Arusha, 2 mars 2010 (FH) - Jean-Baptiste Gatete, the former director of the Ministry for Family and Women Affairs, started his defence on Tuesday before 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 was bourgmestre - mayor - of his native Murambi commune, in Byumba prefecture from 1987 until June 1993. 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 provincial level.

He was ousted as bourgmestre 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 sway over local police, gendarmes and militiamen in the Byumba and Kibungo prefectures after his dismissal.

The first defence witness, a woman code-named LA 41, denied that the accused ordered massacres of Tutsis on April 7, 1994, allegedly out of the Rwankuba District office of Murambi commune. "I knew Gatete. I didn't see him at Rwankuba in April 1994", said the woman who was then running a small restaurant only a three minutes' walk away from the district office.

"But had he arrived before 7am, you wouldn't have seen him, wouldn't you?", Drew White from the Prosecutor' s office questioned her.

LA 41 confirmed but added that she would have been told by other people if Gatete had come.

The defendant was arrested in Congo-Brazzaville on September 11, 2002, and subsequently transferred to the UN Detention Facility in Arusha. His trial started on October 20, 2009. The prosecution closed its case on November 16 having heard 22 witnesses.


© Hirondelle News Agency