Arusha, 29 April 2009 (FH) - The powers of the former mayor of Ngoma commune in Butare prefecture, South Rwanda, Joseph Kanyabashi accused of genocide and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) were considerably reduced after the visits of national leaders in the commune, which was also the headquarters of the prefecture in mid April 1994.

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Michael Marchand, Canadian lead defence counsel for Kanyabashi told the court Wednesday that the massacres in Ngoma commune started immediately after the visit of national leaders, including the then President of the Interim government, Theodore Sindikubwabo, Prime Minister, Jean Kambanda and other ministers, like Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, former minister of family and Women Affairs, also an accused in this joint trial involving six defendants.

According to Marchand who was presenting his closing arguments before the UN Tribunal, contrary to what the prosecution alleged in the case, his client was powerless after the meetings conducted by the said leaders on April 19, 25, 27 and 28, 1994 where they called for the massacres against the Tutsis.

‘'Once killings started in Ngoma commune, Kanyabashi had limited powers to slow down the killing machine,'' the attorney charged.

The advocate invited Trial Chamber II presided by Judge Willian Sekule of Tanzania to revisit a letter written by the accused (already accepted as exhibit) to his daughter on May 25, 1994 at the height of the killings in which he sounded optimistic that whoever reads it would conclude that his client was not among the leaders who championed genocide.

Marchand briefly narrated that among other things Kanyabashi told his daughter was about relatives, friends and even their close neighbors who lost their souls in the killing spree hinting that she should not be surprised if she also heard that he was gone. 

 ‘'The defence case of Mr. Kanyabashi is credible and all I am praying from your honors is to acquit him of all the counts,'' pleaded the Canadian counsel.

He said in case he was convicted then the Chamber should take into consideration various mitigating factors before pronouncing the sentence including the time he already spent in detention, his 72 year old age and his good character while in custody. The team concluded its presentation.

Defence of Eli Ndayambaje, the six and last accused took over the floor immediately after to submit its closing arguments.

Closing arguments continue on Thursday, the last day according to the schedule. The case commenced June 2001.


 © Hirondelle News Agency