26 August 2008 Prosecutors at the United Nations war crimes tribunal set up in the wake of the 1994 Rwandan genocide have opened the trial of a former senior military officer alleged to have been one of the key architects of the mass killings.
Lieutenant-Colonel Ephrem Setako, 55, has pleaded not guilty to six counts of genocide, or alternatively complicity in genocide, crimes against humanity (murder and extermination), and violations of the Geneva Conventions and its Additional Protocols.
During their opening statement yesterday in Arusha, Tanzania, where the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) is based, prosecutors said they would present 25 witnesses to testify that Lt.-Col. Setako was one of the principal planners and executors of the genocide.
An estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed – often by machete or club – during a 100-day period starting in early April 1994.
Ojemeni Okali, one of the prosecutors, told the ICTR that the accused had carried out his role in the genocide despite the fact that he was a highly educated and privileged man in Rwanda who was a lawyer as well as a soldier.
Given his seniority as a former top officer in the Rwandan armed forces and the Director of the Defence Ministry’s Judicial Affairs Division, she said Lt.-Col. Setako was closely associated with other high-ranking military officers, businessmen, militia leaders and politicians in then president Juvénal Habyarimana’s government.
Lt.-Col. Setako, who was arrested in the Netherlands in 2004, stands accused of planning, instigating, ordering and participating in the killing of Tutsi civilians in two prefectures, and of distributing arms to members of the Rwandan armed forces, the presidential guard, the notorious Interahamwe and other groups engaged in the killings.
Defence lawyer Lennox Hinds, who said he did not want to make an opening statement at this stage, cautioned the ICTR to seek the truth about the allegations concerning Lt.-Col. Setako.
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