Arusha, October 20, 2009 (FH) - The trial of Jean-Baptiste Gatete, former director in the Ministry for Family and Women Affairs, opened on Tuesday at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

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He is charged with genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, incitement to commit genocide and crimes against humanity. He protests his innocence.

"Jean-Baptiste Gatete is responsible for thousands of deaths. There can be few individuals in the hall of infamy who have as much blood on their hands as he does," Richard Karegyesa, the Ugandan Chief of Prosecutions said in his opening statement.

"We appear before you today to bring to account the accused, Jean-Baptiste Gatete, for the genocide and crimes against humanity he committed in Byumba and Kibungo prefectures between the 7 and 30 of April 1994," he added.

The Prosecution charges the defendant with attacks against Tutsis in his hometown Murambi (Byumba prefecture) and in Rukira and Kayonza communes (Kibungo prefecture).

Richard Karegyesa insisted on pogroms which took place in the catholic churches of Kiziguro and Mukarange, where thousands of Tutsis were killed. Women and girls were serially raped during these assaults, before being slain and thrown into common graves.

In turn, the French Lead Defence counsel, Marie-Pierre Poulain claimed her client was the victim of a smear campaign orchestrated by his political foes. She said the campaign started before 1994.

She requested her client to be given the full benefit of the presumption of innocence.

Jean Baptiste Gatete was a Mayor of Murambi commune,in Byumba prefecture, from 1987 until June 1993. He was a member of the National Congress of the MRND (the party in power under President Habyarimana). He was active in party politics both at the national and the prefectural level. He was dismissed as Mayor in 1993 amidst allegations that he persecuted the Tutsis of Murambi. He was then appointed Director in the Ministry of Women and Family Affairs, at the time headed by Pauline Nyiramasuhuko.

According to the prosecution, Gatete continued to hold influence over local police, gendarmes and militiamen in the Byumba and Kibungo prefectures.

The defendant  was arrested in Congo-Brazzaville on September 11, 2002, and subsequently transferred to the UN Detention Facility in Arusha.


© Agence Hirondelle