Arusha, November 22, 2001 (FH) - Defence lawyers in the trial of former Rwandan mayor Laurent Semanza on Thursday asked the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to take judicial notice of events surrounding the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Lead counsel Charles Taku of Cameroon/USA argued that it would save the court time to take judicial notice of historic facts that were "common knowledge".

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He also said that since there were systematic attacks by the pro-Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) prior to the 1994 genocide, "one side should not be held accountable for all the killings" that occurred. Taku urged the court to take notice of historical facts documented by UN and other reports, and also facts previously adjudicated by the court. These included the 1990 invasion of Rwanda by the RPF; the October 1990 ceasefire accord signed by the former government and RPF in Gbadolite (ex-Zaire) but which the RPF "repeatedly violated", according to Taku; the shooting down of the former president's 'plane that preceded the genocide; and the August 1993 Arusha peace accord between the warring parties that was never implemented. Taku said it was documented that by May 1993, RPF forces controlled large sections of the country, and that in 1994 when these forces moved to Kigali "order collapsed in Rwanda. "Taku said he had introduced the motion in relation to some specific accusations in his client's indictment. Semanza, a former mayor of Bicumbi (Kigali prefecture in central Rwanda), is charged with 14 counts of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and crimes against humanity, including rape and persecution in Bicumbi and Gikoro communes. He has pleaded not guilty. Prosecutor Chile Eboe Osuji (Canada/Nigeria) said he did not contest the historical facts raised by the defence, but did oppose their conclusions on the consequences. For example, he said the prosecution did not contest that the RPF invaded Rwanda in 1990, but did not agree that the RPF violated the Gbadolite ceasefire, or that it moved from the demilitarised zone towards Kigali, as claimed by the defence. The court will deliberate before handing down a decision. The case is before Trial Chamber Three of the ICTR, composed of judges Yakov Ostrovsky of Russia (presiding), Lloyd George Williams of St. Kitts and Nevis and Pavel Dolenc of Slovenia. SW/JC/PHD/FH (SE1122E)