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Arusha, January 31 2007 (FH) - The secretary general of the ex-presidential party of Rwanda, the Mouvement National pour la République et la Démocratie (MRND), Joseph Nzirorera, on trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has asked for the transfer of his case to a foreign national jurisdiction. « The President is respectful to designate a Trial Chamber to consider the possible referral of this case to a national jurisdiction other than Rwanda », reads the request Mr. Peter Robinson (USA), Nzirorera’s lead counsel, filed last Monday. According to the rules of procedures of the ICTR, it is the prosecutor, and not the accused, who is entitled to request the transfer of cases to a national jurisdiction. This disposal « violates the principle of equality of arms between the accused and the prosecution », Nzirorera’s attorney considers. Nzirorera is judged alongside two other former leaders of the MRND, the ex-president of the party, Mathieu Ngirumpatse and his vice-president, Edouard Karemera. This joint trial is called « Karemera and alii (others) ». The three politicians are charged with genocide and crimes against humanity; they have pleaded not guilty. The filing of Mr. Robinson’s request follows the withdrawal of the case of Judge Emile Francis Short (Ghana) for health reasons. The tribunal is nevertheless committed to have all trials closed by the end of next year. « With the resignation of Judge Emile Francis Short […], it is obvious that the trial cannot be completed within the mandate of this tribunal », the request continues. In Karemera and others case, the appearance of witnesses for the prosecution will most probably go through to the end of 2007, in the prosecutor’s opinion. And yet, Mr. Robinson adds, « Nzirorera had repeatedly represented that he would not be able to complete his defence case by the end of 2008 ». The transfer of a certain number of cases to national jurisdictions, Rwandan courts included, is an element of the completion strategy of the ICTR. On January 24, Mr. Robinson had started by asking the prosecutor of the ICTR, Hassan Bubacar Jallow (Gambia), to lodge himself the request for the transfer of Nzirorera. The lawyer had cleverly highlighted that his client, whose children are living in Europe, was ready to be transferred to « a European country so that he can be close to his family and receive a fair trial ». The next day, the prosecutor had answered in the negative, thus compelling Mr. Robinson to turn to the President of the ICTR. The MRND leaders’ case has been quite eventful from the start. A previous trial with the same accused plus a former minister had opened in November 2003 and had then been suspended in May 2004 after the president of the chamber, Andrésia Vaz (Senegal), was forced to withdraw on the grounds of an « appearance of partiality » on her part. The proceedings had resumed before another trial chamber in September 2005 with one less defendant. Since then, the presentation of evidence by the prosecution has been so slow that it worries the advocates of a closing of the ICTR before the end of 2008. In case a judge withdraws from a case, the tribunal has two options: either a rehearing or a continuation of the proceedings after the substitute judge has certified that he or she has familiarised himself or herself with the record of the proceedings. MG/ER/AT © Hirondelle News Agency