Arusha, 23 January 2009 (FH) - The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) begins Monday the trial of Lieutenant Ildephonse Hategekimana, one of the five accused, which it had wished to be transferred to Rwanda courts.

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Three other defendants who had also been aimed by transfer requests to Rwanda will begin their trials at various times during this year while the last of the group was still at large.

The five requests of the Prosecutor Hassan Bubacar Jallow to transfer cases to Rwanda were rejected by the judges who affirmed to fear that the defendants could be sentenced to life imprisonment in isolation. The chambers also expressed concerns over the protection of the witnesses.

Accused of genocide, complicity to commit genocide, murder and rapes, Lieutenant Ildephonse Hategekimana, who has pleaded not guilty, commanded, in 1994, the small military camp of Ngoma, in the town of Butare, southern Rwanda.

He was initially prosecuted, in an indictment dated 2 February 2000, with Lieutenant Colonel Tharcisse Muvunyi and Lieutenant Ildephonse Nizeyimana stationed at the time at the School for Non-Commissioned Officers (ESO), also located in the town of Butare.

Initially sentenced to 25 years in prison, Muvunyi will have to appear for a new trial ordered by the Appeals Chamber which cancelled the guilty judgments rendered by the first judges.

As for Nizeyimana, he was part of the 13 accused still at large. According to sources close to the office of the prosecutor, he would be hiding in the mountains of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), base of the Rwandan Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

According to the amended indictment of 1 October 2007, Lieutenant Hategekimana, in 1994, would have ordered his men at the camp of Ngoma to launched attacks against Tutsi civilians in several places in Butare. He, in person, allegedly commanded some of these fatal attacks.

The prosecutor also accused him of having, personally raped Tutsi women or to have ordered his subordinates to commit this crime.

In her book "Leave None to Tell the Story", American Alison Des Forges, a historian and human rights activist, wrote about the officer. "Hategekimana provided (...) soldiers for the majority of the most important massacres committed in the south of the prefecture, including Karama. According to witnesses, he led the attack against the church of Ngoma and the convent (nuns) of Benebikira".

Hategekimana was arrested in Congo on 16 February 2003 and was transferred three days later to the detention centre of the ICTR in Arusha, Tanzania.

The motion aiming at transferring this case to Rwandan courts was rejected in first instance on 19 June, then in appeal on 4 December 2008.

The refusal to entrust cases to Rwandan justice was a hard blow to the completion strategy of the ICTR, which had earlier wanted all first instance trials concluded by end December, 2008.


© Hirondelle News Agency