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Partial strike continues at UN tribunal

A number of striking defence lawyers at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, northern Tanzania, returned to work on Thursday, defying a continued stay away by their colleagues.

"Only some of the defence counsels are striking," Roland Amoussouga, the tribunal's spokesman, told IRIN on Thursday. "The tribunal remains open for discussion about the concerns of the lawyers. At the same time, the judges want the cases to continue."

However, a spokesman for the defence lawyers, Peter Erlinder, said that by striking, they were acting on behalf of 40 detainees who had "lost faith in the tribunal".

"We have been instructed by them not to appear on their behalf," he said. "We can't act against our clients' will. The question is whether the tribunal wants to continue without defendants and their lawyers."

Amoussouga said that the lawyers did not meet with the tribunal president on Wednesday to discuss the standoff, and that neither the defence nor the accused in the case known as "Military I" turned up in court, forcing its proceedings to be adjourned.

However, two other trials continued as two of the four defence teams in the "Government II" case and two of the six defence teams in the "Butare Trial" appeared in court on Thursday.

"The president has invited the defence to come to court tomorrow because the prosecution and the judges are frustrated," Amoussouga said.

The defence lawyers began their three-day strike on Wednesday in support of their clients who, they said, felt that because of changes in the workings of the tribunal they were being denied the right to fair trials.

Erlinder said the problem had emerged from the "experiment" that the tribunal is. "Its flaw is that it doesn't allow for an independent defence," he said. "It is the [ICTR] registry that tells me what I can or cannot read. That's an intolerable situation."

At this stage, Erlinder said, he was not sure if the tribunal's registry had said that it was willing to re-enter negotiations. The lawyers had been in negotiations with the registry for some years, he said, but because of the failure of these negotiations, Erlinder had "lost faith in the registry's good office".

He added, "We are attempting to bring to the attention of the registry and the wide world that without this problem being resolved, we [the defence] can't use our expertise."

Amoussouga said the issues that the lawyers and the detainees had raised with the tribunal were the refusal of permission for defence investigators to be present when the prosecution presents evidence and the rejection and curtailing of some work programmes proposed by defence lawyers.

The defence lawyers also complained about the need to account extensively for their work and excessive security checks on entry into the UN Detention Facility, where their clients are held, he said.

Amoussouga denied that these measures were curtailing the right to fair trials, underscoring that the tribunal provided each accused with a defence team consisting of a counsel, co-counsel, two assistants and one or two investigators.

"We have, however, had discussions in the past with the association of defence counsels on how to cut down the costs of the tribunal - especially after the February 2003 UN Security Council Resolution on reducing the expenditure of the tribunal," he said.

He added that the next meeting was due to take place on 6 February.

"We are trying to cut down on over expenditure but this is being interpreted as interference by the defence," he said. "This is wrong. The registrar needs to focus on how best to use the funds and is not just looking at the defence but all aspects of the tribunal."

Amoussouga added: "These are reasonable measures that have been put in place. And, except for the question of the presence of defence investigators, these are all measures that have been in place for two years."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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