Arusha, February 11, 2000 (FH) - The Appeals Court of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) is to sit in Arusha, Tanzania, from next Monday for a number of crucial hearings and an extraordinary plenary session of ICTR judges which could result in important rule changes. The Appeals Court, normally based in The Hague, Netherlands, will be at the ICTR in Arusha, Tanzania, from February 14th to 22nd.

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Its schedule includes hearing the Prosecutor's request for a review of its controversial decision ordering the release of top genocide suspect Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza on procedural grounds. The court on Monday hears arguments in the appeal of genocide convict Omar Serushago. Serushago, a former regional militia leader in Rwanda, was sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment on February 5th, 1999, after pleading guilty. He has, like the six other people so far sentenced by the ICTR, appealed the Trial Chamber's decision. The fact that his appeal is now being heard means that his case will almost certainly be the first ICTR case to finish. Serushago is appealing his sentence on the grounds that the Trial Chamber did not take sufficient account of his co-operation with the Prosecutor, the fact that he surrendered himself voluntarily to Ivory Coast police in June 1998, and that he pleaded guilty. His Tanzanian defence lawyer Mohamed Ismail argues that not only did Serushago plead guilty, he also expressed remorse publicly, asked forgiveness from the victims of his crimes and appealed for national reconciliation in Rwanda. This, notes Ismail, is in marked contrast to former Prime Minister Jean Kambanda, the only other convict who pleaded guilty before the ICTR. "It is the respectful submission of the defense that the elements of remorse contrition did not receive due recognition by the Trial Chamber in its assessment of sentence," writes Ismail in the appeal brief dated August 6th, 1999. Ismail also argues that the sentence is heavier than his client would have received in Rwanda. "Surely if the Tribunal was established at the request of the government of Rwanda with such noble goals and that same government of Rwanda has enacted a law that would punish Omar Serushago to a term of imprisonment between 7-11 years had he been convicted in Rwanda, that law deserves more respect from the ICTR?"Semanza and BarayagwizaOn Wednesday, the Appeals Court will hear an appeal by former mayor of Bicumbi (greater Kigali prefecture, central Rwanda) Laurent Semanza against the Trial Chamber's October dismissal of a motion to declare his arrest and detention unlawfulSemanza was arrested in Cameroon along with eleven other people in March 1996. One of the others was Barayagwiza. Semanza argues that the prosecution failed to follow correct procedures during his initial detention in Cameroon and after his transfer to Arusha. Semanza's circumstances and arguments are in fact very similar to those of Barayagwiza, whom the Appeals Court ordered released on the grounds that his rights had been repeatedly violated. That decision of November 3rd caused the Rwandan government to suspend cooperation with the ICTR, although this cooperation has just been officially restored. Shortly after the November 3rd decision, new Prosecutor Carla del Ponte filed a request for a review of the Appeals Court ruling, on the grounds that she had "new facts" and that there had been no oral hearing. It is that request which the Appeals Court is due to hear in Arusha on February 22nd. Del Ponte, who has just paid a brief working visit to Kigali and met with Vice-President Paul Kagame, has said that she will personally appear before the Appeals Court to argue her case. Speaking in Kigali on Thursday, she said the Prosecutor's office had "high hopes that the Appeals Chamber will change its decision". The November 3rd decision ordered Barayagwiza's immediate release "with prejudice to the Prosecutor", which means that the ICTR cannot rearrest him. Del Ponte is hoping the court will agree to modify its decision so she can rearrest Barayagwiza. The court ordered that he be returned to Cameroon, where he was originally arrested. However, that decision has been stayed pending the upcoming hearing, and Barayagwiza remains in the UN detention facility in Arusha. The Rwandan government has also asked to appear as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) before the Appeals Court. Following announcement yesterday of the resumption of cooperation between Kigali and the ICTR, Rwanda's special representative to the UN court Martin Ngoga was at the Tribunal Friday. He has so far paid only a preliminary visit in October, but should now be taking up his post. Plenary sessionFrom February 18th to 22nd the judges of the ICTR Trial Chambers and Appeals Court will hold an extraordinary plenary session in Arusha. They are expected to discuss ways to further speed up judicial procedures, notably through changes to ICTR rules. The judges have already taken a number of steps in this direction, and the latest judgement (Alfred Musema) marked the fastest trial so far. That trial lasted just under six months. However, an experts' report commissioned for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently concluded that the efficiency of both the ICTR and the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was hampered by "pre-trial delays and prolonged trials". It put much of the onus for speeding up the procedures on the judges. Swearing inThe work of the Appeals Chamber in Arusha is to be preceded by a brief swearing in ceremony for new Italian judge Fausto Pocar. The other four Appeals judges will be Judge Claude Jorda of France (presiding), Judge Lal Vohrah of Malaysia, Judge Mohamed Shahabudeen of Guyana and Judge Rafael Nieto-Navia of Columbia. The presidency of the Appeals Court has changed since it rendered its decision on Barayagwiza, with Judge Jorda taking over from Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald of the US last November. JC/FH (AP%0211e)