Arusha, June 28th, 2000 (FH) - Prosecutors at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Wednesday asked the court to approve a joint trial for eight ex- ministers accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. The former ministers concerned are: Edouard Karemera (Interior), André Rwamakuba (Education), Jean de Dieu Kamuhanda (Culture and Higher Education), Casimir Bizimungu (Health), Justin Mugenzi (Commerce), Jérôme Bicamumpaka (Foreign Affairs), Prosper Mugiraneza (Civil Service) and Eliézer Niyitegeka (Information).

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All served in the interim government which presided over the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Australian prosecutor Ken Fleming told the court such a joinder would be in the interests of justice, as all the accused had been involved in a single criminal enterprise. He said a joinder would reduce the number of witnesses that would have to be brought to court, and that it would speed up trial proceedings. However, defence lawyers argued that the joinder was not founded in law, that the prosecutor's motion was full of errors and inconsistencies, and that in any case there was no space in any of the ICTR's small courtrooms for such a big trial. "This is an ill-considered dog's dinner of a motion," said Mugiraneza's British lawyer Michael Greaves, who was also representating Mugenzi for the hearing. He said the prosecution had been juggling around with trial arrangements for former politicians and now appeared to have "shuffled another eight cards". Greaves said the motion itself sometimes referred to four suspects, sometimes to eight and sometimes to ten. Mugirineza's lawyer also said that if the aim was to try all members of the interim government together, then again, the prosecution was inconsistent, as two other ex-ministers had been put into other trials (former Women's Development Minister Pauline Nyiramasuhuko and former Transport Minister André Ntagerura). Greaves said prosecution arguments that a joinder would save time and expense "may well turn out to be false economies" and that this joinder "will be a monster". He said the motion should in any case fall on practical grounds. He pointed out the cramped conditions in which six defendants and their lawyers were sitting. "Where will the other two sit? On the floor?" he asked the judges. "You cannot try eight people in this courtroom or any other in this building!"Rwamakuba was not in court, as his lawyer had not be able to come. Niyitegeka was also absent, as he has not yet pleaded to his amended indictment. The judges had said they would not hear "parts related to Niyitegeka" at today's court session. Kamuhanda's Guinean lawyer Aisha Condé told the court her client was appointed minister only on May 25th, 1994, and therefore "he cannot be held responsible for things that happened before his appointment". She said that by the time Kamuhanda assumed his post, the situation in Rwanda had deteriorated to such an extent that he only attended two cabinet meetings before everyone fled. Condé said Kamuhanda had been unable to enter his ministry or to contact his civil servants, "so it seems to me totally incorrect to say he had any authority over members of the cabinet and its civil servants," she told the court. Didier Skornicki, French lawyer for Karemera, urged the judges "not to give a free hand to the prosecutor's imprecise and indeterminate lumping together of all the individual accused " He told the judges that the prosecution had failed to show all the accused were involved in a single criminal enterprise, which would be the only legal basis for a joint trial. Bicamumpaka's Canadian counsel Francine Veilleux said a joinder would create conflicts of interest which would cause prejudice to her client. She also said there was no factual basis linking her client's case to that of the others. Fleming responded, however, that "there have been many attacks [from the defence] on the practicalities of it, but not on the legality". He also said that "while we may plead guilty to faults in the execution [of this motion]", that did not mean there were faults in its conception. JC/DO/FH (PL%0628e)