Arusha, May 14, 2003 (FH) - The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda(ICTR), will on Thursday, May 15, pass the verdict in the case against theformer minister of Information, Eliézer Niyitegeka. Niyitegeka, 50, is charged with eight counts of genocide and crimes againsthumanity against Tutsis during the 1994 genocide.

2 min 56Approximate reading time

The crimes were allegedlycommitted in Bisesero hills in Kibuye, western Rwanda. The accused comes from Gisovu commune where Bisesero hills are situated. Niyitegeka's trial, one of the fastest the ICTR has ever conducted, began onJune 17, 2002. Trial Chamber One began deliberations on February 28, 2003. It is composed of Judge Navanethem Pillay of South Africa, Erik Møse fromNorway and Andrésie Vaz from Senegal. Eliézer Niyitegeka's counsel is composed of Sylvie Geraghty and FeargalKavanag from Ireland, while the prosecution is represented by MelindaPollard from the United States. 13 witnesses appeared for the prosecution,while the defence called 11. The prosecution called for a maximum sentence of life imprisonment but thedefence argued for an acquittal. Specific allegationsThe prosecution maintains that the accused ordered, directed and personallytook part in massacres of civilians with the aim of partially or totallyexterminate Tutsis. It continues that when the interim government took over, many members of thegovernment rallied to the call of exterminating Tutsis and took thenecessary measures to execute the plan. “They incited and distributed arms to the population to eliminate the enemyand his accomplices, replaced local authorities opposed to the massacreswith those ready to put into action plans to eliminate the civilian Tutsipopulation”, said the prosecution. It is also alleged that members of the interim government motivated,encouraged, facilitated and assented to rape and sexual violence againstTutsis, and on certain occasions, participated in those crimes as anexample to militia, soldiers and gendarmes over whom they had authority. “On or around May 20, 1994, political militants and militia under thesupervision of Eliézer Niyitegeka, forced a girl into the latter's car andhe raped her. When the victim left the car, Niyitegeka shot her dead”, theindictment reads in part. “Similarly, on or about 28 June, 1994, Eliézer Niyitegeka used his car torun another vehicle off the road. The occupants of the vehicle, a man and awoman, were shot to death. Niyitegeka approached the vehicle and instructedthe militia that had gathered nearby to undress the woman, cut a piece ofwood, and insert it in the woman's genitalia”. The prosecution considers that there is a number of aggravatingcircumstances against Niyitegeka. “The accused was a minister, right at thetop of the government hierarchy. He was a journalist a person of referencein society. As a minister, he swore to respect the constitution, but insteadhe violated it in participating in the attacks”, stated a member of theprosecution team. Niyitegeka pleads not guiltyThe defence questioned the credibility of most of the prosecution witnesses,saying that the prosecution had not proven beyond reasonable doubt the guiltof their client. In the defence's view, Niyitegeka should not be declared guilty “simplybecause the RPF (Rwandese Patriotic Front, now in power in Kigali) madenoise about the genocide, and that some witnesses allegedly saw the accusedrunning all over the hills of Bisesero". According to Kavanag's argument before the tribunal, “undue influence wasexerted on some witnesses, others, for reasons only known to them, wanted tosettle scores with political leaders, while others were used. The truth isthat the witnesses failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt my client'sguilt. ”Kayanag also pointed out contradictions of prosecution witnesses and chargedthat some of them changed their testimonies to suit certain situations. Heasked the chamber to reject the evidence on the grounds that some were madeby “accomplices to the massacres” while other had been thrown out in othertrials”. Geraghty painted her client as “a man who did his best to save people”,adding that he had pleaded with the international community to come to therescue of Tutsis and Hutus who were in danger, but that his pleas wentunheard. The Irish defence lawyer stated it was a pity the way the prosecutor handledthe case, saying that it would never figure in law book manuals as "it wasnot a noble cause”. After his studies in Romania, Eliézer first became a journalist with RadioRwanda, before becoming a member of parliament. He then worked for a textilecompany, became a businessman before being appointed minister. He was amember of an opposition party during the Habyarimana regime, the MouvementDémocratique Républicain (MDR). The prosecution maintains that he was amember of he extremist “Hutu power” faction within the party that wasopposed to sharing power with the RPF. Niyitegeka was arrested in Kenya on February 9, 1999 and transferred toArusha two days later. "It is our view that during the last four year theprosecution hay been fabricating evidence”, the defence alleged. The accused is married with five children. KN/AT/CE/FH (NI'0512e)