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The BBC's Cathy Jenkins
"The case has raised many questions over whether the International Tribunal is truly independent."
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Tuesday, 22 February, 2000, 17:55 GMT
Warning over Rwandan suspect

Mr Barayagwiza (l) is accused of inciting genocide
Mr Barayagwiza (l) is accused of inciting genocide

The United Nations special prosecutor has warned the international criminal tribunal on the Rwandan genocide that it "might as well close" if it decides to release a key suspect.

During a visit to Rwanda, I saw 5,000 human skulls
Ms Carla del Ponte
Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said there was incontrovertible evidence against Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza over the massacre of some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994.

She is appealing against a decision by the court last November that he should be freed because prosecutors had taken too long to make their case against him.

Ms del Ponte wants justice for genocide victims Ms del Ponte wants justice for genocide victims
She said the court must have the chance to try him.

But lawyers representing Mr Barayagwiza argued that the prosecutor's case should be dismissed because she had failed to present new facts to the five judges.

They charge that their client's time in detention had constituted a violation of his rights.

Ethnic hatred

Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza Barayagwiza sat passively in court
Mr Barayagwiza was the director of a notorious radio station which broadcast messages in 1994 encouraging Hutu militias to kill Tutsis and moderate Hutus, whom the station described as "cockroaches".

The tribunal's decision to free Mr Barayagwiza caused outrage in Rwanda, which temporarily broke off relations with the international court in Arusha, in the north of neighbouring Tanzania.

Ms del Ponte - who had just been appointed chief prosecutor - was for a time denied a visa to enter Rwanda.

Rights of the accused

The tribunal, which has been criticised for being too slow, became acutely embarrassed over the case of Mr Barayagwiza, who was arrested in Cameroon in 1996.

Former Rwandan President Jean Kambamba Ex-prime minister Kambanda: One of six successfully prosecuted by the tribunal
In November, the judges explained that his rights had been grossly violated because of the delay in trying him.

They also barred the tribunal from pursuing him on six other charges of genocide.

But the chief prosecutor, during her plea to the appeals court judges on Tuesday said that allowing Mr Barayagwiza to go free would amount to a serious violation of the rights of the victims of the genocide.

She said it would mean that the judges considered the delay in trying Barayagwiza to be more serious than genocide and crimes against humanity.

"Do you believe that three months' delay in the transfer of Barayagwiza, who risks a life sentence, is more serious than the hundreds of thousands of victims?" she asked.

Both the prosecution and the defence have presented this case as a test of the UN court's integrity and credibility.

It is expected to take some days before the judges reach a decision on the case.

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See also:
16 Feb 00 |  Africa
Rwanda tribunal's shaky progress
06 Nov 99 |  Africa
Rwandan fury as genocide suspect freed
11 Nov 99 |  Africa
Rwanda snubs tribunal prosecutor
06 Nov 99 |  Monitoring
Prosecutor: The people feel betrayed
12 Nov 99 |  Africa
Prosecutor's Rwanda visit to go ahead
23 Nov 99 |  Africa
Prosecutor wants review of Rwandan's release

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