Arusha, May 23, 2001 (FH) A defence lawyer at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Wednesday accused Rwanda's representative to the ICTR of slandering her, while a group of defence counsels protested at "insinuations" made against them by the ICTR. The reactions came in the wake of the arrest last weekend of an ICTR defence investigator suspected of genocide.

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Reacting to a Hirondelle article of May 21st entitled "Rwanda welcomes arrest of ICTR investigator", defence counsel Marie Louise Mbida of Cameroon wrote that she wished to express her "indignation at what she considers to be defamatory words" by Martin Ngoga, Rwanda's special representative to the ICTR. Mbida is counsel for former Cyangugu military leader Samuel Imanishimwe. Tanzanian authorities arrested her investigator, Siméon Nshamihigo, outside the ICTR on Saturday, at the request of the Tribunal. He had been working under an assumed name, with a Congolese passport. Ngoga said at a press conference on Monday that his government welcomed the arrest as a start of "house cleaning", but that other genocide suspects were still on the payroll of the Tribunal and that he could not dismiss outright the possibility that some defence counsel were "accomplices". Hirondelle further reported him as saying that in this case, either "the lawyer was aware" and protected the person, or she simply admitted the choice of the accused without endeavouring to conduct checks on the person,either possibility being unethical. Mbida said she was "asking Mr. Ngoga to be careful henceforth in his declarations, which should not go beyond the limit of tolerance". "In any case," she continued, "everybody should observe the respect due to a lawyer. It is surprising that a diplomat of his level should act so lightly, to the point of mixing up his target. "Tribunal under fireA group of ICTR lawyers meanwhile accused the Tribunal's press and information service of blackening their reputation and undermining their credibility. They were reacting to an ICTR press release of May 21st announcing Nshamihigo's arrest. The press release said that: "A UN report issued on 1st February 2001 concerning allegations of fee-splitting between some defence counsel and their clients pointed out that none of the defence investigators had ever visited Rwanda in the course of their work. "In a communiqué on Wednesday, eighteen lawyers protested that "these general affirmations could only be seeking to discredit all defence teams by associating them with practices which, if they proved to be true, would be condemned as totally unacceptable by the undersigned counsels". Making such affirmations," continued the lawyers, "without mentioning any name, amount of money, place or time for the alleged fee-splitting, amounts to an unfortunate attempt to blacken the reputation and credibility of the defence working within this Tribunal. "The ICTR press release also said that: "Defence investigators are not staff members of the ICTR. They are independent contractors recruited by defence counsel as part of the defence teams and their fees are part of the legal aid package for indigent accused persons funded by the ICTR. ""The Tribunal's haste to state that defence investigators are not UN staff is the expression of that exclusion, lack of understanding and refusal to recognize the essential role played by the defence," the lawyers protest. They say they would like to remind people of "the indispensable role of the Defence within any fair and impartial system of justice, and within this Tribunal in particular". "We would like to make clear that we are extremely vigilant in the performance of our duties and extremely sensitive to any dubious behaviour or behaviour which appears to be dubious from any member of our respective defence teams," they continue. "It is in our interest, our integrity depends on making sure that all those who work with us are irreproachable, so that there should be an end to these insinuations which only tarnish our reputation and compromise the task that has been conferred on us and whichwe intend to complete. "Finally, the signatories say they hope that "the Defence in its entirety be recognized, rightfully, as an integral part of the judicial process, on a par with the other components of the Tribunal, and not as a necessary evil whose presence is tolerated without understanding their very real contribution. "JC/AT/FH (NG0523f)