Arusha, June 12, 2001 (FH) The trial of six people accused of committing genocide in Rwanda's southern Butare region got under way Tuesday before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). The so-called Butare case groups former Minister of Women's Development Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, her son and former militia leader Arsène Ntahobali, former mayor of Ngoma Joseph Kanyabashi, former mayor of Muganza Elie Ndayambaje and two former prefects of Butare, Sylvain Nsabimana and Alphonse Nteziryayo.

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All are charged with genocide and crimes against humanity for their alleged role in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. This is the ICTR's biggest trial so far. A courtroom has had to be specially arranged to accommodate all the six accused and their defence teams. The Trial is before Trial Chamber Two, presided by Judge William Sekule of Tanzania and also including new judges Winston Churchill Matanzima Maqutu of Lesotho and Arlette Ramaroson of Madagascar. The Chamber has been recomposed, following the death in May of its former presiding judge, Laïty Kama of Senegal, and the appointment of two new judges to replace two who are going to the Appeals Chamber. According to a recent report by the watchdog body International Crisis Group (ICG), the ICTR's Trial Chamber Two has hardly conducted a trial since June 1999. It was Judge Sekule who obtained "the record, in March 2001, of spending 28 months without a trial". Kanyabashi and Ndayambaje are the ICTR detainees who have been in detention longest without trial. Both were arrested in Belgium in June 1995 and transferred to the Tribunal in November 1996. A Registry statement in response to the ICG report on Monday described the Tribunal's current pace and volume of trials as "frenetic". "The three Trial Chambers of the Tribunal are each handling at least two trials, several with multiple defendants in joint trials," said the statement. "A total of nine individuals are on trial in five cases. A sixth trial with six accused persons will open tomorrow 12 June. Thus, in the next 24 hours, 15 defendants will be on trial before the ICTR". There are three other trials currently under way: the Media Trial (three accused), Cyangugu (three accused) and Semanza (one accused). Trial Chamber Two officially opened two trials (Kajelijeli and Kamuhanda) just before Judge Kama died, but promptly postponed them to July and September respectively. They may have to be restarted by the recomposed court. The Cyangugu Trial was last week suspended until further notice because one of the judges is ill. Informed sources say it may not restart until August, after the judicial recess. "The people who drafted the Tribunal Statute obviously didn't foresee that the absence of one judge could paralyse a whole trial," one source commented. JC/MBR/FH (BU0612e)