Rwanda genocide appeal seeks to discredit ‘torture’ testimony

The defence team in an appeal case against the conviction of a Rwandan pastor on genocide charges has reiterated to a Helsinki court their belief that witness statements were obtained through torture.

Speaking at the opening of the appeal hearing in Helsinki last week, Francois Bazaramba’s lawyer, Ville Hoikkala, claimed again that his client was not present at the scene of the 1994 killings and that torture has played a decisive role in the validity of the witness statements made against him.

Bazaramba was found guilty of inciting and leading killings in the Rwandan genocide, with witnesses claiming that he personally shot several people in the gruesome events. Hoikkala, however, claims that many testimonies were beaten out of prisoners in Rwandan prisons. “When they have given statements to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) they have been released,” he told the court, according to Helsingin Sanomat.

Two witness statements were previously thrown out of proceedings by the East Uusimaa District Court after evidence revealed the prisoners had been beaten in their cells. Prosecutor Raija Toiviainen, however, disapproved of this, claiming: “The witnesses have expressed that they were testifying of their own free will.”

The trial is set to move to Rwanda and then possibly Zambia or Tanzania next month, depending on which of the latter countries responds to the request from the Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs in Finland.