Arusha, April 2, 2002 (FH) - The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Tuesday afternoon started the case of four former senior Rwandan military officers charged with genocide crimes in Rwanda in 1994, without the presence of the accused in court. The four accused in the so-called 'Military Trial', Théoneste Bagosora, Anatole Nsengiyumva, Aloys Ntabakuze and Gratien Kabiligi refused to appear in court, alleging violation of their rights by the prosecution.

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They are protesting against delayed disclosure of prosecution witnesses' statements. The case did not commence as scheduled in the morning, because of the accused' absence, but the court instructed the Registry to write to each of the accused and remind them that it was their right to attend the court proceedings and that it was in their interest and in the interest of justice that they should be present during the hearings. The court had indicated that even if they did not appear, the Chamber would proceed with the trial. In the afternoon, the Chamber announced its decision to proceed with the prosecution's opening statement. Four powerful menICTR Chief Prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, from Switzerland, told the court in her opening statement that this was the trial of four men "for the wrongs they have done to the people of Rwanda, constituting the worst crimes known to mankind. " All four were highly respected senior officers in the Rwandan Armed Forces, during the genocide and before, she added. "The crimes committed in Rwanda in 1994 shock the human conscience by their gravity and their widespread and massive character," she said. The Prosecutor told the court the issue to be resolved is: "Who is responsible for close to a million deaths in a few months? Who is responsible for all the other victims, mutilated, tortured, raped, left for dead and many more left without sufficient assistance?"She stated that although the Tribunal cannot, unfortunately, write the whole history of the Rwanda genocide and its genesis, "trying the principal perpetrators will be our contribution, albeit modest but fundamentally important. "The bulk of the prosecution's opening statement was delivered by prosecutor Chile Eboe Osuji of Canada and Nigeria. Osuji said that the wind of political change had been blowing in Rwanda, but the authors of the genocide did not want to share power and opted to plunge the country into bloodshed. The four accused were involved in a deliberate and systematic plan to eliminate what they termed as the "enemy", according to the prosecution; namely, all Tutsis and moderate Hutus who were seen as the "accomplices" to the "enemy". "They deployed the full weight of their authority to this notion", said Osuji. They allegedly cajoled those who were willing to join them and imposed their plan upon those who were unwilling. He told the court that between April 6th and 7th 1994, the accused began by assassinating officials designated to take part in the interim government. These included the Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana. The main goal, the court heard, was to defeat the "enemy in the battlefield, in the media and in the political arena," according to Osuji. He said the planning constituted such an intense and complex web that would baffle the common man at first glance. In his opening statement, Osuji compared the accused Théoneste Bagosora, former advisor at the Rwandan defence ministry (chef de cabinet), to (Germany's Adolf) Hitler. The prosecution maintains that Bagosora assumed "de facto" control of military and political affairs in Rwanda following the April 6th plane crash that killed former President Juvénal Habyarimana, and sparked the genocide. Bagosora, 61, is facing twelve counts, including conspiracy to commit genocide, genocide, complicity in genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, crimes against humanity and violations to the Geneva conventions. Osuji told the court that Bagosora's political stance was clear; he was even opposed to the peace talks on Rwanda which took place in Arusha in 1993 - "he left the peace talks in a huff and said he was going home to prepare the second apocalypse," said Osuji. Another defendant, Nsengiyumva, 52, a former Lieutenant Colonel in the Rwanda Armed Forces, faces eleven counts including genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide and crimes against humanity. He was allegedly involved in training and distribution of weapons to militia as well as preparation of lists of people to be eliminated. The two other accused are Ntabakuze, 48, a former Major and Commander of the Para-Commando Battalion in the Rwandan Armed Forces, who is jointly charged with Kabiligi, 51, a former general in the General Staff of the Rwandan Armed Forces. They are charged with ten counts of conspiracy to commit genocide, genocide, crimes against humanity and violations to the Geneva conventions. According to Osuji, the accused are among a clique that was determined to have his or her own Hutu extremist mode of an interim government. They incited Rwandan civilians to kill Tutsis, threatened to punish and even punished those who did not, the prosecutor told the court. He said that even as the peace talks were going on, there was a marked increase of numbers in the armed forces, acquisition of weapons, training activities and teaching of militia (Interahamwe) by military personnel on how to kill. He said that the four also held meetings with other senior military officials to enhance their course and they also supported the 'hate media' - Radio-Television de Milles Collines (RTLM). As a result, a campaign of intense hate and fear was generated and disseminated, frightening the population into thinking that the mainly Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) was coming to town not only to kill (President Juvénal) Habyarimana but also to kill Hutus. The prosecution told the court that killings took place everywhere during the genocide, including hospitals, schools, government offices and places of worship such as churches and mosques. Osuji said that this was done with the help of a militia already trained on how to "kill the enemy more strategically and efficiently. ""There are stories of victims buying bullets," asking to be shot instead of being hacked to death with crude weapons; women and girls who were raped before being killed or kept as sex slaves; and human remains which were washed up rivers and lakes all over the country, said the prosecutor. "This was deliberately contrived real life horror, and these men are some of the lead authors and actors of the horror in Rwanda in 1994. They unleashed a legion of ferocious demons throughout the country," he told the court. Two of the accused, Bagosora and Nsengiyumva, were arrested in Cameroon on March 9th, 1996 and March 27th, 1996 respectively. Both Ntabakuze and Kabiligi were arrested Kenya on July 18th, 1997. Raphael Constant of Martinique/France represents Bagosora, Kenyans Kennedy Ogetto and Otachi Bw'Omanwa represent Nsengiyumva, Canadians Clemente Monterosso and Andre Tremblay represent Ntabakuze and Kabiligi by Jean Degli of Togo and France and Silvia Olympio of France. The hearing is before ICTR's Trial Chamber Three composed of judges Lloyd George Williams of St. Kitts and Nevis, Pavel Dolenc of Slovenia and Andresia Vaz of Senegal. There will be a status conference between lawyers and judges on Wednesday morning to discuss the absence of the accused and other issues. SW/JA/FH (ML-0402f)