Arusha, 4 March 2008 (FH) - Rwanda and the United Nations Tuesday signed in Kigali an agreement to enforce sentences of genocide convicted persons by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), but it has met with immediate protest from detainees and prisoners in Arusha, seat of the UN Court.

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The Rwandan Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charles Muligande, signed the agreement on behalf of the government whereas, the Registrar of ICTR, Adama Dieng, represented the UN. The agreement was witnessed by senior ICTR and Rwandan judicial officials.

Rwanda is the seventh country to enter into such agreement. Others are: Mali, Benin, Italy, Swaziland, Norway and France.

Already six convicted persons, including the former prime minister, Jean Kambanda, are serving their sentences in Mali and former Belgian-Italian journalist Georges Ruggiu, who left last Thursday for Italy. About 30 ICTR detainees and prisoners have threatened an indefinite hunger strike.

Chief of Press and Communications, Mr Bocar Sy, said that at lunch time there were detainees who began hunger strike, but could not give exact number. "During lunch time there are detainees who did not go for their lunch, but I can not give you the exact number,'' he told Hirondelle Agency.

The detainees in a signed letter sent to the President of the ICTR, Justice Dennis Byron, claimed that the agreement "violates their basic human rights." The letter was copied to UN institutions, the European Union and the current President of the African Union (AU), Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania.

"If transfer to Rwanda is decided by the ICTR against our will, we urge our families and human rights' organizations to hold the UN and the ICTR fully responsible for any act that will endanger our lives or cruel treatment there," stated in part the letter. The letter was read by Christopher Black, lead counsel for accused, General Augustin Ndindiliyimana, before Trial Chamber II presided over by Judge Joseph Asoka de Silva.

Ndilndiliyimana, former Chief of Staff Gendarmerie Nationale during 1994 genocide, is jointly tried with three other senior army officers in the case known as "Military II''.

The letter claimed of frequent violations of human rights in Rwanda and several human rights organizations and individuals have even raised concern over mysterious disappearances of prisoners in Rwanda.

The detainees alleged that ICTR has been transformed "into the victor's tribunal because since its establishment 14 years ago only ethnic Hutu leaders are being prosecuted."

They stated that former members of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), who allegedly took part actively in 1994 genocide including their leader, the current Rwandan President Paul Kagame, have not been touched.

Gilles St Laurent, lead Counsel for General Augustin Bizimungu,former Chief of Rwandan Army, termed the agreement "as unfair and unjust" while Charles Taku, lead Counsel for Major Francois-Xavier Nzowonemeye, ex-Commander of Reconaissance Battalion, said: "transferring the would-be convicts is like sending them [convicts] to a slaughter house."

The fourth accused in military II trial is Captain Innocent Sagahutu. All four have pleaded not guilty to genocide and crimes against humanity.

Despite the protest, three trials scheduled for hearing on Tuesday continued uninterrupted. Sixteen convicted persons are awaiting a host country to serve their sentences.

The ICTR was established in November 1994 to try key perpetrators of April-July slaughter, which according to UN estimates claimed about 800,000 lives of ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

The court has convicted 30 persons and acquitted five .Currently eleven trials are underway, involving 27 accused.

© Hirondelle News Agency