Arusha, 28 January 2009 (FH) - The proceedings went in reverse Wednesday at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in the trial of Lieutenant Ildephonse Hategekimana, which should have started Monday. Kenyan Judge Lee Muthoga entered the court room in the middle of the morning to announce that he would preside a "status conference" intended to lift the last obstacles to the opening of the proceedings on the basis of the case, after the withdrawal Monday of Cameroonian Judge Florence Rita Arrey.

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The latter noted at the last minute that she had already rendered judgment, within the framework of another trial, on the actions of Hategekimana during the genocide.

Accused of genocide, complicity to commit genocide, murder and rapes, this officer, who commanded the small military camp of Ngoma, in the town of Butare, southern Rwanda, in 1994, is accused of having personally directed murderous attacks against Tutsis and committed rapes.

However, in another case, that of Colonel Tharcisse Muvunyi, a formation of judges, to which Mrs. Arrey belonged, had already concluded in the responsibility of Hategekimana in an attack against a residence for nuns.

Led by Ahlonko Dovi, the defence benefitted from the breach offered by the withdrawal of Judge Arrey to reiterate before Judge Muthoga that it was "not ready to begin this case".

The Togolese lawyer made the point that certain pieces of evidence of the case have not yet been translated into French, his working language, and that the prosecutor still had to give him documents. The proceedings revealed that the texts that have not yet been translated were witness statements collected in Kinyarwanda, the native language of the defendant, and that the prosecution team, led by the Cameroonian Wiilliam Egbe, had discharged itself of all its obligations, in regards to the communication of the evidence.

Returning to the prosecution, Mr. Dovi had more ammunition: the time necessary to finely expect the many pieces of evidence received, defence team still incomplete and preliminary investigations still to be carried out. "How can one begin a trial where the minimum conditions are not met?" questioned the lawyer.

Invited by the judge to propose a date for the beginning of the trial, he briefly responded: "Not before April".  After having smiled at him in disapproval, Muthoga, acting as judge in charge of deciding on the pre-judicial questions while waiting for the designation of a new chamber, advised him to prepare, "while keeping in mind that the trial will begin well before April".

"If the trial was to start today, we would be ready", for his part assured Mr. Egbe, leaving to the Chamber to decide on the date.

The Cameroonian lawyer, however, pointed out to the judge that six witnesses out of 24 that he intends to call in this case were already at the headquarters of the Tribunal in Arusha.

Questioned on this issue, the Registry proposed that these witnesses, who have all come from Rwanda, return home where their daily professional activities await them. The proposal was accepted by the judge who gave the instruction to the administration of the Tribunal to have the witnesses return at the convenient time.

The hearing was deferred to a date which will be communicated to the parties at a later date.

A native of Mugina, in the former prefecture of Gitarama ,central Rwanda, Hategekiman, who has pleaded not guilty, was part of the five accused that the prosecutor of the ICTR, Hassan Bubacar Jallow, sought, in vain, to have tried by Rwandan courts.


© Hirondelle News Agency