Arusha, February 3rd, 2001 (FH) - As the so-called media trial is set to resume on Monday before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), controversy is stirring over a security search of a detainee’s cell on January 10th and the right of ICTR detainees to access the outside world. for media purposes.

5 min 54Approximate reading time

The issues at stake include security at the UN Detention Facility (UNDF) in Arusha, alleged violation and/or abuse of attorney-client privilege, and the rights of the detainees. The media trial groups three suspects linked to media which allegedly incited Hutus to kill Tutsis during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. They are Ferdinand Nahimana, former director of RTLM radio; Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, a former politican and founder member of RTLM; and Hassan Ngeze, former editor of the newspaper Kangura. The three are accused of conspiring to commit and incite genocide through the media in Rwanda. All three have pleaded not-guilty. Barayagwiza has boycotted the trial since it began last October 23rd, on grounds that the ICTR is manipulated by the “anti-Hutu regime in Kigali”, while Ngeze now says he will also boycott the trial. His lawyer, John Floyd of the US, hasfiled a motion to have all charges against his client dismissed on the grounds that Ngeze’s rights have been grossly violated. One of the reasons for the motion and boycott threat is a raid on Ngeze’s cell by UN security officers and ICTR computer staff on January 10th this year, during which the detainee claims that vital defence documents, including witness statements and photographs, were destroyed, copied or stolen “in complicity with the government of Kigali”. In his motion to the court, Floyd says that “at least 26 computer diskettes, photographs, papers, books and other documents were seized or otherwise made useless to the defense”. Security concernsThe ICTR categorically denies this. It says the search was conducted after it discovered that Ngeze was running a website and that photographs taken illegally inside the UNDF had been posted there. Some of the material on the site is also considered to be defamatory. Both Ngeze and Barayagwiza are known to have websites. Informed sources at the ICTR say that a modem was taken from Ngeze’s computer, although it was not connected to anything and the Tribunal’s experts established that there was no trace of access to any form of telephone. Internet access is strictly banned for the detainees and their telephone calls must be authorized. The sources say photograph albums and negatives were also taken from Ngeze’s cell, but remain under lock and key in the UNDF safe, and that no camera was found. Ngeze refused to sign the inventory of items confiscated. ICTR spokesman Kingsley Moghalu, in an interview with Internews news agency, strongly denied that any documents had been taken. “ We didn’t take anything, why do we need to take anything from him?” Moghalu asked. Moghalu said that it was deemed necessary to establish whether Ngeze was operating the website from the UNDF. “A search was conducted by security and EDP [Electronic Data Processing] officials. After the search, he was asked to sign the log out. He reportedly commented that he was going to accuse the officials of something to embarrass the Tribunal,” Internewsquoted Moghalu as saying. ICTR rules permit the Commanding Officer of the UNDF to authorize a search if there is suspicion of a potential security threat. “If you can smuggle in a camera, then maybe you can smuggle in a gun,” commented one source. The question remains of how the offending photos were taken, also who is running the website and how uncensored press releases and illegal photos have been smuggled out of the UNDF. Informed sources say the ICTR was alerted to Ngeze’s website by a letter from the accused himself, saying that his friends had opened a website and that he had instructed his lawyers to put material on it in Washington. Floyd, who is based in Washington, categorically denies that he has anything to do with the site, or that he has even seen it. “I would notbe that stupid,” he told Hirondelle news agency. Asked how his own photo had managed to be posted on the site, he said that he was “very upset” and that “these are matters I will deal with with my client”. What to do about detainee websites?The wider issue is whether ICTR detainees should have websites at all, and what the ICTR can do about it. As one source pointed out, a website could use coded language or password systems to endanger people’s lives or even to organize an escape from the UNDF. Ngeze’s site seems to be causing more concern than Barayagwiza’s because of the material posted there. Some of this material directly targets a UN staff member whom he accuses of complicity with the current Rwandan government. The ICTR evidently has a problem, as recognised by Registrar Dr. Agwu Okali at a press conference on January 31st. "There’s no detention facility anywhere in the world where anything can just go in and out,” he told journalists. “Having said that, we have the problem that we have to walk a fine line between banning everything…. because to begin with, theUNDF is technically not a prison, it’s a detention facility […]. For most of the people there, they have to be presumed innocent [until proven guilty]. You have to then make your rules bearing in mind this. You cannot impose punitive kinds of conditions throughout. What we’ve tried to do then is to create a balance between maximum security prison conditions andreally house arrest… because that’s what theoretically this thing is, people are in detention awaiting trial. ”Many of the detainees have been awaiting trial for a long time, with few visits from their families, so frustrations are likely to be running high. Ngeze has been in detention for three and half years. Okali said that the ICTR Registry, which is responsible for running the UNDF, is taking action on the current controversy surrounding Ngeze. “We have launched an investigation into the issue of the photographs because that’s a breach of security, and we will take appropriate action when we find out how that happened,” he told journalists. “On the issue of the website […] it seems to be the case that these websites have been established by friends or associates of the detainees outside, third parties, not the detainees, so that creates a separate problem. […] The issue of the website raises very, very tricky legal and political issues, because the websites, as I said, are being established and operated by people outside. “Now, if we were a national court and within that country somebody does that, you could well have issues of contempt of court because of the material in there,” the Registrar continued. “But we are talking about a website based in the US and we are here. […] We are looking now into some legal process for holding the providers of the website responsible for their content. Because only to the extent, we believe, that some of the content is defamatory of the judges and the staff and soforth…. So if you establish a website and you carry defamatory material, then you have a responsibility for it. And so I have come up with the idea that we will send a letter of strong protest and demand to the providers of the website to say that so and so and so and so is going on, this is defamatory, you have to desist putting such materials or else. And I thinkthat we would have a very good case. Certainly the individuals who are being defamed would have a very good case. “And I think that when we do that, the providers will be a lot more careful about what appears there,” Okali continued. “But I don’t think that it is possible for us to shut the website, because it is being run by people… I mean, if it had innocent material, even if it is propaganda on behalf of the detainee, there’s nothing really, legally, we can do… norshould we, because you have free speech issues and we don’t want to put the Tribunal in a position where we are trying to muzzle every comment about the Tribunal. ”Okali said that if it is a case of taking legal action in the United States for defamation, it would probably be done through the UN in New York: “As a lawyer I don’t see a great deal of difficulty in bringing that kind of suit in America […] We will of course normally do this through the UN office of legal affairs, which normally then retains counsel, American counsel, to pursue that kind of thing,” he said. Asked whether the court handling the media case, that is, Trial Chamber One of the ICTR, could also hand down an order, Okali said that it could, but that implementation might pose problems: “I think there is certainly the possibility of a court order regarding that, in which case then we have to solicit the cooperation of the national government of wherever it is in trying to carry out this court order and then we will see what happens. I think that, depending on the nature of the order, you mayhave a difficult time. ”JC/DO/FH (ME_0203e)