Arusha, 15 July 2009 (FH) - A former Rwandan Military officer Lt .Col Ephrem Setako ,who is facing charges of genocide and crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), on June 24 called to his defense a Belgian expert, Bert Ingelaere, who explained on the functioning of the  semi-traditional Gacaca courts in Rwanda.

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The witness, an expert in Gacaca proceedings and who has observed more than 2,000 trials in Rwanda, considered whatever factual allegations that were brought before the UN Court by the prosecution could have been recounted in Gacaca hearings.

He however admitted not having gone through the records to verify if the name of the accused, Setako, was mentioned or not.

The former Rwandan military officer is accused of crimes committed in 1994 notably in Mukingo and Nkuli communes, in his native prefecture of Ruhengeri. The prosecutor alleges that Setako publicly incited his

Hutu neighbours in the two communes to exterminate Tutsis in order to revenge the murder of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana.

Habyarimana was killed when his plane was shot down by unknown assailants as it was approaching the capital, Kigali, on 6 April, 1994 which triggered the killings.

The Belgian expert believed that, normally, allegations concerning a high ranking personality, like Setako, should have been raised before the gacaca courts.

But, he stated that he was not familiar with the specifics of the sectors in which those crimes were allegedly committed by the accused.

The defense in the case contend that Setako's name had never surfaced during gacaca hearings thus maintaining that the accused was an innocent person.

Mr Ingelaere was responding to the accused's lead defence counsel, American Prof. Lennox Hinds during the Examination-in-Chief.

The Gacacas courts are charged with trying the majority of the alleged authors of the 1994 genocide, which left according to the UN, nearly 800, 000 people killed, mostly ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

The Gacaca courts are presided, not by professional magistrates, but by people considered of high esteem in the society.

The defence of Setako rested its case on June 26 after fielding a total of 34 witnesses .The prosecution completed its case on April 22 after presentation of 20 witnesses.

Lt. Col Setako is facing six charges including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. He has denied the charges.


© Hirondelle News Agency