Arusha, 06 February 2009 (FH) - A status conference is scheduled for Monday at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to try to get out of the stagnation the trial of three former leaders of the National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development (MRND), the party of former President Juvenal Habyarimana.

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At center of the status conference will be the health condition of the former MRND President, Mathieu Ngirumpatse, whose illness has paralyzed the proceedings since August 2008, as only one defendant, the former vice-president of the party, Edouard Karemera, had started to call his witnesses.

In this case considered as one of the most important before the ICTR, the prosecutor wants to prove the existence of a joint criminal enterprise between Ngirumpatse, Karemera and Joseph Nzirorera, former Secretary General of the former presidential party.

Thus, each defendant may find it very beneficial to follow in the least detail each testimony. Admittedly, they are assisted by lawyers but the jurisprudence of the Tribunal sanctioned their right to be physically present. Unless they expressly renounced it.

On Monday, the Chamber, after having heard the parties, will determine, on the basis of a report from Dr. Marie Francoise Epee- Hernandez, the appointed doctor of the Tribunal, if the former president of the MRND is able or not to present himself to the hearing. In the event of Ngirumpatse's incapacity to be physically present at the trial, Monday's discussions will then relate to the possibility of continuing his trial without him, but while guaranteeing the respect of his rights and those of his co-defendants.

Interrupted by Ngirumpatse's health condition, Karemera's defence has already echoed the tone. "The trial cannot continue without the presence of the former president of the party", Dior Diagne and Moussa Felix Sow, Karemera's two lawyers wrote in a motion dated 26 January.

In November, Ngirumpatse had exceptionally authorized the testimony in his absence, because of his illness, of witnesses who had remained stuck at the headquarters of the Tribunal. This exemption came with a certain number of conditions: the possibility for the ill defendant to have the video recording of the proceedings as well as sufficient time between the hearings to discuss with his defence team.

Were these conditions respected? Even if Ngirumpatse's defence lawyers were not reachable Friday to answer the question, those of Karemera, in their motion mentioned above, as for themselves, have already drawn up a negative assessment of this exercise. "This solution proved to be ineffective since the hearings continued at the usual rhythm, and that the necessary time for Ngirumpatse to exploit the data of the hearing was insufficient. He was submerged by the documents to exploit and audio supports to view".

"Facing this failure, Karemera's lawyers added, the only solution would be to suspend the proceedings pending a new evaluation of Ngirumpatse's health condition. In the absence of any certainty that Mr Ngirumpatse will not be able to return to the trial, the suspension is essential", concluded Karemera's defence team.

The judges, led by Dennis Byron, also the president of the ICTR, will decide Monday.

The three men have been on trial since September 2005. A first trial in which they were tried with another person was cancelled by the Appeals Chamber in October 2004 after a year of hearings. The vicissitudes of this trial renders a hard blow to the completion strategy of this Tribunal which the Security Council has asked with insistence to finish the first instance trials by the end of the year.


© Hirondelle News Agency