Arusha, 2 November 2007 (FH) - The proceedings in the Butare trial, which has proceeded for more than six years before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), took a particular twist these last days with the examination in session of the complaint of an defendant who did not want his rice to be mixed with sauce.   

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Arsène Ntahobali, accused of having taken part in the genocide in the town of Butare, denounced in session the fact that his prison meals are delivered to him in only one container. This mixture, he said, made him "nauseous". This request was supported and introduced by one of his Canadian lawyers that came from Montreal.
This question was examined at several open sessions marked, in particular, by incomprehension and misunderstandings due to translations between French and English, the two languages of the court. The head warden was convened before the chamber and reminded that these kinds of problems could be solved on the spot and not before the Court, which was allowed.
This debate, lightened by vaudevillian type scenes when the mother of the defendant, herself a defendant, claimed to bring evidence before the chamber of the famous single container, took several hours during last week on an oral motion, bearing on another subject, interrupts the proceedings in the middle of the week in a trial which has lasted for more than seven years. The proceeding should start again Monday.
This trial, which began on 11 June 2001, is the longest running trial at the ICTR. It involves Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, former Minister for the Family, her son, the infamous Arsène Ntahobali, alleged head of a militia, two former prefects and two former mayors. All have pleaded not guilty. Two less defendants had to present their defence.

Before this "gastronomical" debate, the debates have been marked by procedural battles, interruptions, and suspensions; all against the interest, divergent as they may be, of defendants imprisoned for more than 10 years. This trial has already cost more than 30 million dollars (16.38 billion Rwandan francs). According to a reliable source within the ICTR, in 2006, twelve million dollars in fees had already been rendered to the defence. Mathematically, in comparison with the wages published by the United Nations, the presiding judge has received, since the first session, more than one million dollars. He is assisted by Judge Arlette Ramaroson (Madagascar) and Slomoy Bossa (Uganda).
In 2001, the judges had been blamed after having laughed at the length of time of an aggressive and awkward questioning of a witness who recounted her rape. The principal laugher, Winston Churchill Makutu (Lesotho), was not re-elected to his functions.

© Hirondelle News Agency