Arusha, 4 March 2009 (FH) - During the visit of Ban Ki-moon last Friday, the president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Judge Byron, assured that the essential acceleration to finish the first instance trials this year will not compromise the fairness of the proceedings.

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"The completion strategy is thought by some to require a subversion of justice: to purchase expedition at the cost of fairness. That is wrong. We simply will not let it happen", stated the lead judge of the ICTR. "While it is true that we will work hard to further improve some ways of doing business (...), other essential things will not change. Foremost among these is our basic commitment to the principles of fairness. In these we remain steadfast", continued Judge Byron who devoted the essence of his short speech to "the completion strategy".

He announced that his institution had undertaken "a full scale review of our entire operations" to see all that must be improved, in order to accelerate without trampling on the rights on people's rights.

"I believe this self-analysis procedure will help make our court an even higher performing organization", he concluded.

The most fervent detractors of this deadline imposed by the United Nations are the defence counsels who complain that they do not have, for the preparation and the presentation of their cases, the same time as the prosecutor.

That gives place to recurring debates in the trial of the former leaders of the National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development (MRND). In November, Peter Robinson, the main counsel for the former secretary general of the MRND, Joseph Nzirorera, estimated in a motion that Judge Byron was giving a double message which was harmful to a good administration of justice. For this American defender, this judge is required, on the one hand, to sit in a chamber, and, on the other hand, to evaluate, as president of the institution, the progress of the work, is in a delicate position.

"Judge Byron's role as president of the Tribunal and his duty to implement the completion strategy, directly conflict with his role as judge of Nzirorera's case when it comes to an issue which effects the time in which the case can be completed", Robinson supported.

Before Byron's election to the head of the Tribunal, the chamber (which is trying Nzirorera and is presided by Byron) "put no limitations on the number of witnesses the prosecution called in its case". But since Byron has been president of the ICTR, complained the American lawyer, the defence must deal with "orders drastically limiting the amount of time and number of witnesses that the defence would be allowed to call ".

Before the Security Council scheduled deadlines, certain chambers hardly worried about time, which was the source of the slowness criticized so much in the first trials. "We thus find ourselves repairing today the pots broken by others, in particular by the judges themselves who let widen the procedures in the past (...) Between the assurances given by Byron before Ban Ki-moon and the reality which we live on a daily basis, there is a whole world: we are under strong pressure", commented anonymously a young legal assistant from an ICTR defence team.


© Hirondelle News Agency