Arusha, February 8, 2000 (FH) - Defence lawyers for the so-called "military group" of genocide suspects have presented a series of motions challenging the competence of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to try their clients on the basis of current indictments. On Monday and Tuesday, the lawyers argued that facts mentioned in the indictments fell outside the ICTR's temporal mandate and judicial competence.

1 min 50Approximate reading time

The so-called "military group" are Théoneste Bagosora, former advisor (chef de cabinet) at the Rwandan defence ministry, and three senior commanders in the former Rwandan army: Anatole Nsengiyumva, Aloys Ntabakuze and Gratien Kabiligi. Bagosora's lawyer was the only one who did not present such a motion, and has said that he will not do so. Nsengiyumva's Kenyan defence lawyers, Kennedy Ogetto et Gershom O. B'omanwa, argued that some parts of the indictment referred to events before 1994, and therefore fell outside the Tribunal's mandate. The ICTR's statute says that it is competent to try people presumed responsible for serious violations of humanitarian law committed on the territory of Rwanda between January 1st and December 31st, 1994. Nsengiyumva's defence team also argued that "facts mentioned in the indictment should consitute an infraction, and that infraction must be clearly defined in the statute as being within the tribunal's competence". They said the indictment pointed to the fact that the accused was a member of a commission to identify the "enemy", that he took part in meetings in military camps and that he had drawn up a list of "enemies" and their accomplices. But they said it was normal for a military officer to identify his enemies, and draw up strategies to conquer them. "In wartime, is it a crime to be a committee member, go to meetings in a military camp and draw up a list of enemies?" they asked. Kabiligi's Togolese lawyer Jean Yaovi Degli raised the issue of individual responsibility. "According to its statute, the ICTR is mandated to judge individuals on the basis of an indictment establishing personal information about the accused," he said. "It's not a question of judging either the Rwandan army or its chief of staff or the Rwandan government, but individuals. But the indictment tries to incriminate Kabiligi as a member of the Rwandan army. "Arguing for the prosecution, Frédéric Ossogo of Cameroon and David Spencer of the US said facts in the indictment that occurred before 1994 were closely linked to the crimes alleged during that year. "Nowhere in the Rules or in the Statute does it say the evidence must be based exclusively on facts that occurred in 1994," Spencer told the court. With regard to the court's competence on the presentation of the material facts, the prosecution argued that all the facts in the indictment should be taken together and that they "demonstrate the existence of physical and moral intent -- the existence of a crime". . The judges are now deliberating on their decision. BN/JC/FH (ML%0208E)