Arusha, October 17th, 2002 (FH) - The defence of genocide suspect and former Rwandan minister of information, Eliézer Niyitegeka, on Thursday told theInternational Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) that their client was, contrary to prosecution allegations, an advocate for peace. Sylvia Geraghty, Niyitekega’s counsel, was speaking after the closure of the prosecution case.

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The prosecution has presented 12 witnesses since the start of the trial on June 17th, 2002. Niyitegeka faces six charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for massacres committed in Bisesero (Kibuye province, west of Rwanda) and elsewhere in the country between April and July 1994. He allegedly ordered massacres of civilians and personally took part in attacks against Tutsis. An estimated one million ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda according to an official census by the government of Rwanda. "Niyitegeka spoke sincerely for peace for all Rwandans and was in favour of Arusha peace accords", said Geraghty. "This ideology cost him dearly. He has had three assassination attempts", she added. She argued that Niyitegeka couldn't have conspired with MRND (the then ruling party) and Interahamwe (a notorious militia linked to MRND) since the two had tried to assassinate him. Geraghty reminded judges that the defence would also include alibi. Besides the defence of alibi, regarding allegations that at the peak of the genocide, "Niyitegeka, always carrying a gun with him, ran around the Bisesero hills" co-ordinating and participating in killings of ethnic Tutsis, Geraghty said that it would have been impossible given his physical condition at the time. "The 42-year-old man was grossly overweight. Weighing, in the old metric system, I would say, 19 to 20 stone weight", she said. Geraghty moreover said that eight and a half years after the alleged crimes were committed, memories of witnesses had faded and recollections had been corrupted. "An innocent man in such circumstances could become victim", she said. This trial is before ICTR's Trial Chamber Onecomposed of judges Navanethem Pillay of South Africa (presiding), Erik Moseof Norway and Andresia Vaz of Senegal. GG/FH(NI-1017e)