Prosecutors at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda have concluded their case against four high ranking members of the former Rwandan military and alleged masterminds of the 1994 genocide.

The prosecutor at the Tribunal, in Arusha Tanzania , brought 81 witnesses against Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, Brigadier Gratien Kabiligi, Colonel Anatole Nsengiyumva and Major Aloys Ntabakuze. Witnesses included former UN Commander Romeo Dallaire, Belgian soldiers and human rights campaigners who chronicled the Rwandan genocide.

“The evidence is absolutely strong and overwhelming… I am absolutely confident that we will secure a conviction against the four of them at the end of the trial,” says Prosecutor Bubacar Jallow.

However, those defending the accused, say the case is not over yet. “Far from it, our view as the defense is that the prosecutor came up with charges without having any evidence… a good percentage of the testimony that we have has nothing to do with what was initially alleged, our view is that the prosecutor has not proved to the required standards what they set out to prove”

The military trial is considered one of the most important cases at the ICTR. The defense will begin to present their arguments against the case in January, and it is expected that the facts in the case will be hotly contested. But already there are problems. Shortly after the end of the prosecution case, the court dismissed the lead lawyer for Brigadier Kabiligi, Jean Yaovi Degli on charges of swindling.

“Mr. Degli…engaged himself in conduct that was fraudulent and deceitful … contrary to the professional code of conduct under which he is guided when he is working here,” Lovemore Green Munlo, the deputy registrar at the ICTR reported.

Mr. Degli allegedly hired Sylvia Olympio as an assisting lawyer on falsified legal qualification. He then received three hundred and eighty thousand US dollars as her salary but allegedly paid Olympio only eighty thousand dollars and put the rest into his wife’s bank account. The court is currently looking for a way to recover the money and considering filing a civil or criminal suit against Degli.

These are not the first accusations of financial fraud to be made at the ICTR against defense counsel. Several of lawyers have been cited in previous investigations and even fired but Jean Yaovi Degli he is the first lawyer to be dismissed while his clients case in on trial.

Fellow lawyers say the court say Degli should have been given a hearing before the court took its decision.

“The decision which was rendered by the registrar did not afford our colleague his full right to be heard. He should be afforded the same right to the presumption of innocence like everyone else,” Nicole Bergevin, the vice president of the Defense Lawyers Association (ADAD) noted.

Jean Yaovi Degli has asked the ICTR for an independent judicial enquiry, to try to clear his name. But even as the court considers what to do with the case, Degli’s controversial dismissal leaves his former client Brigadier Gratien Kabiligi without his main lawyer. So what happens when the defense case opens in January 2005?

Melanie Werrett, the Chief of Prosecution doesn’t think there is any problem at all. “ He did have a co-counsel for most of the trial…That co-counsel has dealt with the trial throughout most of the period, and hopefully knows the case, so if you ask my personal opinion I don’t see a problem with him continuing with assistance because now it’s only just the defense case.

Nicole Bergevin points out that the situation is more complicated. “The accused is the first victim of all this, he is the principal victim because he now has just lost his lawyer who was on the case for seven years and he is to start his defense of the 12th of January, so our position on this is that we sincerely hope that the chamber will give him sufficient delay to prepare adequately his defense because now he is in a very serious position.”

Degli was the lead counsel for Brigadier Gratien Kabiligi, the former head of military operations of the former Rwandan army (ex-FAR). Kabiligi has pleaded not guilty.


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