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Defense Lawyers in Rwanda Genocide Case Call Strike to Protest Rights Violations - 2004-01-28


Defense lawyers at the U.N. tribunal on Rwanda's genocide have called a strike because they say their rights and the rights of their clients are not being respected.

The courtroom was empty at the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which is based in Tanzania.

Tribunal spokesman Roland Amoussouga says two trials of high-profile former Rwandan officials were not heard because their defense lawyers did not come to court.

Tribunal officials had been meeting with officials from the Defense Lawyers Association since Tuesday to try to avert a strike.

Mr. Amoussouga says the defense lawyers presented a list of six categories of demands, late Tuesday, that they say will restore their rights and the rights of their clients.

"We are confident that we can always resolve issues through dialogue. But it is important for the court to continue working," he said. "It will not be appropriate for the court to get disrupted in that fashion. We hope that we are going to come to a good understanding today so that tomorrow the court can resume."

Mr. Amoussouga would not say what would happen to the trials if the tribunal and lawyers did not reach an agreement by Thursday.

The defense lawyers were not available for comment.

The defense lawyers are reportedly calling for greater access to defendants, the ability to subpoena defense witnesses, the granting of bail for defendants, and the right to know the identity of prosecution witnesses, who are sometimes protected by the U.N. court.

The tribunal was formed following Rwanda's 1994 genocide in which an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutu extremists.

The U.N. court has handed down 18 verdicts since 1997, convicting 17 people on genocide-related charges and acquitting one.

Altogether, more than 50 suspects have been arrested and indicted on various charges.

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