The lawyers of two men accused of genocide and crimes against humanity during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi showed intention to delay and possibly derail their trial that started Tuesday in France, it has emerged.
The trial of Octavian Ngenzi, 58, and Tito Barahira, 64, former mayors of Kabarondo in eastern Rwanda, begun Tuesday before Paris’ Cour d’Assises, and is expected to conclude on July 1.
A first day account published by a France-based rights group, France-based Collectif des Parties Civiles pours le Rwanda (CPCR), indicates that the defendants’ lawyers, Philippe Meilhac and Françoise Mathe, derailed the proceedings in court.
The president of CPCR, Alain Gauthier, who was in court on Tuesday, told The New Times that: “The day was difficult because defence did everything to delay the trial, including attacking the CPRC and claiming that witnesses were not free in Kigali.”
Mathe, Ngenzi’s lawyer, reportedly started off by launching a lengthy diatribe in which she said the prosecution witnesses are liars. Mathe claimed that the witnesses are questionable. She told court that the CPCR is mobilising funds in Rwanda, a country where “witnesses live under control.” Barahira’s lawyer, Meilhac, also supported Mathe.
But the CPCR lawyer, Michel Laval told court that the CPCR members and founders, the Gauthier family, who are presented by the defence as having considerable financial resources were only in court to give a voice to the victims of the Genocide.
“The defence wants to suspend the trial and demand the release of the accused! She wants to inoculate into you (the jury) the poison of doubt.”
Ibuka, the umbrella of Genocide survivors associations, wants the trial to be expedited because, it says, there is ample and undisputable evidence against both suspects.
The mayors of the former Kabarondo Commune (now Kayonza District) between 1977 and 1994 are accused of, among others, participating in the killings of Tutsi refugees at Kabarondo Catholic Church in April 1994.
Both fled Rwanda in 1994.
Day two of trial
The whole morning was dedicated to the personality of Barahira who was asked by the presiding judge to speak freely about his past.
“What is most extraordinary in his testimony is that at no time does he speak of the genocide. He speaks only of his flight to Burundi and Tanzania,” Gauthier told The New Times. “Nothing about the massacres in Kabarondo, at the church, nothing! Total denial. Same goes for the Interahamwe (militia). He never saw them.”
When CPCR lawyer Gilles Paruelle questioned him about the Genocide, Barahira’s response was: “Concerning those who died, those were called massacres. I cannot deny that this is genocide. But personally, I did not even know the word genocide.”
The General Counsel also had some questions.
Excerpts of the court session on Wednesday morning were published by the CPCR and The New Times runs a translated summary as follows:
General Counsel: You know the Kangura newspaper? You read it?
Barahira: I knew it but never read it.
General Counsel: And the RTLM radio?
Barahira: I know it but never heard [listened to] it. I could not capture it. I know that RTLM was commenting on the progress of the war in the country.
General Counsel: Who appointed you mayor?
Barahira: President Habyarimana, on the proposal of the Minister of Interior.
General Counsel: And Rwagafirita? (Strongman in eastern region and commander of the gendarmerie in Kibungo).
Barahira: He intervened in my search for work!
General Counsel: You kept some influence after your resignation. The Interahamwe?
Barahira: I have not had any contact with the Interahamwe. There weren’t any in Kabarondo!
There was no hearing on Wednesday afternoon, as Barahira was being given medical care. The accused says he often feels dizzy in addition to suffering from ulcers. At the end of Barahira’s cross examination, next will be Ngenzi.