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Zaduk defends in Rwandan genocide case

|Written By Jeffrey H. Waugh

He’s a Toronto lawyer, but Peter Zaduk was front and centre in a Tanzanian courtroom last week as his Rwandan client learned his fate - a 20-year sentence for crimes against humanity.

‘The verdict is gratifying to some extent because we won on the bulk of the indictment,’ says Peter Zaduk.

Zaduk, 56, was part of the Canadian team defending Protais Zigiranyirazo at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania. Zigiranyirazo has already served eight-and-a-half years of his sentence in pretrial custody, but still faces nearly 12 more years after credit for time served.

Zigiranyirazo, a well-connected Hutu businessman and politician, was the brother-in-law of the late Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana, assassinated in 1994. Zaduk’s client faced charges including conspiracy to commit genocide, genocide, or alternatively complicity in genocide, extermination as a crime against humanity, and murder as a crime against humanity.

Zigiranyirazo was acquitted of all but two of the charges, but convicted of genocide and extermination.

“The verdict is gratifying to some extent because we won on the bulk of the indictment,” Zaduk tells Law Times in an interview.

“In particular, the client was acquitted on six of the eight major allegations. The acquittals included two broad conspiracy allegations which were the centre pieces of the indictment and really the heart of the prosecution’s theory of the origin of the genocide.”

He notes, that “we therefore won on the two major conspiracy allegations as well as sundry individual murders and crimes against humanity. This is small solace to a client who is 70 years old and facing 12 more years in prison.”

For the prominent member of Ontario’s criminal bar - who successfully defended O’Neil Grant in the notorious Just Desserts trial - it was Zaduk’s first exposure to a case of this magnitude. He spent months at a time in Arusha working on the case that stretched over more than four years and 100 trial days.

What was it like to be there for so many months over the past several years? “It was rewarding the first month or so but after that became routine, much like doing a long case out of town in Ontario and living out of a suitcase,” says Zaduk.

“There was so much work to do that I had limited opportunity to see much of the country, but I did get away a number of times to see the countryside, the awesome wildlife reserves like Ngorongoro and Tangire and the island of Zanzibar which still feels like a setting for the Arabian Nights.”

Zaduk says that overall “there was a real feeling of isolation, but also a solidarity with so many fine defence lawyers from all over the world working on the other cases. A friend, quite perceptively, called the ICTR the Foreign Legion for lawyers.”

Zaduk first got involved in the high-profile international case through his colleague and lead counsel for the accused, John Philpot, in Montreal. Zaduk says many Rwandans feel a certain comfort level with the team, given their French language training and skills, making them a natural fit to take on the case.

Zigiranyirazo also has a Canadian connection, having lived in Montreal for a short period while studying at the Université du Québec à Montréal. He was forced to leave the country in 1993, following his conviction for uttering death threats against two Tutsi refugees in the city.

   Zaduk tells Law Times the defencse team did a great deal of damage to the prosecution’s case and was expecting to win on a majority of the counts, but that even one guilty charge would be comparable to a life sentence for his client. Even with time served, the judgment will mean imprisonment for Zigiranyirazo until his early 80’s.

Witnesses in the trial were largely produced by the Rwandan government, says Zaduk, who suggests there may have been some political pressure involved in their decisions to testify. Zaduk goes on to imply evidence of political interference in the case, citing examples of unscrupulous witnesses being produced by the prosecution.

He refers to one massacre that led to the main conviction of genocide against his client, in a place called Kesho Hill, where the bloodshed of 1,500 Tutsis left only about 10 survivors.

“[The prosecution] produced five of them as witnesses,” says Zaduk. “And as it turns out, all of them come from the same little village. Four of the five are relatives. All of them are close friends.”

Zaduk questions the possibilities of such a connection.

“Just the mathematical odds of having most of the survivors from the same family is pretty astronomical,” he says. “And to compound that, two of them, before our client was arrested, had given evidence about this incident in the Rwandan courts - they gave lengthy statements - and never mentioned Zigiranyirazo, even though he was the one who supposedly led the charge.”

Zaduk says the original witnesses also neglected to mention any of the other survivors, who eventually came forward to testify long after the event had taken place, finally claiming to have been at the site.

“So it does have the suggestion that witnesses were sort of procured after the client’s arrest in order to build a case against him,” says Zaduk.

But, the three-member tribunal did not agree that collusion played a part in the testimony of the witnesses to the Kesho Hhill incident.

“In the Chamber’s view, their relationships as neighbours or extended family, and their membership of [genocide survivors organization] Ibuka, do not adversely affect their evidence,” they write in their 139-page decision. “Furthermore, the Chamber considers that, had the witnesses colluded, and had their evidence been rehearsed, as suggested by the defencse, there would be far greater uniformity in the testimonies.”

Despite their denial of collusion, they did find some inconsistencies with the evidence of certain witnesses, particularly with the omission of Zigiranyirazo during the original testimony.

Two witnesses claimed to have neglected to mention Zigiranyirazo since they thought he was dead. “In the Chamber’s view, this explanation is unconvincing,” said the panel, “particularly in view of witness A.K.R.’s testimony regarding the prominent role played by the accused in the attack.”

Weighed together though, the evidence was enough for the tribunal to convict Zaduk’s client of the two charges.

In determining his sentence, which consists of two twenty20-year terms and one 15-year term to be served concurrently, the panel gave no weight to the mitigating factors submitted by the defencse.

    Zaduk says it was a “big disappointment to have been convicted of the Kesho Hill massacre in particular. We led a substantial alibi defence supported by about 10 witnesses.”

He added that “we believe that we have a strong appeal,” and he estimates it will take about a year to be heard.

    Meanwhile, Zaduk says he’s “looking forward to getting home, resuming my practice which has become very crowded owing to my long months here, and spending time with my family and my dog Angus who will greet me like Argus greeting Odysseus after 20 years on the road.”

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