Kigali: The Helsinki Court of Appeal on Monday began hearing the testimony in a genocide trial in Rwanda. Over the next five weeks, the court will hear from 39 Rwandan witnesses in the case.
Last year, a Finnish court sentenced Francois Bazaramba, a Rwandan national resident in Finland, to life imprisonment for his involvement in genocide against the Tutsi in 1994. He appealed the conviction.
For the next five weeks, the Helsinki Court of Appeal will be in session in the conference facilities of a hotel in the Rwandan capital Kigali. Bazaramba is following the proceedings along with his defense lawyer from the prison where he is being held in Vantaa. The two have declined to travel to Rwanda due to personal safety concerns.
The first day of the video-relayed proceedings went well, according to Bazaramba’s lawyer Ville Hoikkala.
“The defense has been able to have its say and so far the technical arrangements have functioned excellently,” Hoikkala said.
Defendant remains in Finland
Bazaramba is taking part in the proceedings via a video link, along with his legal counselor and an interpreter. He has declined to travel to Rwanda since his arrest in Finland on charges of genocide, but his lawyer did make the trip there with a Finnish district court two years ago. Now, his lawyer also decided to stay in Finland.
“A year ago an American lawyer, Professor Erlinder, was arrested in Rwanda after giving statements about Rwanda’s human rights policy. For years, I have made the same statements to the Finnish media, and I was afraid that I would be arrested,” Hoikkala told YLE.
Two lawyers are defending Bazaramba at the sessions in Rwanda. From the start, the defense has argued that most of the testimony from witness was gained through torture.
“They can be considered torture victims. They have been held for years in horrible conditions without decent food, and so crowded that they have had to sleep in each other’s arms,” says Hoikkala.
The Finnish state prosecutor disagrees. He says that the witnesses have not been tortured.
A verdict in the case is expected from the Helsinki Court of Appeal early next year. (End)
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