Arusha, June 12, 2003 (FH) - The trial of four former senior officers of the Rwandan army resumed Monday with a status conference held in camera in Trial Chamber One of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). The newly reconstituted chamber that has taken over the trial from chamber Three, have since then been familiarising themselves with the case and debating whether the trial will resume where it had left off or should start afresh.

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Article 15 bis of the amended Rules of Procedure and Evidence of the ICTR, provides for a judge to be replaced in the middle of a trial without affecting the proceedings. But the rules are silent in the event that a trial is transferred from one chamber to another. Until last Monday, the Military trial was before Chamber Three of the ICTR. The "Military I" trial is considered as one of the most important trial ever brought before the tribunal considering the suspects involved and the crimes they are alleged to have committed. The trial groups together the former director of cabinet in the ministry of defence, Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, the former head of military operations in the Rwandan army Brigadier Gratien Kabiligi, former commander of Gisenyi military region lieutenantcolonel Anatole Nsengiyumva, and Major Aloys Ntabakuze who used to be the commander of the Paracommando battalion based at Kanombe (Kigali). All four have pleaded not guilty to charges of, complicity to commit genocide and war crimes, among others. Problems right from the beginningIn June 1998, the prosecution had made it known it wished to call some 800 witnesses. The defence had sought the intervention of the chamber, arguing that allowing the prosecution to call such a large number of witnesses was an unnecessary waste of time and that it would delay the whole process. In the same month the Rules of procedure and evidence were amended to allow judges more leverage in the control of proceedings, including the auditioning of witnesses in order to save time. The chamber then requested the prosecution to drastically reduce the number of its witnesses. The prosecution put it at 250. Last April, Chamber Three again issued a new order for the prosecution to further reduce that number. The prosecutor in the case, Barbara Mulvaney from the USA, settled to the current 121 witnesses adding that she could not go any lower. The trial which began on April 2, 2002, started on a wrong footing. The prosecutor only managed to give his opening statement before trouble settled in. The accused refused to attend the proceedings claiming that they had not had time to familiarise themselves with some documents from the prosecutor that "had not been translated". This, they claimed, was a violation of their rights to a fair trial. The next day, the chamber adjourned the proceedings to give the prosecution time to rectify matters. The defence then accused the prosecutor of playing to the cameras and turning the trial into a "/media show". Shortly after the adjournment, Chile Ebou Osuji, the CanadianNigerian who was the prosecutor, was replaced by Mulvaney. A very slow trialWhen the trial resumed on September 2, 2002, the proceedings became ensnared in a series of legal arguments. These were sparked by the appearance of the first prosecution witness, the American historian and human rights activist, Alison des Forges. She had been called as an expert witness. The defence teams objected to her testifying as an expert witness, arguing that the prosecution first had to present factual evidence. The defence counsels were also of the view that the witness was not competent to testify about the period during the genocide, arguing that her doctorate thesis was based on the history of Rwanda during the 1930s. The chamber retired for deliberation, and on its return, ruled on both matters in favour of the prosecution. Des Forges is an expert on Rwanda having undertaken many research projects in the great lakes region. Among her major publications was the book on the genocide, "Leave none to tell the story". Raphaël Constant, Bagosora's FrancoMartinique lead counsel, then crossexamined the witness for close to a week, despite being restricted by the chamber which cast doubt on the relevance of some of his questions. The defence also criticised Des Forges's lack of university credentials in the field of human rights, thereby contesting the expert witness report she gave the ICTR. The presiding judge of chamber three, Lloyd George Williams of St. Kitts and Nevis conceded that the trial was getting nowhere. "We were bogged down from the beginning", he complained before turning to the prosecutor; "I had asked you to begin with witnesses who would not cause problems". Another surpriseOn May 21, 2003, judge WIilliams announced that he was withdrawing for the "Military I" trial for "personal reasons". This latest turn of events led to the nominations of a new team of judges to try the case and was moved to Chamber one. The Chamber is now presided over by Erik Møse of Norway. He is assisted by Serguei Aleckseievich Egorov from Russia, and Jai Ram Reddy of Fiji. The chamber should announce shortly how the trial will evolve. Observers contend that it is expected to last two years. The present session has been slated to last until July 18. Up to now two prosecution witnesses have been heard in this case. KN/GA/CE/FH (ML'0612e)