ARUSHA 20 May 2002 (Internews) Alison Des Forges, a Rwandan historian and Human Rights Watch advisor for Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), today began her testimony as an expert before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
Des Forges is author of a Human Rights Watch Publication ‘Leave None to Tell the Story’, which details the causes and extent of the Rwandan genocide. The prosecution has called her as the third expert to support their charges in the so-called “Media Trial” against Ferdinand Nahimana, Hassan Ngeze and Jean Bosco Barayagwiza. All three have denied charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Nahimana and Barayagwiza are founder members of the Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) and Ngeze is former editor and owner of ‘Kangura’ newspaper. According to the prosecution, the three used their respective media to incite ethnic Hutu to kill ethnic Tutsi.
Des Forges holds a doctorate degree from Yale University. The subject of her doctoral thesis was the rule of King Musinga in Rwanda in the early 20th century. She was also nominated MacArthur Fellow in 1999, an award popularly referred to as the ‘Genius Award.’
Diana Ellis of the United Kingdom, co-counsel for Nahimana, challenged Des Forges’ expertise and authority to comment on matters regarding military operations during the genocide as well as the Rwandan media. These are some of the topics covered in Des Forges’ expert report to the court.
Alfred Pognon of Benin, co-counsel for Barayagwiza, claimed that Des Forges’ writing and work showed a bias for ethnic Tutsi, arguing that she cannot be an impartial witness. John Floyd of the United States, counsel for Ngeze, told the court that while he has no objection to Des Forges’ expertise, he is concerned with the fact that she can only testify on her own opinions which are bound to differ with those of other historians.
In her oral motion, Ellis argued that while Des Forges’ is an acknowledged authority in African history and human rights, she has not demonstrated any particular knowledge in military affairs or in communication to warrant her being called as an expert on these issues. Ellis asked that Des Forges’ be restricted from commenting on these two issues.
Ellis’ motion was denied and the court ruled that Des Forges’ testimony would be heard in full.
The trial is held before Trial Chamber I of the ICTR, comprising Judges Navanethem Pillay of South Africa (presiding), Erik Mose of Norway and Asoka De Zoysa Gunawardana of Sri Lanka.