Friday, June 03, 2005

Des Forges Testimony

For the last 10 days a Human Rights Watch expert on Rwanda, Allison Des Forges, has been testifying in the Government II trial. I've been sitting in court every day watching the examination in chief, as well as the cross-examination. It's been fascinating to hear her insights during direct-exam of the apathy of the west in the Rwandan Genocide. The cross was also very interesting to watch as one of the lawyers has been leading the defence team for the last few days - Ben Gumpert. He is a well respected barrister from the UK. I actually had lunch with him the other day and he is as sharp in person as he is in court. Here is a little story from a news agency regarding the testimony.

Arusha, June 1st 2005 - The defence teams in the trial of four former Cabinet ministers were on Wednesday barred from questioning an expert witness on the assassination of former Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana.

The judges in the case held that American historian Alison Des Forges could not answer the question as to who was responsible for the shooting down of the plane carrying Habyarimana on April 6th 1994 in Kigali.

“The question is not relevant to the case,” said the presiding Judge Khalida Rachid Khan (Pakistan).

The chamber further stated that the downing of the plane is not an issue before the court and Des Forges did not mention those responsible in her book “Leave None to Tell the Story”, nor in her report prepared for the case.

Lawyer Ben Gumpert (United Kingdom) for one of the accused, Justin Mugenzi, former minister of Commerce, had asked Des Forges, whom he was cross-examining, if she knew who brought down the plane.

All the four defence teams had vigorously supported Gumpert’s position that the issue was relevant to the case and Des Forges could talk about it as an historian.

Gumpert got into trouble with one of the judges, Emile Francis Short (Ghana) when he stated that it was nonsense for the judge to suggest that the issue of the downing of the plane was irrelevant to the case.

“I think you should also be mindful of the words you use. I hope you will choose your words carefully in future,” Judge Short told Gumpert. After a while, Gumpert apologised and Judge Short accepted his apology.

Mugenzi is jointly accused in the trial known as Government II with former Minister of Health, Casimir Bizimungu, and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jerome Bicamumpaka, and former Minister of Public Service, Prosper Mugiraneza.

They have all denied six charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

The trial, which opened on November 3rd 2003 continues on Thursday with the cross-examination of Des Forges.



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