2 min 26Approximate reading time

Arusha, April 23, 2007 (FH) – The genocide trial of three former directors of the National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development (MRND), ongoing since September 2005 before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) will not start anew, contrary to the wishes of the three defendants, it was learned from a judicial source on Monday.
After the withdrawal in January of the Ghanaian Judge Emile Francis Short, the president of the former presidential party, Mathieu Ngirumpatse and the Secretary-General Joseph Nzirorera had asked for a new trial whereas the former Vice-President of the party, Edouard Karemara consented, with conditions, to the continuation of the trial with a substitute judge.
Accused of crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity, the three men who have pleaded not-guilty are specifically charged with murders and rapes committed in 1994 by members of the Interahamwe militia, the MRND youth group.
On March 6, the remaining judges, Denis Byron of Saint Kitts and Nevis and the Burkinabe Gustave Kam decided to continue the trial, a decision which Ngirumpatse and Nziorera appealed.
In its decision made on April 20, of which the Hirondelle Agency obtained a copy on Monday, the Appeals Chamber rejected the arguments made by the two former MRND heavyweights and confirmed the decision of the Trial Chamber to continue the trial with a new judge.
“In sum, the Appeals Chamber finds no merit in the arguments raised by the Applicants with respect to alleged errors by the remaining judges,” reads the decision  “The Appeals Chamber finds that the continuation of the Applicants’ trial would not result in a failure to uphold their fair trial rights,” adds the text which puts an end to months of uncertainty.
On January 19, while only 13 prosecution witnesses out of a scheduled hundred-something had been heard, Judge Short, returning from a judicial recess, announced his withdrawal for health reasons.
Seizing the opportunity, Ngirumpatse and Nzirorera’s defense teams immediately argued that the trial had been even otherwise marred by numerous errors of law and that only a new trial could correct these errors.
The other argument raised was an issue of time:  the trial, which had been going on slowly, would not finish by December 31, 2008, the date set by the United Nations to put an end to the work of this Tribunal.  They also asked the ICTR for a transfer before a national court, but in a country other than their own.
Rejected in Trial Chamber by the two remaining judges, the arguments were also unconvincing to the Appeals Judges.
According to non-official sources, the trial could reopen at the end of May and an individual extension beyond the deadline of December 31, 2008 is possible.
This impasse which the Trial Chamber resolved is not the first for this trial considered one of the most important of the ICTR.  On November 27, 2003, after several fits and starts, a first trial opened in which the three former MRND leaders appeared with a party opponent, the former Minister of Instruction, Andre Rwamakuba.
The acts which on the one hand, leaders of the party of President Juvenal Habyarimana were accused and those in Rwamakuba’s prosecution justified a joinder, a strategy which the Office of the Prosecutor at the time used.  At the end of April 2004, a first impasse arose when the defense revealed the existence of a relationship between the Senegalese President of the Chamber, Andresia Vaz, and one of the members of the prosecution team on the case, her compatriot Dior Fall.
Eventually, the Appeals Chamber ordered a trial “de novo,” after which the Prosecution, reviewing his initial strategy, asked for a separate trial for Rwamakuba.
As a result, Judge Dennis Byron from Saint Kitts and Nevis presided in two trials:  that of Rwamakuba which opened on June 9, 2005, and that of Karemera et. al. which opened 3 months later.
While the MRND trial continues, Rwamakuba has been free since his acquittal on September 20, 2006.
© Hirondelle News Agency