Arusha, January 08, 2010 (FH) - Four joint trials involving 17 accused, amongst whom former government ministers and generals, will be a major challenge this year for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

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The ICTR is supposed to close its initial trials in 2010.

« The four multi-accused cases continue to pose the greatest challenge for the Tribunal, even where the evidence phase has been completed », wrote the ICTR president Judge Dennis Byron in a recent report to the Security Council.

Trial Chamber II has completed the Nyiramasuhuko et al. trial, the so-called Butare case involving six co-accused, including Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, a former Ministry for Women and Family affairs and the only woman indicted by the ICTR. The Chamber heard the oral closing arguments in April 2009. The Prosecution requested the maximum penalty for all accused.

This trial is the longest in the - short - history of International Justice. It has lasted over 726 days, and 59 Prosecution and 130 Defence witnesses were heard. Judgment delivery is expected in September 2010.

Judges have also commenced the judgment drafting in the Bizimungu et al. case. The case involves four former Ministers of the Interim Government (Casimir Bizimungu, Justin Mugenzi, Jérôme Bicamumpaka, and Prosper Mugiraneza), which was installed after the assassination of the former Rwandan President Habyarimana. Closing arguments were heard in December 2008. The Prosecution equally requested life in prison for all defendants. The trial started in 2003 and spanned 404 trial days. The verdict is expected to be rendered at the end the year.

The third joint trial, dubbed Military II case (Ndindilyimana et al.), is also in the judgment drafting phase. The four co-accused in this case, which started in 2004, are high-rank military officers, including the former Head of the Rwandan Armed Forces Augustin Bizimungu and former Head of the Gendarmerie Augustin Ndindiliyimana. The judgment is slated for September.

Trial Chamber III will continue hearing evidence in the last joint trial, Édouard Karemera et al. This case involves, besides the former vice-president of the then ruling party MRND, Edouard Karemera, former MRND president Mathieu Ngirumpatse and the former Secretary General of the party in power, Joseph Nzirorera.

The Karemera et al. case opened in 2005 but judgment delivery is not expected before 2011. The strategy of the Prosecution is to demonstrate that the three defendants are guilty of crimes committed by members of their party by virtue of their "superior responsibility".

Moreover, due to the illness of one of the accused, Mathieu Ngirumpatse, proceedings are slower.

This joint trial will be the first case to resume on January 18. In addition, seven other trials, involving each only one defendant, will restart progressively.


© Hirondelle News Agency