Arusha, June 19, 2002 (FH) - The trial of former Bicumbi mayor and genocide suspect Laurent Semanza closed officially on Wednesday before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) with the final closing arguments by the prosecution and defence. The case started on October 16th, 2000 and prosecutor Chile Eboe Osuji of Canada and Nigeria represented the prosecution while counsel Charles Taku of Cameroon and America and Sadikou Alao of Benin represented the accused.

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In total the prosecution and defence presented fifty-four witnesses twenty-seven for each party. Semanza was mayor of Bicumbi, Kigali rural province in central Rwanda. He is charged with 14 counts of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and crimes against humanity, including rape and persecution, in his Bicumbi commune and nearby Gikoro commune. He has pleaded not guilty. The prosecution maintains that Semanza committed some of the crimes between April 9th and 13th, 1994. But Semanza who testified in his own defence states that he left his residence on the night of April 8th and 9th in the direction of Gitarama (central Rwanda). In his closing arguments, the bulk of which were delivered on Monday, Osuji asked the court to find the accused guilty of the charges against him and to sentence him for each count. He also asked the court not to give weight to the inconsistencies between the written testimonies of the prosecution witnesses and their testimonies in court. He said that this factor was not enough to disregard their testimonies, and that it was collective evidence presented that mattered. In their argument, Semanza's defence asked the court to acquit their client because the prosecution had failed to challenge his defence of alibi. The defence maintained that the issue of contradictions in prosecution witnesses' testimonies was important and showed that the prosecution was unable to state directly how Semanza was responsible for the crimes he had been indicted for. Semanza was arrested in Cameroon in 1996 and transferred the following year to the (ICTR) United Nations Detention Facility in Arusha. The accused was mayor of Bicumbi for over twenty years before becoming a trader and businessman at the end of his tenure. The prosecution maintains that he was still "very influential politically" even after he was mayor. But his defence argued that Semanza held no political or government post during the 1994 events and that he was not as influential as the prosecution were portraying him. In 2000 the Appeals Chamber of the ICTR stated that there had been irregularities during the provisional detention of the accused and that should he be declared innocent after his trial, he would be eligible for a financial compensation. The Chamber also added that if found guilty he would be eligible for a reduction of his sentence due to those irregularities. At the close of the trial presiding Judge Russian Yakov Ostrovsky said: "This hearing is closed, judgement will be pronounced in public," adding that the date of the judgement would be communicated to the concerned parties in due course, after deliberations. This trial was 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. GA/SW/JA/FH (SE-0619e)