Arusha, September 26, 2011 (FH) - The defence for Rwandan ex-deputy governor Dominique Ntawukulilyayo on Monday asked the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to overturn his genocide conviction, on grounds that prosecution witnesses were unreliable. The prosecution called for the conviction and 25-year prison sentence imposed by the lower court to be upheld. The lower court decision of August 3, 2010, was not unanimous, with one judge dissenting.

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"Ntawukulilyayo deserves your attention," Lead Counsel Maroufa Diabira told the Appeals Chamber. "His conviction will be deeply unjust."

The Appellant himself made a brief plea to the court, saying he was innocent and that he had  "never possessed any genocidal intent".

Ntawukulilyayo was deputy governor of Gisagara in Butare prefecture, southern Rwanda, during the 1994 genocide. He was found guilty for his role in the April 23, 1994 massacre of Tutsi refugees on Kabuye hill in the same prefecture. The refugees had been moved from Gisagara market to Kabuye hill on Ntawukulilyayo's orders and on the promise that they would be protected.

Although he was convicted, the ICTR lower court's decision was not unanimous. Judges Khalida Rachid Khan and Lee Muthoga found him guilty for transporting gendarmes to Kabuye Hill. These gendarmes later joined other assailants who had launched the killing of the refugees. However, Judge Aydin Akay said in a dissenting opinion that he could not agree with the conviction because of contradictions in the testimonies of prosecution witnesses.

"The assessment of evidence by the Trial Chamber is so erroneous which requires your wise intervention," Diabira told the Appeals Chamber. "The prosecution witnesses were not reliable. Their testimonies are filled with inconsistencies and lies."

However,  Prosecutor Ousman Jammeh said such concerns had been dismissed by the lower court. "The Trial Chamber found it was proven beyond reasonable doubt that Ntawukulilyayo was present at Gisagara market and at Kabuye Hill," he told the Appeals Chamber. "Massacres took place and no other person was responsible than Ntawukulilyayo. We ask you to uphold the conviction and the sentence imposed."

Born in southern Rwanda in 1942, Ntawukulilyayo was arrested in France in 2007 and transferred to the ICTR on June 5, 2008, after an unsuccessful battle against extradition.

His trial started on May 6, 2009. The prosecution fielded 12 witnesses, while 23 testified for the defence, including the accused himself.


© Hirondelle News Agency