Arusha, 14 September, 2007 (FH) - Three defendants of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) could be tried in Kigali if the judges grant a motion by the prosecution.

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The prosecutor has requested that Lieutenant Ildephonse Hategekimana, businessman Gaspard Kanyarukiga and former farmer Yussuf Munyakazi be transferred before the courts of their country within the framework of the completion strategy of the ICTR. It must finish its first instance trials by December 2008.

The president of the ICTR should designate soon a chamber to rule of this motion.

In support of his request, the prosecutor indicated that Rwanda had given its consent to try the three men, ensuring that they will have a fair trial.

In his motion, the prosecutor stresses that the Rwandan magistrates have handled genocide cases for more than ten years under the terms of an institutional act reprimanding that crime.

He also affirms that the country has professional magistrates and that its justice system is independent and impartial.

He, moreover, underlines that a law abolishing the death penalty was voted in July and that, consequently, a defendant who would be found guilty of genocide would not face this punishment.

The motion of the prosecutor adds that Rwanda accepted the control of these trials by the African Commission on Human and People's Rights, which constitutes an additional guarantee of fairness.

The prisoners who would be transferred from Arusha would appear before the High court of the Republic in first instance and, if it is necessary, appeal before the Supreme Court.

It is the first time that the prosecutor has requested that persons currently held in Arusha be transferred to Rwanda. The very first transfer motion of a defendant to this country had for subject Fulgence Kayishema, a former police inspector that is still at large.

The chamber which rules on transfer motions hears the arguments from the prosecutor and the defence and, if necessary, the government concerned.

The prosecutor up to now has not succeeded in transferring a defendant to a national court. He failed in the case of Michel Bagaragaza, a close relation to the former regime, who he had wanted to have tried in Norway, then in the Netherlands. He had a jurisdictional problem.

A transfer request to France is pending for two accused that are being held in that country, the former Prefect Laurent Bucyibaruta and Abbot Wenceslas Munyeshyaka.

The ICTR also continued this week proceedings in three cases: Butare, Rukundo and Nshamihigo.

The Butare trial, which relates to six defendants, has been in progress since June 2001. Currently, it is the second to last of the co-defendants who is presenting his defence case. Charged with genocide and crimes against humanity, the former Mayor Joseph Kanyabashi has pled not guilty.

A witness testified this week cleared him of the massacres in Matyazo, a sector of his commune. The witness allotted the responsibility for these massacres to the soldiers of the Ngoma camp.

The witness corroborated the defence argument according to which Kanyabashi was rather known under the nickname of Kanyabatutsi (friend of the Tutsis) and could not be implicated in the crimes committed against them.

The trial of Emmanuel Rukundo, a former military chaplain on trial since November 2006, is also at the stage of the defence case. Two Belgian priests came to his rescue this week.

The first, Father Jean-Marie Dussart, lived in Rwanda for more than thirty years. He was in particular priest of a small rural parish in the diocese of Kagbayi (central Rwanda) where he knew Abbot Rukundo. He denied his responsibility in removals of Tutsis on 24 May 1994, at the seminary of the town.

The second, Father Andre Lerusse, lived in the country during 27 years. He reported that Emmanuel Rukundo had helped save 500 Tutsis threatened of death at Nyabikenke in mid-April 1994.

In the case of Siméon Nshamihigo, a former magistrate in Cyangugu (south-western Rwanda), in progress since September 2006, the defence continued the presentation of its case. It has been doing so since last April. One of the witnesses of the week testified by videoconference from Kigali. The proceedings were held in closed session.

Nshamihigo is accused of involvement in the massacres of Tutsis in Cyangugu and has pled not guilty.

Nshamihigo was arrested in May 2001 as he was a defence investigator for Lieutenant Samuel Imanishimwe, sentenced to 12 years in prison in July 2006.

Imanishimwe recently requested early release but his request was rejected by the president of the ICTR.

Next week will see the judgment in the case of Juvenal Rugambarara, who pled guilty this summer; as well as the resumption of the Government II trial, stopped last month following the death of one of the lawyers.

© Hirondelle News Agency