Arusha, February 27, 2003 (FH) - Former Rwandan minister of Information, Eliezer Niyitegeka, is “irrefutably” guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity, prosecutors at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) argued in their closing arguments on Thursday. “Niyitegeka wasn't an average Rwandan citizen (…) He was a minister with a sworn duty to protect the citizens”, said prosecutor Melinda Pollard of the US.

1 min 40Approximate reading time

Instead”, she added, “(Niyitegeka) led attacks on innocent, unarmed, men, women and children”. From its presentation, the prosecution appears to have asked for the maximum sentence of life imprisonment in the event that Niyitegeka is convicted. Assistant Defence counsel for Niyitegeka, Feagal Kavanag of Ireland challenged the prosecution case as falling below accepted “minimum prosecutorial standards”. He argued that the processes of investigation and evidence presentation at the tribunal rendered the whole trial process unfair. He begged the judges to dismiss the case or they would “damage the integrity of this court”. Niyitegeka is mainly accused of being one of the leaders of attacks on ethnic Tutsi refugees in the Bisesero hills (West Rwanda) at the time of the 1994 genocide. Besides allegedly leading gangs of armed militias to kill the refugees in the hills, Niyitegeka is personally accused of murdering five people and raping a young girl. According to prosecution evidence, he ordered the killing of the girl after raping her. This trial opened in June 2002 and closed in November of the same year. It was held alternately with other trials taking place in the same chamber. It is one of the fastest trials in the history of the tribunal. Niyitegeka's defence on Thursday dwelt on legal arguments on the case and promised to present its defence on the testimonies of prosecution witnesses on Friday. Kavanag criticised a tribunal rule that exempts parties from disclosing “internal documents” prepared in connection with the investigation or preparation of a case. He explained that with such a rule, there was no way the defence would learn of inconsistencies in the original testimony given by witnesses in their statements. “The defence has been effectively disarmed in relation to challenging the evidence of prosecution witness”, said Kavanag. “Such evidence shouldn't be relied upon by the chamber”, he added. In their defence, Niyitegeka's team also contend that he wasn't in Kibuye province (location of Bisesero hills) at the time of some crimes. Prosecutor Pollard said that “the alibi witnesses are highly unreliable and their testimony improbable". The trial is before Trial Chamber One of the ICTR comprising Judges Navanethem Pillay of South Africa (presiding), Erik Møse of Norway and Andresia Vaz of Senegal. Møse wasn't present on the bench on Thursday. GG/CE/FH(NI'0227e)