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Arusha, 25 May 2007 (FH) - The judges of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) elected this week as President Dennis Byron, a judge from Saint-Kitts and Nevis. Next Tuesday he will officially become the last president of the Tribunal, which must conclude its mandate next year.
Dennis Byron was elected unanimously by his peers, after several days of debate between partisans of a modification of the rule that would have made it possible for the outgoing president to represent himself and the "legalists" who held steadfastly with the application of the texts in force.
According to these texts, the President of the ICTR is elected for a two years mandate that can only be renewed once.
Byron, 64 years old, has been a judge with the ICTR since June 2004. He replaced his compatriot George Lloyd Williams. Before joining the ICTR, Dennis Byron was President of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. He is the fourth and, except for any unforeseen events, the last president of the ICTR. He has been preceded by Laïty Kama (Senegal 1995-1999), Navanethem Pillay (South Africa 1999-2003) and Erik Mose (Norway 2003-2007).
Judge Byron will be assisted by the Pakistani magistrate Khalida Rachid Khan who replaces at this position the Madagascan Arlette Ramaroson. The new heads of the Tribunal will take up duty on May 29.
These elections put aside, the week at the ICTR was, notably, marked by two Appeal Chamber trials.
On Monday, the judges confirmed the judgment of life imprisonment for Mika Muhimana, a 57 years old former city councilman in western Rwanda. He was found guilty of genocide, murder and rape. The same sentence had been imposed to him by the trial judges on 28 April 2005.
On Tuesday, it was the turn of Aloys Simba, a retired colonel sentenced to a 25 year jail term on 13 December 2005, to plead his case. He asked the Appeals Chamber to acquit him.
"I reaffirm with my last energy that I was never on the alleged crime sites. I was never associated, neither by close nor by far, with these torturers who made thousands of victims ", declared Simba.
The trial judges decided that his responsibility in the massacres of Tutsis in his native region of Gikongoro (south-western Rwanda) had been established.
"What is sure and undeniable is that there were many atrocious deaths of men, women, children and elderly. I was upset by this devastating hatred whose brutalities were without limits", he stated.
The prosecutor, for his side, requested a life sentence for Simba. The decision is in deliberation.
As for the Trial Chambers, the hearings were carried out in four cases: Butare, Government II, Military II and Renzaho. In all these cases, the defense is presenting their arguments
Two accused testified for on their own behalf: the former prefect Alphonse Ntezilyayo (Butare trial) and the former minister Casimir Bizimungu (Government II trial).
The trial of the Butare group, a region in the south of Rwanda, is ongoing since June 2001 and relates to six accused. Ntezilyayo is the fourth to present his defense.
In Government II, they are four former ministers who are on trial. Bizimungu, a former minister of health, is the second to present his defense.
Military II is composed of four officers including the former Chiefs of Staff for the army and gendarmerie. The Chamber is still hearing witnesses for the defense of the first accused.
Colonel Tharcisse Renzaho, for his part, was a prefect of Kigali in 1994. He has been on trial since 8 January of this year. He began his defense last week.
Next week, the sessions will be dominated by the indictment of the Prosecutor and the case for the defense in an important trial, Military I; four officers are accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The Prosecutor alleges that the defendants are the "masterminds" of the 1994 genocide of Tutsis. They plead not guilty.
The sessions in this trial are awaited to be held in a tense climate caused by the request of the principal defendant, Colonel Théoneste Bagosora, to challenge the judges; whom he considers "biased" in favour of the Prosecutor. A decision on this surprise motion should be rendered before Monday by the "office", a body made up of the President and the Vice-President of the ICTR as well as the Presidents of the three Trial Chambers.
The applicant party can request an appeal but this act will not suspend the hearings, indicated on Thursday, in a press conference the spokesman of the ICTR, Everard O'Donnell.

Hirondelle News Agency