Arusha, September 8, 2003 (FH) – The trial of former mayor of Rusumo commune (Kibungo province, eastern Rwanda) and genocide suspect, Sylvestre Gacumbitsi, will resume on October 6. The Gacumbitsi trial began on July 28, 2003.

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In one month, the prosecution has completed its evidence with the testimony of fifteen witnesses. The accused is charged of five counts, which include genocide, or in the alternative complicity in genocide, extermination, murder and rape as crimes against humanity in relation with massacres of Tutsis perpetrated in several locations in his commune. The biggest site of massacre in Rusumo is Nyarubuye Catholic parish, where an estimated 20,000 people died. Gacumbitsi has pleaded not guilty to all of them. During his opening statement, the prosecutor, Richard Karegyesa of Uganda, said that the accused had participated, with a lot of efficiency, in the killing of Tutsis himself or by ordering the Hutus to perform the killings. The defense, composed of Mr. Kouengoua and Anne Mbattang, both from Cameroon, argue that most of the killings in Nyarabuye were performed by the RPF. The RPF was mainly Tutsi dominated. The Gacumbitsi trial is so far a very fast trial compared to others at the ICTR. Within one month, all the 15 prosecution witnesses have completed their testimonies. Two expert witnesses testified: historian and human rights activits Alison Des Forges and Patrick Feagal Keane, a British journalist from the BBC. The rest testified using pseudonyms to protect their identity. A journalist from the BBC testifiesPatrick Feagal Keane, the author of the book, “Season of Blood: A Rwandan Journey” was the first prosecution witness. Keane was one of the first reporters to send to the BBC images of the massacres at Nyarabuye. Keane first told the chamber that besides visiting Nyarabuye in June 1994, he also visited a refugee camp called Benaco in Western Tanzania, in order to interview Gacumbitsi. "The survivors we've met (in the Rusumo commune) told us that Gacumbitsi was the main commander of the Nyarabuye massacres", explained the reporter on several occasions. He added that, when interviewed in Benaco camp, Gacumbitsi denied these allegations. Keane also declared that he was surprised when the former mayor informed him that the Interahamwe were an entertainment group, which performed dances and songs of praise for the ruling party. The prosecution maintains that the Interahamwe were the main perpetrators of the genocide. What Alison Des Forges saidAlison Des Forges testified last. After a brief argument between defence and prosecution counsels, it was agreed that she would only cross-examined. During her cross-examination she said that what happened in Rusumo were not isolated events, but part of a more general context, that of the genocide. Concerning the Nyarubuye massacres, which took place on April 15, 1994, the defence suggested to her that the bodies she discovered in August 1994 were to be attributed to the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). The RPF had been in control of the area since April 1994. To support his allegations, lead defence counsel Kouengoua produced a report published, according to him, by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Alison Des Forges indicated that the killings mentioned in this report had been perpetrated at different dates and in locations remote from the Nyarubuye Parish. She also acknowledged that, in 1994, “crimes were committed by some soldiers from the RPF”. « There may have been crimes against humanity and war crimes committed » she estimated, adding that there was no possible comparison between the genocide and those crimes. Alison Des Forges has already testified as an expert witness in several other ongoing and completed trials at the ICTR. The Historian was then asked by one of thejudges to estimate the number of people killed at Nyarabuye Parish. There have been many different figures given at the court. The prosecution maintains that there more than 20,000 people, according to humanitarian sources, were massacred on the orders of the suspect. The expert witness replied there could be around 10,000 people or fewer. She added that an estimated 4,000 Tutsis lived in Rusumo commune before the genocide, and that, since Nyarabuye Parish was the biggest in the area, many more came to seek refuge there when the genocide began. Des Forges said that when she first came to Rwanda in August 1994, she saw 1000 bodies still lying on the foreground of the Nyarubuye parish while some had been devoured by wild dogs. “Little had been done to clean up the mess” she said. Throughout her testimony she mainly gave information about Nyarabuye and what the powers of the mayor were during the genocide. Direct accusationsAll other prosecution witnesses made direct accusations against the accused. Most of them are genocide survivors. A Tutsi female witness, code-named "TAP”, told the court that she was raped by the former mayor during the genocide. "He forcefully put his private parts into mine and raped me", she recalled amidst tears. She continued that before the rape took place, the accused had inserted a police truncheon measuring about 40 cm into her private parts. TAP explained that the rape took place at the home of Gacumbitsi's subordinate, Isaïe Karamage, the councilor of Nyarubuye sector. Gacumbitsi's defence counsel, Kouengoua, objected to the evidence arguing that it was not part of her original statement. Andra Mobberly, a member of the prosecution team, retorted that the defence had been informed of the new developments a day before. The chamber decided to listen to the witness's testimony in full and "would later rule whether to take into consideration the evidence or not". Another protected witness code-named "TAO" recalled the Nyarubuye massacresof April 15. He said an old man stood up from the thousands of Tutsi refugees and walked to the mayor to inform him of his problems. “He (Gacumbitsi) took a machete, and hacked the old man”, TOA said. The accusedthen ordered the policemen who accompanied him to shoot at the refugees. “Their time has come”, Gacumbitsi said, according to the witness, launching thus the Nyarubuye massacre. Evoking the responsibility of the accused in the massacres, witness TBI said that Gacumbitsi had told a group of forty people to kill Tutsis and to slaughter their cows. She added that after that order, people started killing Tutsis and looting their wealth. Before Gacumbitsi came to give that order, Hutus and Tutsis lived peacefully in Rusumo, she also explained. Other witnesses revealed that the accused personally took part in the killings. "TAK", for instance, explained that Gacumbitsi had killed one of his subordinates called Augustin Kanyogote. “It was at night. I heard Kanyogote scream. Many people were beating him. [. . . ] Later, I learnt that Gacumbitsi had killed him that night », indicated TAK, adding that this happened in the night of 14 to 15 April. The victim, an agricultural officer at Rusumo commune, had gone to seek refuge at Gacumbitsi's place. “He was a personal friend” of the mayor's, TAK concluded. Three convicts at the standAs the prosecutor had promised in his opening statement, he called to the stand three genocide suspects that pleaded guilty in Rwanda of participating in massacres of Tutsis and of looting their properties in Rusumo commune. Testifying at the ICTR, all three indicated that they had executed orders received from Gacumbitsi in the afternoon of April 14, 1994. « When he arrived at the shopping centre where we were drinking banana wine, Gacumbitsi ordered us to chase Tutsis, to destroy their houses and to steal their properties », TBJ declared. According to him, the attacks started right away. The witness also indicated that he personally destroyed and looted houses. TBK testified along the same line, saying that the accused ordered that « everyone who looks like a Tutsi should be immediately killed », adding that the order was executed. On April 15, Tutsis were killed and their cows slaughtered, he said, acknowledging having personally killed a Tutsi the next day. The killings went on in the campsAnother protected witness, identified as TAS, mentioned events that allegedly took place after the RPF had arrived in Rusumo, at the end of April, 1994, and Sylvestre Gacumbitsi had ran away to Benaco camp. TAS, who was like the former mayor a refugee at the Benaco camp, indicated that the search for Tutsis went on there, and that people were being killed on Gacumbitsi's orders. The witness added he he saw a man being killed in the woods nearby. The defense witnesses will start testifying on October 6, when the trial resumes. The trial is in trial Chamber Three presided over by Senegalese judge Andresia Vaz, assisted by Judges Jai Ram Reddy from Fiji and Serguei Aleckseivich Egorov from Russia. SV/CE/FH (05409e)