Brussels, November 10, 2009 (FH) - The trial of a former leader of the Interahamwe militia, Ephrem Nkezabera, will go ahead despite his absence due to bad health, the Assize Court of Brussels ruled on Tuesday.

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President Karin Gerard stated that a fair trial and the Defence rights could not be guaranteed in case of a deferral. "Postponing the trial would compromise the right for the accused to be judged within a reasonable time limit", she said. "The Defence highlighted that two years have already gone by since the closure of the preliminary investigation".

She added that if the trial were deferred, the Court also feared a denial of justice that would hurt the victims and the International community. Ephrem Nkezebera, 56, suffers from terminal cancer which does not allow him to attend the hearings, according to his lawyer. The Defence had requested a deferral of the procedure which, as pointed out on Monday by several counsels for the victims, would most likely have meant "no trial at all" given the Court's busy schedule.

The defendant's lawyer, Gilles Vanderbeck, reacted to the Court's ruling with "partial surprise", explaining: "The deferral is rejected to guarantee the rights of the Defence, while it was the Defence who requested the deferral in the first place".

He declared that neither his client nor he would attend the proceedings. Referring to a legal possibility in a trial by default, he added: "We will decide at the end of the trial whether we oppose the verdict".   

Nkezebera is accused of war crimes committed during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda - murders, attempted murders and rapes. This is the first time in Belgium that rape charges are likened to a war crime.

Nkezabera has admitted to most of the charges brought against him. During the judicial investigation, he recognized having armed and financed Interahamwe in order to exterminate Tutsis and moderate Hutus. He also admitted that during a public meeting in 1993 he had "encouraged"  Interahamwe to carry out massacres. Lastly, he owned up to his financial contributions to the notorious RTLM radio station which was created the same year and which openly called for killing on its airwaves. However, the accused rejected the rape charges, alleging "consenting partners".

The Court read out the indictment on Tuesday afternoon. Witnesses will be called to the stand in the coming days.


© Hirondelle News Agency