Home Special Reports Defence In Genocide Trial Adopts Tactic in Attacking Rwanda

Defence In Genocide Trial Adopts Tactic in Attacking Rwanda

by Jean de la Croix Tabaro
1:36 pm

Throughout the ongoing trial of the two genocide suspects, Seraphin Twahirwa, and Pierre Basabose, in Brussels, the defence has adopted the tactic of attempting to distract the court from the mounting evidence against the accused, by trying to make the trial about Rwanda. Court proceedings on 22nd November were no different.

The two defendants are accused of playing a significant role in the 1994 Rwanda Genocide Against the Tutsi, which claimed over a million men, women and children.

Twahirwa is alleged to have been one of the leaders of the Interahamwe militia, which spearheaded the murders. As well as being directly involved in the murders himself, he is alleged to have earned particular notoriety, for committing rape against his victims, who included underage girls.

The prosecution’s evidence included written testimonies, as well as calling on witnesses in court. One witness in particular, who asked not to be named outside the courtroom, seemed to exercise the defence. In his evidence, the witness, who was a small trader in the area of Gikondo, in Kigali, said he knew one of the defendents, Basabose well.

According to him, the accused was a familiar figure around Gikondo, and was known to have been a leader of the Interahamwe, as early as 1993. He regularly walked about, carrying a hand gun, flanked by other members of the Interahamwe, as bodyguards. He exercised the power of life and death over everyone, the witness testified, giving two examples, one of murder, the other of violent dispossession.

The witness testified seeing Basabose violently throw a local woman, known as Madeleine, out of her car, and taking it for himself. In particular, the defence vehemently objected to the witness’s testimony, that he saw the accused overseeing the murder of one Turatsinze. “Basabose was there” the witness insisted, “I saw him with my own eyes.”

As they have done throughout the trial, the defence’s response to any damning testimony, was to try and make the case about Rwanda, rather than their clients’ alleged crimes. The defence lawyer, Jean Flamme, especially, has employed the tactic, using such intemperate language and conduct, apparently with the intent of intimidating the witnesses, that to calm tensions and restore order, the presiding judge has had to suspend court proceedings.

Flamme was a defence lawyer for the genocide suspects, at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Rather ironically, like a number of his colleagues, who defended the accused, he adopted his clients’ ideology. “All Rwandans are liars” he rages, claiming that witnesses have been coached to lie, by the Rwanda Prosecution Service. “It is clear the witness belongs on the list of those influenced by the Rwanda Prosecution Service,” he alleged, shouting down the witness’s testimony against Basabose.

At times, Flamme got so carried away with trying to make the case about Rwanda, and witness intimidation, bellowing out questions like, “why did the RPF (Rwanda Patriotic Front), invade Rwanda…who killed Habyarimana?” that the court was left dumbfounded.

The prosecution charged that the defence’s antics went beyond intimidation, to suborning witnesses. The prosecution suggested one of their witnesses, Twahirwa’s estranged wife, Primitive Uwimana, had been induced by the defence to change her testimony.

In her written testimony, Uwimana had testified that she had been forced into marriage with Twahirwa, after being subjected to rape. In court however, she changed her testimony, insisting that she had been happily married, and her now estranged husband would never hurt anyone. She also suddenly began to echo the defence’s allegation, that the Rwanda Prosecution Service coached witnesses, and even pressured them to change their testimony.

I used to receive threats from a Rwanda’s prosecutor, asking me to testify in the trial. Some spies would even be sent to me,” she claimed, adding that she was forced to write her original testimony. “That was not my own testimony. I was forced to say what I don’t believe.”

The Rwanda Prosecution Service, cooporates with foreign jurisdictions, especially in genocide cases. They trace witnesses, and work with their foreign counterparts, to get the witnesses to court. Witnesses are assigned a legally qualified support officer.

Uwimana, was supported by Agathe Mukavuninka, who has thirteen years of experience, helping to trace witnesses. Mukavuninka testified to the court, that her role is to trace witnesses and escort them to whichever jurisdiction is conducting the trial. She was astounded by the suggestion that either she, or anyone of her colleagues would seek to sway a witness one way or the other. Neither she nor her colleagues, ever discuss the case with the witnesses.

Dismissing the allegation, the prosecution told the court that it was rather the defence, which had clearly interfered with Uwimana. They argued that Uwimana’s written testimony contained the kind of detail only she and the accused could have known. The prosecution also pointed to the fact that when examined, the accused’s mobile telephone showed that he had contacted Uwimana on more than a thousand occasions, despite now claiming that she had had no contact whatsoever with him. Far from being pressured or threatened by anyone from the Rwanda Prosecution Service, suggested the prosecution, it was the accused who pressured Uwimana to now alter her testimony.

They called the court’s attention to the fact that their other witness’s testimony, a widow of one of the accused’s victims, Kamuzinzi, allegedly murdered by Twahirwa at the same time as Uwimana’s own brother, as much as corroborated the testimony that Uwimana now sought to recant. Kamuzinzi’s widow, had testified that both her husband and Uwimana’s brother, Alexandre Karekezi, had gone to the accused’s house, hoping to find refuge from the killers, only to be murdered by him.

In her testimony, Kamunzizi’s widow told the court that she had endured being repeatedly raped by Twahirwa. Uwimana’s denial of her earlier written testimony and description of her former husband, as someone who would not hurt anyone, so distressed Kamunzizi’s widow, that she broke down in court.

The prosecution emphasised that Uwimana’s about face was a performance for the Belgian immigration authorities, from whom she hoped to be granted residence in Belgium.

Claiming that she was threatened by Rwanda’s prosecution, is a fabrication to attract the attention of the relevant Belgian institutions, so she can claim political asylum.”

As if to confirm the prosecution’s suspicision, no sooner had the other lawyer for the defence, Vincent Lurquin, got up to speak than he immediately claimed that Uwimana would be in danger from Rwandan agents, if she returned to Nairobi, Kenya, and asked that she be granted asylum in Belgium.

The trial continues with testimonies from Twahirwa’s family, including his sister, two brothers, and a son, from his second marriage. One of the brothers has already declared that if his brother, “really did commit these crimes, then he should pay the price.”

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