Arusha, June 1, 2001 (FH) Rwanda tribunal spokesman Kingsley Moghalu said Friday that a finding of the Appeals Court had "set the law straight" on the controversial issue of indigent detainees' right to choose their lawyers. Speaking after the judgement on appeal of former Rwandan mayor Jean-Paul Akayesu, spokesman Kingsley Moghalu told journalists that the court's ruling was of the "utmost importance" and vindicated the positions that the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) had taken on this point.

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"The Appeals Court considers that in principle, the right to free assistance from a lawyer does not confer the right to choose one's counsel," Appeals Court president Claude Jorda of France said, as he delivered the judgement earlier Friday. "This right is only guaranteed for those who can assume the financial burden of lawyer's fees. "Certainly, in practice," he continued, "the indigent accused person has the possibility to choose from a list of counsel kept by the Registry, and the Registrar generally takes the accused's choice into consideration. Nevertheless, it is the opinion of the Appeals Chamber that the Registrar is not necessarily bound by the wishes of the indigent accused person, and has wide powers of discretion which he exercises in the interests of justice. "The Appeals Chamber on Friday rejected Akayesu's appeal against his judgement and sentence. Akayesu, former mayor of Taba in central Rwanda, was convicted in September 1998 of genocide, direct and public incitement to genocide and crimes against humanity, including rape. He has been sentenced to life imprisonment. Akayesu pleaded not guilty. A central argument in his appeal was that he had been denied the right to lawyers of his choice, and that the lawyers he was given were incompetent. The Appeals Chamber said that "Akayesu asked three times to change his counsel. He sent a large number of letters and motions to the president of the Tribunal and the Registrar. The Trial Chamber authorized him twice to change his counsel. In the circumstances of this case, the Appeals Chamber considers that there were indeed reasonable grounds to refuse the assignment of the lawyers chosen by Akayesu. "The Chamber went further, saying that not only did it reject this ground of appeal but "believes it (the Chamber) is justified in expressing its disagreement, in this case, with the abusive use of the right of the indigent accused to benefit from legal aid at the expense of the international community. "The Chamber also rejected Akayesu's argument that the lawyers who represented him at trial were incompetent, saying that he had failed to demonstrate this. Sentence to be served in Mali?The Appeals Chamber also confirmed Friday the genocide convictions of former Rwandan prefect Clément Kayishema and former businessman Obed Ruzindana. It confirmed a life sentence for Kayishema and 25 years for Ruzindana. These two convicts also pleaded not guilty. So far, the ICTR has concluded agreements with three African countries to take Tribunal genocide convicts into their prisons. These countries are Benin, Mali and Swaziland. Asked which of these countries would be ready first, Moghalu said that it would probably be Mali. Countries are required to provide prison conditions which meet international standards. Moghalu also said that Akayesu, Kayishema and Ruzindana would probably be the first to go, although this was a decision for the ICTR President. The other convicts whose judgement and sentence have been confirmed are former militia leader Omar Serushago, former Prime Minister Jean Kambanda, and Italo-Belgian former "hate-radio" presenter Georges Ruggiu. All three pleaded guilty, and the Prosecutor is expecting them to testify in other cases before the ICTR. Ruggiu has asked, and is likely to serve his sentence in Italy. JC/MBR/FH (RE0601f)