Arusha, June 18, 2002 (FH) - Former mayor of Bicumbi, Laurent Semanza, was not as influential as the prosecution portrayed him and he could not have committed the crimes he is accused of, according to his defence, presenting its closing arguments at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Tuesday. "The prosecution evidence is so pregnant with material contradictions," said Semanza's defence, adding that it could not be relied on.

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The defence also criticised with their client's indictment, saying that the prosecution had presented unrelated events unfolding during times even outside the genocide period in unrelated localities. "The prosecution put his net wide, so as to put the court on a voyage of discovery, to choose which facts fit what [accusation]," said Semanza's lead counsel Charles Taku of Cameroon and the USA. 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 he was still very influential even after he was no longer mayor of Bicumbi. Prosecutor Chile Eboe-Osuji in his closing arguments on Monday told the court that Semanza had de facto or de jure authority in 1994. Defence counsel Taku however argued that Semanza was no longer a government official during the 1994 events and that he did not wield political power. He also said that in an attack against his homestead in March 1994, Semanza's own daughter was shot dead and he was forced to flee to seek assistance. "If he had de facto or de jure authority would he not have had soldiers guarding him - so is no longer a great burgomaster [mayor]?" said Taku. The prosecution had in its case referred to Semanza as the "Great Burgomaster". The prosecution maintains that Semanza committed some of the crimes between April 9th and 13th, 1994. But Semanza took the witness stand in his own defence stated that he left his residence overnight on April 8th in the direction of the town of Gitarama. On Monday the prosecution asked the court to find Semanza guilty on all the counts against him and to sentence him for each count. Semanza's defence argued that the prosecution had failed to challenge of Semanza's alibi successfully. Co-counsel Sadikou Alao of Benin said that the three rebuttal witnesses called to challenge the alibi defence did not succeed in doing so. He described one of them, known as DCH, as having been "fabricated at the last minute". The lawyer also questioned the credibility of another witness, known as XXK, who had testified that Semanza left Bicumbi on April 18th 1994. According to Alao the witness stated that her husband had died on the same day that the ex-mayor left Bicumbi, but she did not know the date of her husband's death. Alao questioned how she could have known of Semanza's departure and not of her husband's death, even though the events allegedly transpired on the same day. Taku argued that there were pertinent issues concerning the credibility of the prosecution witnesses and these issues could not be thrown out with a wave of the hand. He said that some prosecution witnesses placed the accused at different locations on the same day. On example was the claim that he was seen on April 12th at 10am in the Musha area while another witness said that at the same time and on the same day he was in Mabare region. Semanza's defence also argued that he had been detained unlawfully after his arrest and that legal provisions on the duration of detention before trial were not respected. His defence urged the court to acquit him. They said that his was a protracted trial, which ought not to have come before the Tribunal because the ICTR was established to try the key authorities that committed crimes and Semanza was not one of them. On Wednesday morning, the prosecution will respond to the defence arguments. This case is 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. The hearing started on October 16th, 2000. SW/FH (SE-0618f)