Arusha, 30 November 2007 (FH) - The appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) held three hearings this week in Arusha during which it rendered judgments in two cases, including that of the media.

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The media judgment, which relates to Ferdinand Nahimana, 57, and Jean Bosco Barayagwiza, 57, two founders of Radio-Télévision Libre des Mille collines (RTLM), and Hassan Ngeze, 50, director and editor of the Kangura newspaper, were delivered on 3 December 2003 in first instance. Nahimana and Ngeze had been sentenced to life in prison, Barayagwiza to 35 years in prison.

The appeals chamber reduced these sentences. Nahimana was sentenced to 30 years in prison, Barayagwiza to 32 and Ngeze to 35. The appeals judges annulled several convictions due to facts prior to 1994. The temporal jurisdiction of the ICTR only covers 1994.

Nahimana was convicted for shows that incited genocide, aired by the RTLM after 6 April 1994, because he did not punish his subordinates, the journalists of the radio station, as he knew or had reasons to know that they were committing crimes.

The responsibility for Barayagwiza was not retained by the appeals judges in regards to the RTLM. They, in revenge, sentenced him, among others things, for having encouraged the militants of his party, the Coalition for the Defence of the Republic (CDR), to commit genocide in Kigali and for planning the extermination of Tutsis in Gisenyi (north-western Rwanda).

As for Ngeze, the appeals chamber found him guilty of having helped and encouraged the genocide in Gisenyi and having encouraged these crimes by the means of articles published in his newspaper in 1994.

The lawyer for Nahimana, Jean-Marie Biju Duval (France), strongly criticized this judgment. "You will not find any decision of the international tribunals sentencing somebody to 30 years for omission", he said, affirming that justice "opened an eye but it remained partially blind" in context.

The second judgment delivered by the appeals chamber this week involves Colonel Aloys Simba, a comrade in arms of former Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana. The chamber confirmed the 25-year prison sentence which he received in first instance on 13 December 2005.

Simba was found guilty of having played a part in the massacres perpetrated in 1994 against Tutsis in various places of the Gikongoro prefecture (south-western Rwanda); in particular at the technical training school of Murambi, where approximately 50 000 people were killed, according to survivors.

A retired officer during the genocide, Simba no longer exerted an official function but he had been recalled to serve in the armed forces, as chief of civil defence in the prefectures of Gikongoro and Butare. Born in 1938 in Musebeya, in Gikongoro, Colonel Simba was involved in the coup of 5 July 1973 that brought Major General Juvénal Habyarimana to power.

The third hearing before the appeals chamber this week involves Abbot Athanase Seromba, former vicar at the parish of Nyange, in western Rwanda. He was sentenced to fifteen years in prison on 12 December 2006. The prosecutor and the priest appealed. In pleading the motives for appeal, the prosecutor alleged that the sentence received by Seromba was not proportional to the crimes committed. Seromba was found guilty of having facilitated the massacre of more than 1 500 Tutsis who had taken refuge in his church in April 1994. The prosecution requested life in prison.

For his part, the defence counsel, Patrice Monthé (Cameroon), denounced "the fragile and extremely thin character of the prosecution's evidence". He subsequently estimated that the first judges "had been too quick". "He (Seromba) did all that was in his power" to oppose the massacres, Monthé pled, stressing that his client "did not have any authority on anyone". Monthé stressed that even the Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, who commanded the military mission of the United Nations in Rwanda in 1994, had not been able to do anything to stop the genocide.

The appeal chamber had also scheduled a hearing in the case of Tharcisse Muvunyi, an officer sentenced to twelve years in prison on 12 September, 2006. It was however deferred to next year because of the ill health of the defence counsel.

On the side of the first instance trials, the proceedings continued in four cases: Butare, Miliatry II, Karemera and Zigiranyirazo. Butare is the oldest case in progress at the ICTR. It started in June 2001. Currently, it is the second to last of the six defendants who is presenting his defence.

In Military II, which involves four officers, it is the very first defendant who is calling defence witnesses. The trial started in September 2004.

The case of Protais Zigiranyirazo, a brother-in-law of former President Juvénal Habyarimana, for its part began in October 2005. The defendant will call the last defence witness next week. This week an expert witness, Bernard Ligan, a French historian, came to say that Juvénal Habyarimana was not a commoner compared to his wife and that the akazu was, in fact, a myth. A witness was also rejected by the chamber because he had asked to testify anonymously.

Started in September 2005, the Karemera case is still at the prosecution stage. The defendants are the former leaders of the governing party in 1994. They are Matthieu Ngirumpatse, president, Edouard Karemera, the vice-president, and Joseph Nzirorera, the secretary-general.

Next week, the same case will proceed before the various first instance chambers.

© Hirondelle News Agency