28.12.07 - ICTR/DEFENCE - THE ICTR HAS STILL NOT GUARANTEED DEFENCE RIGHTS

Arusha 28th december 2007 (FH) - If ten years of hearings at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) made it possible to try some of the persons responsible for the 1994 genocide in the central African country, defence rights were in many respects, a different story.
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Several defence lawyers interviewed by the Hirondelle news agency on condition of anonymity, claimed that defence rights were in most of the cases pushed in the background.

Those tried so far have included former cabinet ministers, top government officials and other political leaders. Religious leaders and journalists were also not spared.

The lawyers often cited deficiencies in the tribunal's judicial work such as loose indictments, weak judgments, witnesses with highly doubtful credentials and serious violations of the rules of procedure among others.

However, some of them agreed that the ICTR had done a commendable job.

"Before these ad hoc tribunal (ICTR and ICTY) , there had been nothing since Nuremberg", said a former tenor of the bar of Quebec, referring to the post WWll trial of war crimes in Europe.

"We should not hurl the baby out of the bath tub", said a defence lawyer from southern France. "The institution is not perfect but that does not put into question its absolute necessity," he added.

"We must take care, however, that this dream which international justice demands, should respect the essential principles which justify its existence, in particular fairness of the trials", he concluded.

To explain these failures with defence rights, several arguments have been advanced.

"Investigators and prosecutors come from non-democratic countries, without judicial traditions", explains another lawyer. Thus, he says, "a witness statement can be refused in one trial and re-appear in another case!"

In democracies, a prosecutor who does that is accused of perjury and cannot return to court". "It is intellectually and judicially difficult to accept that a court can have double standards", he stressed.

Even if the ICTR was recently praised for having tried the first case of false testimony, witnesses were "caught with the hand in the cookie jar on several occasions," said one lawyer.
"Which truth do we speak of?," asked a Canadian lawyer. "The appeals chamber, with its judicial report, made a fundamental error," he claimed.

With 100 USD per hour of hearings, some of the lawyers certainly receive between 10, 000 and 15, 000 dollars per month. However, there is a catch there. They have to give up their more paying Western clients or have to leave their law chambers in the hands colleagues.

Summed up therefore, the lawyers are not at the ICTR for the lure of the money but rather passion for international justice, which is a ground breaking area of international law and therefore the strong urge to be among the pioneers of the system.

That urge by far transcends financial considerations while the demand to be highly professional is quite strenuous.

"The stories about big time money are simply not true" said a pioneer of international legal assistance. "There should be just concern about the system's fairness, but if it does not pay well, we risk seeing not so competent lawyers who do not have clients, which also, won't be a good sign", he said.

PB/MM/SC
© Hirondelle News Agency