals Court in November ordered released on technical grounds. That decision caused the Rwandan government to suspend cooperation with the ICTR, although cooperation has just been officially resumed. Del Ponte has filed for a review of the decision on Barayagwiza, on the grounds that she has "new facts". The Appeals Court is to hear that request on February 22nd. She is likely to use a similar strategy in both the Semanza and Barayagwiza hearings. "Today and next week in the case of Barayagwiza, you will be deciding upon the existence of this Tribunal," Del Ponte told the Appeals Court judges. She later appealed to them again, saying that "I have 800,000 to one million corpses crying out for justice and it is your task to decide what to do. "No power over national authoritiesDel Ponte then recognized that the issue at hand was whether the Tribunal's Rules of Procedure had been violated, and went on to argue that they had not. Semanza was arrested in Cameroon in March 1996, along with 11 others including Barayagwiza. His indictment was not confirmed until October 23rd, 1997, and he was not transferred to the custody of the Tribunal in Arusha until November 11th, 1997. His initial appearance, at which he pleaded not guilty to all charges, took place on February 16th, 1998. In the Barayagwiza case, the judges' decision rested heavily on Rule 40 bis of the ICTR Rules of Procedure and Evidence, which says that: "the total period of detention shall in no case exceed 90 days, at the end of which, in the event the indictment has not been confirmed and an arrest warrant signed, the suspect shall be released [. . . ]. "However, Del Ponte argued that for much of the period of initial detention in Cameroon, the authorities there were examining an extradition request from the government of Rwanda, which was finally rejected, and that the ICTR had at that point withdrawn its own request for Semanza. "Even if the Rules of Procedure were violated, which I challenge," she said, "he would have remained in detention. So no prejudice was suffered by the accused. ""Everything happened lawfully," Del Ponte continued. She said that while an accused was in the custody of a national authority, it was domestic laws and procedures which applied. "Who decides the moment of transfer?" she asked. "It is not the Tribunal but the national authorities. We shouldn't forget that neither the Prosecutor nor the Tribunal are party to the extradition procedures, we cannot intervene. " She argued that the prosecution had done all it could by keeping regularly informed of the state of proceedings in Cameroon and applying pressure where possible. This argument was echoed by Deputy Prosecutor Muna of Cameroon. "These acts were not in our control. How can we address due diligence when control is in the hands of a sovereign state?" he asked the court. Semanza's defence lawyer had earlier argued that the prosecution could intervene by writing to the ICTR President, who could then solicit the help of the UN Security Council. This argument was refuted by Muna. He argued that Cameroon was not refusing to cooperate, but was merely being slow. Both Del Ponte and Muna argued that at no stage had the rights of the accused been violated, and that he had been represented by a defence lawyer at all stages. They also claimed it was the defence which had requested a postponement of the initial appearance after Semanza's transfer to Arusha. "If you look at the details, there was no violation of the accused's rights," Del Ponte told the court. Presiding judge Claude Jorda of France said that the Appeals Court would render its decision on the matter "as soon as possible". JC/FH (SE%0216f)