Arusha, 11 June 2007 (FH) - François Cantier, the French lawyer of a defendant at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), wrote to the Registrar of the Tribunal to complain about threats exerted in Rwanda on his potential witnesses and asked for the creation of an independent board of inquiry.

1 min 42Approximate reading time

In this letter, the counsel of Tharcisse Renzaho, the former prefect of Kigali, asks the Registrar, chief of the administration of the ICTR, to solicit the Security Council of the United Nations so that it creates a board of inquiry on this subject. As of the opening of the trial, last January, he had expressed the state of these threats which weigh, according to him, on the equity of the trial.

"Taking into account the political context prevailing in Rwanda, I do not think that your Registrar's Office is able to carry out such an investigation" wrote Cantier. "Furthermore, he adds, it will be impossible for us to give you the names of certain witnesses for fear that being questioned by your services may immediately lead to harassment in an official or semi-official way by the Rwandan authorities".

"The characteristic of justice rendered here is that it rests largely on testimonies" writes in this letter Cantier; recalling that the Anglo-Saxon procedure in effect at the ICTR expects the physical presence of witnesses before the Court.

According to him, on the eight witnesses whom he had had a presentiment of in Rwanda, three no longer wish to come because of fear, a fourth fled the country after being threatened, another is unreachable in prison and the sixth would like to have particular measures of protection. These threats intervened after, he regrets, he had communicated the names in accordance with the rules of procedure.

The majority of lawyers in front of the ICTR have, at one time or another of their defence arguments, complained about the threats made to their witnesses or a member of their families living in Rwanda. Monday morning, regretting the absence of his witness Gilles Saint-Laurent expressed the state of threats exerted against his family; at which the Prosecutor Mr. Ciré Bâ replied that these statements came from witnesses "eager to profit from savings and budgets". The proceedings were adjourned.

In order to protect the witnesses a particular service from the court takes care of them. Transported on a specially chartered aircraft, they are lodged in protected houses and their identities are protected. But because of the social overlap and the density of the Rwandan population, these precautions hold only a few hours before their absence is announced or that their anonymity is lifted.

© Hirondelle News Agency