Arusha, December 3, 2009 (FH) - Testifying in one's own Defence before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) can cut both ways.

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Next Tuesday, the former deputy governor of the southern Gisaraga sub-prefecture, Dominique Ntawukulilyayo, will stand in the witness box to refute charges brought against him.

Aged 67, he is accused of genocide and direct and public incitement to commit genocide in Gisagara. He has pleaded not guilty.

Ntawukulilyayo was arrested on October 16, 2007 in Carcassonne, south-western France, on the basis of an ICTR arrest warrant.

In a telephone interview with Hirondelle News Agency, his Lead Defence Counsel, Maroufa Diabira,  agreed on Thursday that testifying for oneself "is not always the best strategy". However, he added that "Ntawukulilyayo is a balanced person and we think it's important that he can go clear before his judges."

According to a Rwandan lawyer who has been working with the ICTR for seven years, "a boomerang effect might occur when the defendant is not well prepared. The danger is that he contradicts himself or his witnesses' previous statements".

Former Minister of Higher Education Jean de Dieu Kamuhanda was condemned to life in jail mainly because of contradictions between his testimony and statements made by witnesses he had called to the bar.

However, most of the defendants have chosen to testify in their own trials. Some of them, like colonel Théoneste Bagosora, sentenced to life imprisonment in December 2008, or former Minister for Women Affairs Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, who is still awaiting her verdict, seized the opportunity to attack the current Rwandan government.

"Whenever the Defence Counsel lets his client talk endlessly to indict his enemies, you can be sure that the Prosecutor is on watch because this is when the defendant often contradicts himself", said the Rwandan lawyer.

Finally, when an accused testifies, he is subjected to a tough cross-examination by the Prosecution. In some joint trials, the counsels of co-defendants are also allowed to cross-examine the witness if they see in his statement a conflict of interests with their clients.

In the "Bagosora et al." joint trial, one of the three accused, general Gratien Kabiligi, had chosen not to testify in his own defence. He was the only one to be acquitted.

Based in Arusha (Tanzania), the ICTR is mandated to arrest and try the main leaders of the Rwandan genocide in which more than 800,000 people, mainly Tutsis, were killed in 1994.


© Hirondelle News Agency