Following detainee Mr. Jean-Paul Akayesu's repeated refusal to choose his defence counsel within the Tribunal's guidelines, the ICTR Registry on 9 February 1999 assigned a new defence counsel to him in the interest of justice and at the instruction of the ICTR Appeals Chamber.
Mr. Giacomo Calderera, a French-speaking Italian lawyer, is the sixth counsel the Tribunal has assigned to Akayesu since he was detained by the ICTR, including the assignment of a temporary duty counsel. In that process, Mr. Akayesu has dismissed each lawyer assigned to him for various reasons. As a result of his penchant for changing lawyers assigned to him at his request, the Tribunal has spent more than $500,000 on payments for the costs of Akayesu's legal representation.
Some reports have sought to create the false impression that the ICTR assigns to indigent accused persons, against their wish, lawyers who do not speak the same language as they do, and that this is why Mr. Akayesu is insisting on having Mr. John Philpot, a Canadian lawyer who does not meet the Tribunal's criteria, assigned to him. The fact is that in every case, the Tribunal assigns to detainees lawyers who speak the same language, except when a detainee, for his or her own reasons specifically requests a lawyer who speaks a different language. In such a case, the Tribunal would assign a professional interpreter to facilitate communication between lawyer and client. Most detainees at the ICTR are French-speaking. There are, however, a number of detainees who have opted for English-speaking lawyers.
For the past five months Akayesu has refused to accept a lawyer from any number of other French-speaking countries, African or European, who are either already in the list maintained by the Registry for this purpose or could be added to the list to facilitate his choice.
Akayesu was arrested in Zambia, an English speaking country, where he had been living. Mr. Daniel Lisulo was his lawyer in Zambia. He spoke no French and they communicated without any difficulty.
After his transfer to Arusha, Mr. Johann Scheers from Belgium (French-speaking) was assigned to him, but Mr. Akayesu later on requested the replacement of Mr. Scheers by Mr. Michael Karnavas, an American Lawyer from the Alaska Bar who speaks no French. This request was granted by the Trial Chamber. Later on, he again requested the replacement of Mr. Karnavas, not for linguistic/communication problems, but for alleged "loss of confidence". This request was also granted. Looking for a replacement for Mr. Karnavas, Mr. Akayesu suggested the name of Mr. Lisulo from Zambia (English-speaking) who was unfortunately not available. The lawyers assigned to him later on (Tiangaye & Monthé) were both French-speaking. His dismissal of them after his trial is what has precipitated the current situation.
Thus it is obvious that there is nothing at all in the suggestion that Akayesu is having communication problems with his lawyers. He himself requests English-speaking lawyers when he wants.
With the services of his defence team withdrawn at the close of his trial, the 30-day deadline for the filing of his appeal running out, and the assignment of a full-time duty counsel still unresolved because of Akayesu's agitations in defiance of the guidelines, it became necessary to assign to him a temporary "duty counsel" from a list of locally retained lawyers maintained for that purpose. Thus it was that Mr. Wilfred Mirambo was assigned to advise Akayesu of his rights in the context of his appeal.
The duty counsel, in the practice of the Tribunal, is not an accused person's substantive defence counsel. A duty counsel is a "stand-in"engaged to advice detainees (e.g. for their initial appearance to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty) on all aspects of their legal rights pending the assignment of full-time counsel. This innovation was introduced by the ICTR to ensure that all the human rights of such detainees are scrupulously respected at every stage of their arrest and detention, trial and appeal. Because Tanzania is an English-speaking country, these temporary duty counsel usually speak English. In every case, however, an interpreter is assigned as required by human rights norms.
The foregoing makes it clear that the real issue in Akayesu's defence-counsel saga remains that of his insistence on having a particular counsel assigned to him at the Tribunal's expense contrary to established Tribunal guidelines and the law and practice everywhere. By continuing to refuse to follow established guidelines on this matter, with the active collaboration of some would-be defence counsel, the aim appears to be to discredit the Tribunal and force it to give up its rules and yield to their demands, or else paralyze the judicial proceedings indefinitely.