Arusha, November 1st, (FH) - The defence for former Rwandan mayor Jean-Paul Akayesu on Wednesday asked the Appeals Court of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to overturn Akayesu's conviction and order his release. The former mayor of Taba (central Rwanda) was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1998.

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But his Canadian lawyers John Philpot and André Tremblay argued that the Trial Chamber had committed errors of fact and law when it found their client guilty. In particular, they claimed that the judges had not exercised "reasonable doubt" when assessing the evidence. "This Tribunal is founded on the principle that there must be proof beyond a reasonable doubt," they told the Appeals Court. "It should follow the criterion of what is probable. "They also argued that the indictment against Akayesu had been amended in an "irregular" way, which violated his rights. The indictment was amended during Akayesu's trial to include charges of rape. The lawyers also argued that their client had been "denied his right to a competent lawyer" during the trial process. Akayesu was assigned four different lawyers prior to his current defence team. He was defended during most of the trial by Nicholas Tiangaye (Central African Republic) and Patrice Monthé (Cameroon), whom he accuses of incompetence. "The trial started without the defence having prepared at all," argued Philpot. "Akayesu was not satisfied with the questioning and cross-questioning of witnesses. He also became aware that his lawyers had not prepared properly. "Philpot quoted ICTR Deputy Prosecutor Bernard Muna of Cameroon as having said that "some people lose during their trials because their lawyers are not very good. Perhaps Akayesu lost because his defence did not have the necessary expertise to cross-question witnesses". According to Philpot, Akayesu's former defence team also failed to prepare him properly for his own testimony. He said Tiangaye and Monthé were also habitually late or absent, including at the start of the Prosecutor's closing arguments. Akayesu was the first person to be convicted for genocide by an international court. "It is shocking that the first genocide trial should start without the rights of the accused being respected," Philpot said. The defence also argued that Akayesu had been illegally detained in Zambia between the end of 1995 and mid-1996. Prosecutors contested all the arguments of the defence. They are also appealing the Trial Chamber's judgement on the grounds that it committed errors of fact and of law when it found Akayesu not-guilty of certain crimes against humanity and war crimes charges. AT/JC/FH (AK%1101E)