Arusha, 10 February 2009 (FH) - The trial of three former leaders of the former Rwandan presidential party, on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) for crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity, is still at a standstill because of the ill health of one of the defendants.

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Mathieu Ngirumpatse, who has been confined to bed for several months, was president of the National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development (MRND), Edouard Karemera, was the vice-president, and Joseph Nzirorera, was the secretary-general of the party.

"My thoughts are entirely on the health of my client (...) He is fighting to join us as soon as possible", stated Monday Chantal Hounkpatin, Ngirumpatse's main counsel, at the opening of a status conference which did not succeed in getting the trial out of its stagnation.

"Mathieu Ngirumpatse is still hospitalized in Nairobi", confirmed Dr. Marie-Francoise Epée-Hernandez, from the medical department of the Tribunal, stating, however, that there had been a certain improvement.

She specified that the former leader still had to follow three months of treatment.

From his hospital bed, Ngirumpatse wrote to the Chamber to request the suspension of the proceedings, by emphasizing on his fundamental right to be physically present at his trial.

In this letter read at the hearing by his co-counsel, Frederic Weyl, the ill defendant asked for a stay of three months.

This stagnation pushed the Chamber to consider a disjoinder of proceedings once again. The defence teams rose unanimously at once to express, some in harsh terms, their opposition to a disjoinder of proceedings.

"I leave this hearing deeply devastated (...) It is terrible", protested Weyl, who did not hesitate to accuse the Chamber of "blackmailing" his client so that he would accept that the trial continues in his absence. "A disjoinder of proceedings, it is death. For Mathieu Ngirumpatse, no disjoinder of proceedings", pleaded the French lawyer,considering that the judges threatened his client with "transferring him to the closet of the forgotten".

Abundant in the same direction, Dior Diagne, Karemera's main counsel, compared the threat of a disjoinder of proceedings to a "genuine sword of Damocles hanging above the head of the defence".

The Chamber had planned to sit only three days per week to make it possible for Ngirumpatse's lawyers to work with their client during the remainder of the week. The registry was, as for itself, to forward regularly to the patient the video recordings of the hearings.

While protesting against this arrangement, Patrick Nimy Mayidika, Nzirorera's co-counsel, requested that the Chamber not add to the ill health of Ngirumpatse by obligating him to plunge himself in the official transcripts.

The status conference was deferred until Thursday. The standstill which has lasted since August stopped the procession of Karemera's witnesses, the first to present his defence.

The three men have been on trial since September 2005. A first trial in which they were judged alongside another person was cancelled by the Appeals Chamber in October 2004 after a year of hearings. The vicissitudes of this trial render 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