Defense lawyers for four senior Rwandan soldiers accused of masterminding the 1994 genocide in Rwanda held a press conference in Nairobi Thursday. They argued their clients cannot get a fair trial because the court where they are being prosecuted is controlled by the Rwandan government.
The five lawyers are part of an international team hired to defend former Rwandan army commander, Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, and three of his colleagues against charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.
It has been alleged that these four military men conceived, planned and implemented the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in which some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred.
One of the attorneys, Kennedy Ogeto, said his clients cannot get a fair trial from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, based in the Tanzanian town of Arusha, because it is being controlled by the government of Rwanda, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, or RPF.
"It has never been independent because there has been a lot of pressure from Rwanda, enormous pressure from Rwanda, to do certain things which [do not conform] with the demands of justice," he said. "The main objective of this tribunal is to try and restore reconciliation, restore peace in Rwanda and this cannot be achieved if both parties to the conflict in 1994 are not brought to book. And the tribunal is terribly failing. The prosecutor keeps talking about indicting RPF members who were active participants in the conflict in 1994, but she doesn't keep her promise."
When the Rwandan genocide took place, there was a civil war in the country between the Hutu-dominated government and the Tutsi-dominated RPF rebels.
The defense lawyers argue that the mass killings which took place in 1994 were not an orchestrated genocide but a result of this fighting. They charge that the RPR should also be prosecuted as it was responsible for some 200,000 Hutu deaths during the war.
Another attorney in this case, Otachi Omanwa, said the RPF should also be prosecuted for shooting down the plane of then-Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana in April of 1994. He believes this event sparked off the genocide.
"If you say we are charging top men of the Rwandan army, what about top people in the RPF? The defense belief is that the RPF triggered off the events of 1994 by shooting down the plane," he said. "That is our theory. We have been challenging the prosecutor for a long time to do that. She does not want to do it. And we believe it is because she knows that if she does it she is going to land on the RPF."
The defense lawyers argue that the tribunal is reluctant to prosecute the Rwandan government because it will retaliate by dissuading witnesses of the genocide from testifying in court.
Earlier this month, 10 would-be prosecution witnesses withdrew, accusing defense investigators of genocide crimes and/or having family ties with the accused.