The trial of Genocide suspect Ladislas Ntaganzwa took another twist Monday when he told court that he was rejecting his defence counsel Laurent Bugabo, who was assigned to him by Rwanda Bar Association.
Appearing before judges at the Specialised Chamber for International Crimes at High Court, Ntaganzwa alleged that his lawyer does not create enough time for him in preparation of his defence, claiming that “he is always busy.”
Ntaganzwa, a former bourgmestre (mayor) of Nyakizu Commune, now in Nyaruguru District, was one of the nine so-called “Big Fish” indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) but had not yet been arrested by the time the UN court closed shop.
His file was subsequently transferred to Rwandan prosecution.
He was arrested from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2015 and extradited to Rwanda the following year.
He is mainly accused of personally commanding a mob that included Burundian refugees in which over 20,000 Tutsi in his former commune were slaughtered.
Before the hearing in substance could proceed with the defence’s first submissions, Judge Antoine Muhima ordered the defendant to elucidate his letter to the court about some misunderstandings between him and his lawyer, Laurent Bugabo.
Ntaganzwa stated that, during the last ten court sessions, Bugabo did not want to sit with him and discuss before appearing in court.
Bugabo dismissed the claims by his client and said he prepared submissions for his client and they were working closely together until December last year when Ntaganzwa suddenly refused to meet with him at the prison.
He said that Ntaganzwa has even insisted on having the ICTR ruling on his referral translated into a language he understands though it is in French which he easily reads and writes.
“He was claiming it was only in English.”
As the arguments went on between the attorney and his client, the Judge Muhima requested the defence team to reach an agreement, but Ntaganzwa insisted that he no longer wants Bugabo as his lawyer because he can’t trust him at this stage of the trial.
Prosecution, represented by Faustin Nkusi and Claudine Dushiminana, said that the defendant has no right to reject his lawyer because he is not the one who chose him, adding that he is most likely to reject another one that will be provided too.
Nkusi added that the only way to solve the stalemate is for the accused and his lawyer to sit and solve their differences, saying that it is in the interest of all parties for the case to be heard to its conclusion without wasting more time.
The court decided to adjourn the hearings to February 7, giving the defence a two-week period to sit together and seek a solution themselves, and ordered them to be back in court with a detailed list of defence witnesses.