The Oslo City Court (Oslo Tingrett) was prepared this week to launch into a new, lengthy trial involving a massacre. This time it will focus on the hundreds of thousands of persons slaughtered in Rwanda in 1994, because a key defendant fled to Norway and was arrested in Bergen last year.
The 46-year-old defendant is charged with murdering around 2,200 persons during horrific ethnic conflicts in Kubungo, Rwanda, mostly at a local community center, at a local church where victims had sought refuge, and outside a local hospital, where patients were abducted, dragged outside and killed. Many of the murders were carried out using methods described as beastly, with victims being clubbed or hacked to death with machetes.
Even though the trial will take place in the same, expanded courtroom where Norwegian right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik was recently convicted of his own massacre last year, the Rwanda trial is historic in Oslo. It marks the first time a trial for genocide will be carried out in a Norwegian courtroom. The case is considered larger and more comprehensive than one handled by the Norwegian court system against Bosnian-Norwegian Mirsad Repak, who was convicted by Norway’s highest court for abductions and abuse of Serbian prisoners during the war in the Balkans in the early 1990s.
“This is among the most massive trials in history,” Gunnar Ekeløve-Slydal of The Norwegian Helsinki Committee, a human rights organization, told newspaper Aftenposten. As many as 1 million persons were killed and 2 million took part in the murders as Tutsis and Hutus clashed after a plane carrying Rwanda’s president was shot down on April 6, 1994. Ekeløve-Slydal was referring not just to the case that will start in Oslo on Tuesday but to those of all the thousands of others charged in the murders. Many have died in prison in Rwanda while waiting for their trials to come up.
Some legal experts don’t think the Norwegian court system should handle the Rwanda case, and that the defendant instead should be extradited to Rwanda for trial there. He is a legal resident of Norway, though, since arriving in 2002 and settling in Bergen with his wife and children. Norwegian investigators from state police unit Kripos have questioned him repeatedly, and also carried out investigations in Rwanda. Ekeløve-Slydal told Aftenposten that the trial in Oslo is “a signal that Norway is no safe haven for war criminals.”
All told around 180 persons have been questioned in Rwanda and other countries. Norwegian prosecutors claim they have evidence to prove the 46-year-old was physically present while the murders were committed in the spring of 1994.
He denies guilt and is being defended by high-profile Norwegian defense attorney Harald Stabell, who, Aftenposten reported, stresses that the credibility of witnesses and their memories of murders committed 18 years ago will play a central role in the case.
Court administrators told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that they were prepared for another difficult trial involving scores of witnesses both physically present in the courtroom and testifying via video-link from Rwanda or other places where they now live. Interpreters will also be needed and the case is expected to attract many spectators and interested parties.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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