Arusha, 3rd October 2001 (FH) - The so-called ‘Military Trial’ of former senior officers in the Rwandan Armed Forces at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), has been adjourned until 18th November to allow the hearing of an alternate trial before the same trial chamber. It was adjourned on 27th September while the first prosecution witness, an historian and human rights activist from the US, Alison des Forges, was still giving evidence.

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Des Forges, who was summoned as an expert witness when the trial resumed on September 2nd, is a senior advisor in the Africa division of the international human rights organisation Human Rights Watch. She has published many reports on the human rights situation in the Great Lakes region, particularly Rwanda and Burundi. Calm and insightful, the historian has become a supporter of human rights in Africa during more than thirty visits to Rwanda since 1967. Her book about the Rwandan genocide titled 'Leave None to Tell the Story', was awarded a prize in the US as one of the best publications of 1999. Difficult resumption of the trialThe resumption of the trial in September was marked by long technical arguments between the prosecution and the defence before the prosecution wall able to begin their questioning of Des Forges. The defence straightaway challenged the expert status of Des Forges, especially her knowledge of military affairs. “I am competent in so far as a historian is able to describe military and political events, and not in relation to technical questions such as weaponry,” reacted the witness. The defence even targeted the publication ‘Leave None to Tell the Story’ on which she based her expert report. “Ms Des Forges is not the author of this book”, said one of the lawyers, explaining that the witness had only “put together” or “edited” what had been compiled by teams from Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH). The judges took three days to make a decision, finally saying that the witness had been engaged as an expert in Rwandan history and that she was equally authorised to give her opinion on the tragic events of 1994, particularly because of her experience in human rights affairs in Rwanda. The defence submitted to this decision, but then involved the court in long judicial debates on the nature of the documents that the prosecutor intended to introduce as proof. The basis of these objections was that the expert should not be allowed to base her opinions on documents she had not written. Confronted by this direct argument between defence and prosecution, the chamber observed that “this trial risks lasting until 2007”, but allowed that this type of situation is “inevitable” in all judicial matters. The military trial groups together four former senior Rwandan military officials: Colonel Théoneste Bagosora, the former director of cabinet at the minister of defence; Brigadier-General Gratien Kabiligi, former chief of military operations in Rwandan army; Colonel Anatole Nsengiyumva, chief of military intelligence and former commander of Gisenyi Province (west of Rwanda); and Major Aloys Ntabakuze, former commander of the para-commando battalion of Kigali. They are mainly accused of genocide and war crimes. They have all pleaded not guilty. Prosecution and defence strategiesObservers agree that the military trial is one of the most important that the ICTR is currently dealing with. The four officers of the former Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) are, in effect, presented by the Prosecutor, as those principally responsible for the Rwandan tragedy in which around a million people lost their lives between April and July 1994. The key defendant is without doubt Colonel Bagosora, seen by the prosecution as ‘the mastermind of the genocide’. The Prosecutor alleges that the day after the attack on the airplane of President Juvenal Habyarimana on 6th April 1994, Bagosora became “the most important person in the country”, who “de facto” took control of military and political affairs in Rwanda. “He established himself as the man of the situation to handle the crisis”, adds the prosecution. That is what the prosecution lawyer Mr Osuji tried to establish: that since the beginning of the 1990s, the accused set up and kept to a plan which encompassed the elimination of the Tutsis. As to the defence, it tried, during the initial stages, to define and limit the arguments to the remote causes of the Rwanda crisis, dwelling on the history of the monarchy and the revolution of 1959. The defence based its arguments, among others things, on an opinion of Des Forges that the fall of the monarchy in 1959 constituted a “crucial phase”, and that the polarization between Hutus and Tutsis into opposing camps, politically or socially, is a direct consequence. The lawyer for Bagosora, Raphael Constant of Martinique/France, dealt at length with these historical questions, only reaching the factual allegations against the accused at the end of his cross-questioning. He had not yet finished his questions when the chamber asked him to rapidly conclude, in order to leave space for his colleagues. Bagosora is not the only accused, “Mr Constant must have the sense that three other lawyers are following” interrupted the presiding judge George Lloyd Williams of St Kitts and Nevis. “Bagosora was not the key man of the Rwandan crisis”During her cross questioning Des Forges supported the prosecutor’s theory and confirmed that “(Bagosora) played a major role” between 6th April and 17th July 1994, when “he was in charge of the armed forces”. The prosecution mentions in support a meeting held on the night of 6th/7th April, shortly after the attack on the presidential plane, chaired by Bagosora, at which 16 senior Rwandan officers were present. The aim of this meeting was to elaborate “ a plan of action” for filling the political gap left by the death of the president. The defence challenged this thesis on a number of levels. In the first place, Bagosora was a retired soldier during this period. And, he did not set up this famous “crisis meeting” described by the prosecution, but was informed about it by the Chief of the Gendarmerie, General Augustin Ndindiliyimana. In response to the expert who explained that, contrary to normal military practice, Bagosora presided over the meeting even though he was not senior to the other officers present, Mr Constant replied that his client took part in this meeting “not as an army colonel, but as the director of cabinet and therefore having the rank of minister”. In addition, the defence pointed out that the accused did not benefit from any promotion during this tumultuous period. Altogether, it took nearly a week for Bagosora’s defence to close its cross-questioning of Des Forges in a hurried manner. Even though the chamber had warned that the exercise had to be finished by 26 September for all the defence teams, to allow the expert to get back to her professional work. The trial was therefore adjourned, according to the ICTR’s calendar, just as the second defence counsel for Kabiligi, Jean Degli of Togo/France, had opened his cross-questioning. When the trial restarts on 18th November, many days will be needed for all the defence teams to test the credibility of the expert. The lawyers have already pointed out that no other factual witnesses will be called to testify before the deposition of the expert is finished. The prosecution plans to call at least 250 witnesses, in a trial which observers reckon will last at least two years. The trial is held before Trial Chamber III of the ICTR, comprising Judges Lloyd Williams of St Kitts and Nevis (presiding), Pavel Dolenc of Slovenia and Andresia Vaz of Senegal. GA/FH (ML-0927a)