ARUSHA: (Internews) Richard Karegyesa of Uganda, prosecution attorney in the so-called “Cyangugu Trial” before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), today challenged the credibility of a former minister testifying for the defense, claiming that political prisoners were tortured and detained for years without trial when the witness was minister of justice in Rwanda.
The witness, Charles Nkurunziza, is testifying in the defense of Andre Ntagerura, who was a minister of transport and communication during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Nkurunziza was justice minister between 1977 and 1984. He served as secretary-general to the cabinet during the genocide.
Ntagerura is jointly tried with Emmanuel Bagambiki, former Cyangugu governor, and Samuel Imanishimwe, former commander of the Karambo military camp in Cyangugu. All three defendants come from Cyangugu Province, southwestern Rwanda. They have denied charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. They allegedly committed the crimes between April and June 1994 in Rwanda.
Under cross-examination, Karegyesa asked Nkurunziza: “Are you aware that during your tenure as minister of justice, several political prisoners were detained in Ruhengeri province without trial and subjected to torture?”
The witness responded that he was not aware of the prisoners, but later admitted that there were such prisoners in Ruhengeri.
“Isn’t it true that, due to international pressure from human rights organizations, President [Juvenal] Habyarimana officially ordered an investigation into the problem of torture and detention without trial as soon as you left office? In May 1984 didn’t the minister who replaced you put in place punitive measures against security officers who were torturing the detainees?” Karegyesa asked. “Absolutely yes,” Nkurunzira answered, adding that the move does not prove that he was responsible.
Nkurunziza testified that he did not witness massacres in Rwanda between April and July 1994, but claimed that there were mass killings by Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) soldiers that led to “revenge by the government.”
“Are you telling this court that the Rwandan government which you were serving committed genocide out of revenge in 1994 and you never saw any massacres even at all the roadblocks set up allover the country in 1994?” Karegyesa insisted.
Nkurunziza replied that the roadblocks were set up to bring calm and security because the justice system in the country was not functioning properly.
Led by Rety Hamuli of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), co-counsel for Ntagerura, Nkurunziza told the court yesterday that Ntagerura was a man of integrity and did not commit the crimes that he is accused of.
Nkurunziza alleged that Ntagerura did not go to Cyangugu Province between 16 April and 31 July 1994 because he often traveled outside the country on government missions. He added that during a cabinet meeting in Murambi commune, Gitarama Province, on 16 April, all ministers were asked to visit their native provinces to assess the security situation there.
However, Nkurunziza said that the cabinet appointed another minister to visit Cyangugu because Ntagerura was to go on a mission outside Rwanda immediately. “Are you aware that Ntagerura only went for the mission on 27 April 1994, and that that other Minister you are talking about visited Cyangugu on 2 May 1994?” Karegyesa challenged.
According to the prosecution, Ntagerura had strong community and political ties in Cyangugu and frequently traveled to Karengera, Gatare and other communes. He allegedly held meetings with other members of the Movement of the Republic for National Democracy (MRND), as well as with councilors and mayors in the province, to plan the genocide.
Nkurunziza admitted that Ntagerura and other government officials visited Cyangugu and made speeches there. “I did not attend the meeting, I just heard of them,” he stated.
The prosecution alleges that from 1 January to 31 July 1994, Ntagerura was often in the company of Yusuf Munyakazi, ‘Interahamwe’ leader in Cyangugu Province. The Interahamwe was the militia wing of the Movement for Republic of National Democracy (MRND), the political party that led a coalition party during the genocide.
Nkurunziza is on the list of top genocide suspects wanted by the Rwandan government.
Upon completion of Nkurunziza’s testimony, the trial was adjourned until 1 July to give Ntagerura’s defense team time to prepare the next witnesses. The defense team indicated that they would call nine more witnesses, four of them experts, when the trial resumes.
The trial is held before Trial Chamber III of the ICTR, comprising Judges Lloyd George Williams of St. Kitts and Nevis (presiding), Yakov Ostrovsky of Russia and Pavel Dolenc of Slovenia.