"Joseph Nzirorera is not guilty of any crime. He will prove his case by presenting his evidence", one of the counsels for the Defence, Nimy Mayidika Ngimbi, declared in a long opening statement.
"He is a gentleman and a senior civil servant who served his country with patriotism", the Congolese lawyer added.
Before being elected Secretary General of the MRND in 1993, Nzirorera, who hails from the prefecture of Ruhengeri (North of Rwanda), had been for many years Minister of Public Works.
Nzirorera and his two co-defendants, the former President of the MRND, Mathieu Ngirumpatse, and the ex-Vice President, Edouard Karemera, are charged with crimes committed by members of their party. The Prosecution has indicted them for their "command responsibility" as top officials of the MRND, the party in power under President Juvenal Habyarimana.
For the Defence, "the existence of any link of subordination between Joseph Nzirorera and the killers" has not been proven.
"These crimes were perpetrated by individuals or groups of individuals. They were neither planned nor ordered by political leaders", Nimy Mayidika Ngimbi argued.
The Defence rejected the evidence presented by the Prosecution as "arranged if not entirely fabricated accounts which merely aim at harming the defendant".
The first witness of the Defense was then called upon. Joseph Nzirorera is the second leader of the MRND, after Vice-President Karemera, to present his case before the ICTR. As for the ex-President of the former ruling party, who had been absent from the proceedings for medical reasons, he attended the trial for the first time in over a year.
"Though he is able to be here, he is still undergoing treatment and, as everyone can see, still suffering and diminished", his French counsel, Frederic Weyl, explained. He requested the Court to take his client's health condition into consideration and considered the "medical attention" so far provided as "insufficient".
Mathieu Ngirumpatse was hospitalized in the Kenyan capital Nairobi but refused bail for medical treatment in Europe.
© Agence Hirondelle