11.02.09 – RWANDA/ GACACA – GENOCIDE-ACCUSED HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST GETS LEGAL AID FOR HIS RE-TRIAL

Kigali, 11 February 2009 (FH) - The human rights activist and Rwandan playwright François-Xavier Byuma is assisted for his trial in revision in his district of Biryogo, Kigali, by a lawyer who cannot, however, prevail himself of all the prerogatives of a counsel pleading before of a traditional court.
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Byuma, is a founding member of Rwandan League for the Promotion and the Defence of Human Rights (LIPRODHOR) and the League for Human Rights in the Great Lakes Region (LDGL).

Currently detained at the central prison of Kigali (PCK), the activist was sentenced to 19 years in prison, after being found guilty of criminal conspiracy, complicity in the assassination of Raymond Kabayiza and the attempted murder of Louise Batamuliza, during the 1994 genocide.

"Batamuliza was led to the office of the sector (Biryogo), I grant it. But was she led there as a Tutsi, or as a person who they were going to check the identity? ", asked Jean Mutembe at the hearing on Saturday.

"The intentions of the moment can do without comment. What would have occurred if the counsellor (Amri) Karekezi (of the Biryogo sector) had not said that she was from his family? But, that’s no problem. The case is now to prove who led her there", stated Georges Karangwa, president of the gacaca court.

At the first hearing of the re-trial on 24 January, Mutembe was refused the right to sit besides his client. Nevertheless, the right to remain in the court room and to intervene at the same level as each member of the community had been granted to him.

Mutembe, a brilliant lawyer well-known in the courts of his country, intervened on several occasions on Saturday, irritating certain people in the audience, including some who feared that he would confuse the judges.

The intervention of a law specialist is not prohibited by the gacaca courts.

"But, a source at the National Service of the Gacaca Courts (SNJG) said that this lawyer must wear ordinary clothes, not a gown, and request the right to speak as each member of the audience". The jury can, in its sovereign appreciation, give him the right to speak or refuse it to him.

"We do not see why Mr. Byuma could not benefit from it, as long as it does not disturb the usual order of the gacaca trials", added the source.

According to many observers in Kigali, the human rights activist is the first to be benefit from such a legal aid before the gacacas.

On Saturday, 11 witnesses called by the defence testified before the jury to claim the innocence of the defendant.

At the preceding hearing, on 24 January, Byuma had presented to the judges a document proving, according to him, that the author of the attempted murder of Batamuliza was another alleged genocidaire. But on close examination of the document, the bench noted that the subject was Mutamuliza and not Batamuliza.

Convicted in first instance in May 2007, Byuma had seen his sentence confirmed in appeal three months later; after which, he had introduced recourse for revision.  The Gacaca courts are presided not by professional judges but by people who are of high integrity in the society.

The course of the first trial was criticized by certain Rwandan, regional and international human rights associations, including Human Rights Watch (HRW).

ER/MM/SC/GF