Arusha, January 29, 2004 (FH) – Proceedings in the trial involving four former Rwandan Ministers went on at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda on Thursday in the absence of three of the four accused. Only one suspect, Justin Mugenzi, former Minister of Commerce, was present in court.

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Mugenzi is in a joint trial with Casimir Bizimungu, formerMinister for health, former minister of Foreign Affairs Jérôme Bicamumpaka, and Prosper Mugiraneza, former minister of Public Service. The presiding judge, Asoka de Zoyza Gunawardana (Sri Lanka), ruled that the case could proceed even though the other suspects were not present. He then directed Mugenzi's lead counsel, Howard Morrison, to continue with the cross-examination of the eighth prosecution witness, which he did. All the other three lead counsels for the three accused were also in court. The eighth prosecution witness, Prosper Higiro, the Vice-President of the Rwandan Senate, who started testifying on Monday, is still at the witness stand. Higiro, the chairman of Liberal Party (PL), testified mainly against Mugenzi who was the chairman of PL between 1991 and 1993. He will continue being cross-examined by Mugenzi's defence on Friday morning. Bizimungu's lead counsel, Michelyne Chénard St-Laurent, told the trial chamber that the accused had stayed away because they have several grievances, which she was unable to deliver to the court immediately. She also referred to the defence counsels' strike, linked with problems they encounter with the ICTR administration, saying that the code of ethics does not allow them to boycott proceedings. The defence counsels began a three day strike on Wednesday for what they termed as lack of respect for their rights by the tribunal's administration. Among the complaints which they term as “harassment by the Registrar, are difficult and long procedures they undergo during visits to their clients at the United Nation Detention Facility. They also claim that the Registrar has subjected them to justify in detail their payments, a procedure beyond the normal verification. The defence teams are expected to meet with the President of the tribunal, Judge Erik Mose (Norway), on Thursday evening. Government II Trial is before Trial Chamber Two where Judge Asoka de Zoyza Gunawardana (Sri Lanka) is presiding assisted by judges Lee Muthoga (Kenya)and Khalida Rashid Khan (Pakistan)PJ/CE/FH (GVII'0129e)