Arusha, 9 March 2009 (FH) - Trial Chamber III of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) Monday was compelled to adjourn the commencement of the defense case of Leonidas Nshogoza, a Rwandan lawyer accused of contempt of court, to Wednesday amid allegations that the identity of protected defense witnesses would be known by the office of the Rwandan Prosecutor General.

2 min 14Approximate reading time

‘'A fair trial cannot be conducted while defence witnesses attendance is conditional upon their meeting with Rwandan authorities,'' a motion filed by the accused Canadian lead counsel, Allison Turner stated.

In her submission, Turner mentioned two protected defence witnesses who she said alleged were summoned by the office of Rwandan Deputy Prosecutor General on the matter of testifying for the defence case of Nshogoza, making them fear that they could be arrested should they present themselves before the Rwandan authorities as requested.

According to Turner, her team has a total of 14 protected witnesses and four unprotected ones including the accused, Nshogoza.

‘'May it please this honorable Chamber grant a stay of proceedings as a remedy for the interference with witnesses by the office of the Deputy Prosecutor General for Rwanda,'' Counsel Turner pleaded in her motion.

After a heated debate between the bench and Counsel Turner, Presiding Kenyan Judge, Lee Muthoga, ordered the Witnesses and Victims Support Section of the Tribunal (WVSS) to thoroughly investigate the Rwandan authority on the interference of defence witnesses and report back to the Chamber.

It further ordered the defence to comply with the Chamber's earlier order to submit a list of 11 witnesses instead of 20 proposed by the defence.

During the discussion over these two issues, Counsel Turner threatened to resign her post alleging that the defence was not getting the right treatment for its case.

Speaking to Hirondelle News Agency on the issue later over her possible resignation after the court was adjourned to Wednesday, Turner said she would like first to consult her client on it.

‘'It has never helped counsel to being insultative,'' remarked Judge Muthoga, adding that ‘' it is not optional for counsel to obey or not to obey the order of the Chamber even if one does not like it.'' 

The prosecution completed its case on 19 February after presenting five witnesses. The trial began on 9 February.

The defence initially said that it would present more than 40 witnesses, but the Chamber in its decision dated 23rd February, directed that only ten defence witnesses would be allowed to testify.

However, Nshogoza's Lead Counsel, Alison Turner, protested the low number of witnesses, and asked the Chamber to reconsider its decision.

On 26 February, the Chamber responded by maintaining their position, but said that the only additional witness who could be allowed would be the accused himself.

Nshogoza has been accused of having tried to subvert court of justice in the trial of a former Rwandan Minister for Culture and Education, Jean de Dieu Kamuhanda, who was sentenced to imprisonment for remainder of his life in 2004 and a year later it was re-confirmed by the UN Appeals Court.

Nshogoza is alleged to have tried to bribe prosecution witnesses to retract their statements.

At ICTR, a person convicted of contempt of court faces a maximum sentence of five years or a fine of US $ 10,000 or both.

The first victim of this offence was a protected prosecution witness dubbed "GAA" who was sentenced to nine months imprisonment in December 2007 after being found guilty of contempt of court by the UN Tribunal.


© Hirondelle News Agency