Arusha, October 25, 2001 (FH) - Two accused in the "Butare" trial of six genocide suspects boycotted court on Thursday in protest at a decision they said violated their rights. Former Women's Affairs Minister Pauline Nyiramasuhuko and former mayor of Muganza Elie Ndayambaje maintained their boycott even after a visit from their lawyers to say the judges of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) had decided to continue the case without them if necessary.

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In a letter to their lawyers, the two said their boycott was because of a court decision the previous day on disclosure of prosecution evidence. Ndayambaje, for example, said that the decision "refuses and denies my rights to disclosure of evidence". Wednesday's decision came in response to a defence motion saying that cross-questioning of prosecution witnesses should be postponed, because the prosecution had not met its disclosure obligations under a previous court decision of June 8th. Prosecution had argued that it was unable to do so for witness protection reasons. "There are staffing problems in the witness protection unit," Italian prosecutor Silvana Arbia told the court, "and we cannot disclose all the unredacted statements without ensuring that our witnesses will be protected. " The June 8th decision also contained an order to the witness protection unit. "The fact that the witness protection unit lacks staff is not a reason for my client's rights to be violated," Nicole Bergevin, counsel for Nyiramasuhuko, retorted. "Mrs. Nyiramasuhuko is not accused of petty theft, she is accused of genocide before an international Tribunal. "The court nevertheless rejected the defence motion, ordering that prosecution witnesses should be cross-questioned. The Chamber said that although there was an obligation to disclose evidence, "we have a duty to protect witnesses, both for the prosecution and defence". It also said that the defence had had the redacted witness statements for a long time and had had sufficient time to prepare. On Thursday morning, the court heard that Nyiramasuhuko and Ndayambaje wanted their lawyers to visit them to receive instructions. It granted a request from their lawyers for a short adjournment. Counsel said they wanted to communicate with both their client and their Bar. Presiding judge William Sekule of Tanzania said the accused's decision to boycott the court was an "obstruction of justice" and that they were invited to return. If they did not, however, he said proceedings would continue without them. Ndayambaje and Nyiramasuhuko are being tried with four other accused: Nyiramasuhuko's son and alleged former militia leader Arsène Shalom Ntahobali, former Butare prefects Sylvain Nsabimana and Alphonse Nteziryayo, and former mayor of Ngoma Joseph Kanyabashi. BN/JC/PHD/FH(BT1025E)