Arusha, April 10, 2014 (FH) – The 1994 genocide perpetrated against Tutsis in Rwanda is a fact of “common knowledge”, of which trial courts must take judicial notice, according to a historic appeals decision by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on June 16, 2006.

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This decision in the trial of three former MRND political leaders put an end to years of procedural wrangling between the prosecution and defence at the UN tribunal. It came in response to a prosecutor’s interlocutory appeal.

“There is no reasonable basis for anyone to dispute that, during 1994, there was a campaign of mass killing intended to destroy, in whole or at least in very large part, Rwanda’s Tutsi population,” according to the unanimous ruling of the five Appeals judges presided by Judge Mohamed Shahabuddeen.

“Although exact numbers may never be known, the great majority of Tutsis were murdered, and many others were raped or otherwise harmed,” the text continues. “These basic facts were broadly known even at the time of the Tribunal’s establishment; indeed reports indicating that genocide occurred in Rwanda were a key impetus for its establishment, as reflected in the Security Council resolution establishing it.”

At the time of the ruling, many ICTR accused persons were denying that genocide had taken place in Rwanda, forcing the prosecution to bring evidence to demonstrate it and so slowing down proceedings.

Among those rejecting the term “genocide” was Théoneste Bagosora, former Cabinet Director at the Rwandan Defence Ministry presented by the prosecution as the main architect of the genocide.

“Personally I do not believe there was a genocide. Most reasonable people think there were excessive massacres,” Bagosora told the court when testifying in his own defence on October 24, 2005.

The prosecutor’s office hailed the Appeals Court decision, saying it should silence those who deny the genocide and speed up the trials, which would now concentrate on the individual responsibility of the accused.

Lawyers for the three MRND leaders tried to get the Appeals Chamber decision overturned but their attempts were rejected on December 1, 2006.

According to the ICTR’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence, facts of common knowledge should not be the subject of debate in court, trial chambers must simply take “judicial notice” of them.

Another fact of “common knowledge”, according to the ICTR Appeals Chamber, is that the armed conflict in Rwanda from 1990 to 1994 was an internal and not an international conflict. Some accused had been maintaining that it was an invasion by neighbouring Uganda. Canadian lawyer Christopher Black even referred whenever he got the chance to United States involvement in the conflict in support of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), now in power in Kigali.