Arusha, 16 February 2009 (FH) - The sine die postponement of the new trial of Lieutenant Colonel Tharcisse Muvunyi will surely affect the course of the activities of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) during this extremely challenging year.

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"I am stressed", acknowledged Wednesday at the hearing Judge Dennis Byron, by announcing that the former Rwandan army officer could be retried as of 9 February. Judge Byron is anxious because it is him who, in his role as the ICTR president, answers before to the Security Council for the application of the completion strategy of this tribunal which the UN has asked to finish its first instance trials by the end of the year.

The Chamber had scheduled the proceedings for 12 January, while hoping to finish them in two weeks, with the prosecution and the defence, because the new trial will relate to a single fact, a speech which the defendant allegedly made in May 1994 at the Gikoro Commerce Center of Gikore, Butare, and southern Rwanda.

But Muvunyi was alone in the courtroom, his American lawyers William Taylor and Abbe Jolles were retained by other cases in their country.

Towards the end of the morning, it is in another environment that the president of the Tribunal went to reiterate his concern. "2009 will be a very challenging year, probably the most difficult in all the history of the tribunal and at least the year with the heaviest workload ever", stated Byron at a staff general meeting.

Indeed, besides the Muvunyi case, nine other trials will begin during the year, without forgetting the cases currently in progress or in deliberation which implicates 22 defendants.

Among the prisoners who begin their trial this year are the four who were targetted by transfer requests to Rwanda: Lieutenant Ildephonse Hategekimana, former businessmen Yussuf Munyakazi and Gaspard Kanyarukiga as well as the famous former Mayor Jean-Baptiste Gatete.

The ICTR was hoping that the transfers to Rwanda would reduce its workload, but the judges, while recognizing the "remarkable progress" of Rwandan justice, have, for the moment, decided otherwise.

There is also the former Managing Director of the Rwandan tea organization, Michel Bagaragaza, who the prosecutor did not succeed in having tried in a European country. The main concern in regards to this close acquaintance of former President Juvénal Habyarimana was not "the completion strategy". Bagaragaza, who testified against other ICTR defendants, including Protais Zigiranyirazo, brother-in-law of the former President Juvénal Habyarimana, had requested in exchange of his "collaboration" to be tried far from Arusha, and, preferably, in a country where he would not face a lengthy sentence.

During the year, the former ministers for planning, Augustin Ngirabatware, and for youth, Callixte Nzabonimana as well as the former sub-prefect Dominique Ntawukuriryayo will also appear in court. Being the two former members of the government, the prosecutor, Hassan Bubacar Jallow, always affirmed that he had never had the intention of entrusting their cases to a national court.

The last case is particular. A member of the Kigali Bar, Léonidas Nshogoza is not accused of genocide but of subornation of witnesses, an infringement which he would have committed as he worked as an investigator in the defence team of a former minister sentenced definitively to life in prison.

The workload is all the more heavy as three judges have just resigned and that four others are not able to sit in the new trials. At the request of Byron, the fundamental texts of the court were amended in December in order to make it possible for a grouping of non-permanent judges to try a case. In addition, a new non-permanent judge, Tanzanian Joseph Masanche, has just been named by Ban Ki-moon and three other nominations should follow in the next days, announced Judge Byron, while insisting on the pressing need for all the personnel to show "dedication and commitment " in this crucial phase.

"The Security Council in December 2008 clearly and unequivocally indicated that it expects us to finish the trials of the current detainees in 2009", added Jallow who was also present at the staff meeting.


"A true challenge! Do not be astonished if in June, the president returns to ask for a new extension of the mandate to the Security Council. It is too challenging as a program and it is necessary to take into account unforeseen events, as what has just occurred in the Muvunyi case", commented at the exit of the meeting a Registry source who requested for anonymity.


© Hirondelle News Agency