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Arusha, January 22 2007 (FH) - Mr. Jean Haguma, 54, former president of the Rwandan bar, who has pleaded last weak for Joseph Nzabirinda at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has become the first Rwandan attorney to take the defence of an alleged genocide perpetrator before an international jurisdiction. Before Rwandan courts, the 200 lawyers of the bar of Kigali do regularly represent alleged genocide perpetrators. At the ICTR, though about ten attorneys have volunteered, no defendant had yet entrusted their fate to a Rwandan lawyer. Every lawyer pleading at the ICTR is picked by the Registrar from a list of three names the accused has chosen from the index of available and licensed attorneys. Before Haguma, another Rwandan lawyer had been appointed to the position of co-counsel: Pierre Claver Sindayigaya is representing Elie Ndayambaje, but he hasn’t presented his client’s defence yet. Joseph Haguma has been chosen as co-counsel in the defense team of Joseph Nzabirinda, who pleaded guilty last December and is likely to receive 5 to 8 years of imprisonment. Should the judges agree to the joint proposition of the defence and the prosecution, it may be the smallest sentence the ICTR has ever pronounced. Nzabirinda’s lead counsel is Mr. Francois Roux, a French attorney whose commitment to human rights certainly has something to do with Haguma being chosen. When interrogated on what difficulties a Rwandan attorney can have in defending a « genocider », Haguma answered: « for me, a lawyer goes by the law and his own conscience ». « Establishing the defence strategy can be problematic but every accused has a right to be defended », he added. If no other Rwandan lawyer comes to Arusha, it’s because they aren’t nominated », the Rwandan attorney regretted. In Rwanda, the system of legal aid is operated by a « Legal Aid Bureau » which assigns attorneys to indigent defendants, Haguma explained, deploring the fact that at the ICTR, the accused, who all have declared themselves as indigent, haven’t been assigned an attorney by the Tribunal. However, « I’m not drumming up support », Haguma said smilingly. The lawyer has been at the head of the Rwandan bar from 2001 to 2006.After he took his oath of office in Kisangani (ex Zaire) in 1978, he has worked in the region for a long period and contributed to the establishment of the bar of Kigali in 1997. « Back then, he said, lawyers were appointed by the Minister of Justice, all it took was knowing how to read and write ». On the Rule of Law in Rwanda, Haguma has offered this comment: « it’s not top-notch…but when we look back on what it used to be… ». « Sometimes when I’m in Kigali, people in the street stop and call me ‘genociders’ attorney’. Let them talk, it makes me laugh ». The hard-boiled Rwandan representative at the ICTR, Mr. Aloys Mutabingwa, has declared he was gladdened by this event, specifically focused on capacity building. In his opinion, the bar of Kigali should get more and more « involved » in the trials because of the future transfer of cases from the ICTR to Rwanda and other countries. MG/PB © Hirondelle News Agency