Arusha, September 18, 2002 (FH) - The first witness in the trial of four Rwandan military officers before the Tribunal, historian and human rights activist Alison Des Forges, told the Tribunal that military officers merged civil defence initiatives with military action to fight the "enemy". Des Forges is testifying for the third week as an expert prosecution witness in the trial that resumed on September 2nd.

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Prosecutor Chile Eboe Osuji (of Nigeria and Canada) questioned Des Forges in her chief testimony, running her through a bundle of material including an audio-visual tape. But the defence objected to several of these documents, questioning their sources, authenticity, and the circumstances in which they were obtained. Commenting on issues raised from the documents, Des Forges maintained that the military organised and trained militia prior to the genocide. Des Forges's testimony took a week to take off as defence teams objected to her being presented as an expert, provoking a three-day debate on the issue. When she was eventually admitted, the defence objected to many of the exhibits that the prosecution was submitting. Her testimony finally picked up on the second week. Des Forges is testifying in the trial referred to as the 'Military Trial'; it groups former advisor at the Rwandan defence ministry (chef de cabinet) Théoneste Bagosora, and ex-senior officers Anatole Nsengiyumva, Aloys Ntabakuze and Gratien Kabiligi. The four have pleaded not guilty to charges on genocide and crimes against humanity. Civil Defence SystemThis week, Des Forges commented in detail on documents submitted by the prosecution. As opposed to the first week where she could barely proceed due to objections, this week she talked at length on various issues. The prosecution documents submitted included letters, press releases, fax messages and audio-visual material on the events prior to and during the genocide of 1994. One such document presented, was a letter written by former Chief of Army Staff Deogratias Nsabimana on March 29th, 1994, calling for increased civil defence measures. In her testimony Des Forges told the court of the importance of the "civil defence system" and how the military manipulated this in their favour. The idea was to have a peoples' safety net to back up the regular army and even President Juvénal Habyarimana talked of the desirability of such a force. Des Forges said the activity was turned from a legitimate action of armed civilians against a military force into one of armed combatants against unarmed persons. The civil defence protection was to include soldiers living outside the (military) camps and selected civilians. According to Des Forges, "the cellule would be the basic unit of this plan". The witness said some sources had implicated Bagosora as being involved in the location of the operational base of the civil defence activities. The activities were under the Ministries of Home Affairs and Defence. A number of people, some retired officers, were appointed to head this system at various national levels. Des Forges said, the system merged civil defence with trained militia; "harnessing the energy of the militia so that it would serve the purposes of the leaders". She stressed that the military was involved in the training and provision of ammunition to the selected civilians and the militia. Des Forges also told the court how former head of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Rwanda, General Romeo Dallaire, warned of impending violence in Kigali and that there was no reaction from the United Nations on his distress call. She also said another Belgian officer had also detailed in an analysis how militiamen (like Interahamwe) were being trained by the army. In addition, the witness said, authorities held meetings calling for "Hutu Power" that justified Hutu fear and hatred for the Tutsi. "The international community did nothing," she said. "This was the political concept which made the genocide possible," she added. I hear you, I hear youThe proceedings witnessed some extremely charged moments as defence objected some submissions. At one point, Osuji urged the defence to stop making objections as he was pressed on time. “I am very busy,” Osuji said. “I know you are very busy but I can stay here until 2010,” replied Canadian Paul Skolnik (Bagosora's counsel). "How absurd can a court mood get?" asked Osuji referring to the barrage of objections. The defence expressed concern that the prosecution felt under pressure to complete Des Forges evidence in chief and stated that at a later stage, the prosecution should not claim they were rushed in their case. The Chamber indicated that although it was desirable to complete the evidence in chief, it would allow the prosecution time to finish questioning the witness. In the midst of the heated arguments however, a few light moments eased the atmosphere. For example, after one heated exchange between Osuji and the defence, in reference to documents he asked: "Madam Des Forges are you there?" The witness replied in the affirmative, 'yes . . both…. I am here and I have the document,' causing laughter in the Chamber. The witness continues with her testimony on Thursday, before ICTR's Trial Chamber Three composed of judges Lloyd George Williams of St. Kitts and Nevis, (presiding) Pavel Dolenc of Slovenia and Andresia Vaz of Senegal. SW/FH (ML-0918e)