A trial chamber at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has ordered the Office of the Registrar to investigate the circumstances surrounding the escape of a witness. This was revealed yesterday by tribunal spokesman Roland Amoussouga in a telephone interview.
The witness code-named ‘GFA’ to conceal his identity, mysteriously disappeared from a protected safe house maintained by the ICTR witness protection program.
“The trial Chamber has instructed the Office of the Registrar to appoint an Amicus Curiae to investigate the motive behind the escape of the witness,” Amoussouga said. He added that results from the investigations will determine whether or not the witness will be prosecuted for perjury.
‘GFA’ had initially testified for the prosecution in June 2006 under the pseudonym “BTH” then he retracted saying that he had given false testimony so that he could be released from prison.
He was at that time incarcerated for having played a role in the 1994 Genocide. He testified in the joint-trial involving former cabinet ministers, a trial that has been dubbed Government II case.
The suspects in the trial are; Casimir Bizimungu (Health), Prosper Mugiraneza (Civil Service), Justin Mugenzi (Commerce) and Jerome Bicamumpaka (Foreign Affairs). They have all pleaded not guilty.
“Preliminary investigations indicate that the motive behind the escape of this witness was financial…he was requesting money from the Tribunal, a complaint we do not normally hear from other witnesses,” Amoussouga said.
According to reports, this witness left a written note saying that he was running away in protest of the Tribunal’s refusal to submit to his request of giving him 400$ to send to his family.
It was also revealed that GFA escaped by jumping over the perimeter wall since the gates were permanently manned by Tanzanian police. Only ICTR officials and lawyers for the accused are allowed beyond the gates.
Amoussouga was confident that the escape of this particular witness will not jeopardize the flow of other witnesses to the tribunal.
“The Tribunal has heard over 2,000 witnesses ever since it started and this is the first one to behave like that. We don’t think it will affect the flow of others,” he said.
Meanwhile the Rwandan government has said it would not stop sending witnesses to the Tanzania-based court because of this particular incident, said Alloys Mutabingwa, Rwanda’s Special Representative to the ICTR. Majority of the witnesses at the UN-instituted tribunal come from Rwanda.
“This will not discourage us from sending witnesses to the tribunal given the character of this witness who escaped. He retracted his earlier testimony and the trial chamber informed him of the repercussions in case it was found that he lied, so he might have feared the outcome,” Mutabingwa told The New Times by telephone from Arusha. He said that this was one of the most dubious witnesses to appear before the 13-year old tribunal.
“We do not find this a general problem that would let us stop sending witnesses to the tribunal,” said the envoy.
He however added that everything possible should be done to track down the runaway witness so that the truth could be known, especially the authenticity of his testimony.
The witness, after being warned by the Trial Chamber of the possible perjury charges that could be preferred against him in case it was found that he lied under oath, had requested for an adjournment so that he could consult with his lawyers.
It was during lull in the process that he escaped. Amoussouga said that the tribunal was cooperating with the host country to search for the witness.