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Arusha, December 4, 2006 (FH) – One convict at the end of his prison term to be released, one verdict and the conclusion of debates in a major trial: it is going to be an action-packed December at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in charge of conducting the most important trials of the alleged perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Prisoner’s release On December 6th and for the very first time in its history, the ICTR will free a prisoner who has completed his prison term. Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, an 82 year old Adventist pastor, had been sentenced to ten years in prison on February 19th 2003. The man, formerly at the head of the church of Mugonero (west), had been arrested for the first time in September 1996 in the United States and released and rearrested in February 1998. The ICTR convicted him of genocide crimes and crimes against humanity. His son, Dr Gérard Ntakirutimana, who appeared alongside him before the court, is serving a twenty-five year sentence. The ICTR has released prisoners before but either they have been acquitted or the prosecutor has dropped the charges against them. The legal texts of the Tribunal say nothing of the status of released persons especially the question of host countries. Four persons the jurisdiction has acquitted, two years ago in some cases, are still in Arusha waiting for the outcome of the Registrar’s tedious negotiations with some foreign governments. Elizaphan Ntakirutimana’s defence lawyer, Mr. Ramsay Clark (USA), was in Arusha at the end of November to discuss the conditions of his client’s liberation with the registrar. Father Ntakirutimana’s poor health is effectively causing further difficulties. Verdict The other event expected in December is a verdict in the trial of the first Catholic priest to be tried by the ICTR, Father Athanase Seromba. The ruling is expected on December 13th. Father Seromba, in charge of the parish of Nyange (west), is accused of having ordered the death of about 2.000 of his parishioners who had sheltered in his church in 1994. He has pleaded not guilty. His trial began on September 20th 2004. The closing arguments were concluded on June, 28th 2006. Conclusion of « Military I » The verdict against Seromba, if confirmed, will coincide with the end of the debates in « Military I » which began on April 2nd 2002 and counts among the ICTR’s major trials. It regroups four high-ranked officers of the former Rwandan Army, one of them a colonel accused of being « the mastermind of the 1994 genocide » The prosecutor rested his case in October 2004. The defendants, who have been calling their defence witnesses since April 2005, have until December 13th to conclude their own. The closing arguments will follow in due course. Other ongoing cases These three major events aside, the Tribunal will continue the hearings in other ongoing trials. The trials on the ICTR’s schedule for December are Butare (six defendants), open since June 2001, “Karemera and others” which has begun in September 2005 and the trial of another Catholic priest, Father Emmanuel Rukundo, which started on November 15th 2006. On December 15th, all debates will be suspended for the duration of the judicial recess. Finally, the Tribunal will sit for a few days in « Military II » and in former Prefect Zigiranyirazo cases. In Military II, it will be completing the hearing of General Roméo Dallaire (Canada), the former commander of the UN forces in Rwanda and last witness for the prosecution in this trial. Military II started in September 2004 and involves four officers among whom two ex-chiefs of the General Staff (Army and Gendarmerie). MG/PB/AT © Hirondelle News Agency