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Imagine practicing law in an unknown country, participating in history-making cases, and going on the occasional safari. Then balance that excitement with grinding two-year-long trials, a confounding court administration system, and an hourly fee of just $110. Those are the pros and cons experienced by Tom Moran and William Taylor III, a pair of Houston criminal-defense attorneys who’ve left behind comfortable law practices in Texas to represent clients before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). “It really is addictive stuff,” Moran says. “Once you do one of these cases, it’s hard to go back to doing armed robbery and dope cases.” United Nations war tribunals started with the famed Nuremberg trials in 1945, which dealt with Nazi atrocities during World War II. The next two war tribunals created by the United Nations were the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in May 1993, and the ICTR in November 1994. U.N. Security Council Resolution 955 creates the enabling statute that establishes a tribunal and sets its parameters. The United Nations appoints the tribunal judges who must follow international criminal law and the Geneva Conventions, but close and novel legal questions are up to the judges to decide. The ICTY and ICTR have given lawyers from all over the globe the chance to make new international criminal law at every turn. As a result, in the late 1990s, a half-dozen Houston attorneys became interested in trying cases before a war tribunal. They contacted the ICTY and offered to defend clients before the tribunal, which is ongoing in The Hague in the Netherlands. Moran, a lawyer with Schneider & McKinney, was one of them. In 1997 the United Nations appointed him to represent Hazim Delic, the deputy commander of a Bosnian prison camp, before the ICTY. Delic was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison. In 2000, Moran handled Delic’s appeal, one of the first appeals of an ICTY sentence. Moran was able to get Delic’s sentence reduced to 18 years, he says. After practicing in The Hague, Moran decided three years ago to apply to the ICTR to be appointed to represent a client before the Rwanda tribunal. He brought Taylor, a solo, along as co-counsel. Both wound up with appointed clients, albeit different defendants. “For whatever reason, [Moran's] client didn’t want another Texas lawyer. So my name was just on the list,” Taylor says. The tribunal subsequently assigned Taylor to represent a former Rwanda army officer � a convenient fit because Taylor is a former military judge advocate general corps officer. INTO AFRICA The United Nations set up the ICTR in 1994 to prosecute individuals responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Rwanda between Jan. 1, 1994, and Dec. 31, 1994, when an estimated 800,000 people were killed in an ethnic conflict between the majority Hutu and minority Tutzi tribes. Most of the dead were Tutzis. The United Nations decided in 1995 to hold the trials of those responsible for the genocide in Arusha, Tanzania, a country that neighbors Rwanda in Central Eastern Africa. The ICTR tries only high-level government officials, political leaders, and military officials according to a tribunal prosecutor. The United Nations provided a $250 million budget to run the tribunal, which began holding trials in 1997. The cases are heard by a panel of three judges who hail from all over the world. There are no juries. Sentences can range from one year to life imprisonment. The death penalty is not an option as most U.N. member countries do not sanction such a punishment. So far, 23 defendants have been tried or have cases on appeal; and of those 23, 20 have been convicted and three have been acquitted. Fifteen defendants await trial, five defendants have been released from custody, nine defendants are at large, one died before trial, and 28 defendants are on trial. The ICTR officials hope to finish the trials by 2008. “And we’re in trial,” says Moran, who is appointed counsel for defendant Prosper Muriganeza, a former minister of civil service for Rwanda who’s accused of genocide. “God, are we in trial.” Muriganeza is being tried simultaneously with three other defendants. His trial started in November 2003 and will enter the 204th day of trial next month, when the defense resumes putting on testimony. Muriganeza denies the allegations. Taylor is appointed counsel for Tharcisse Muvunyi, a former lieutenant colonel in the Rwandan army, who is also accused of genocide. Muvunyi’s trial started in December 2003 but is close to finishing according to Taylor, who returned to Tanzania last month to resume the trial. Muvunyi denies the allegations. Part of the reason Muvunyi’s trial is close to finishing in the well-used Arusha government building, located about 30 miles from Mount Kilimanjaro, is because Muvunyi is being tried alone, Taylor says. “The biggest mistake the prosecutors made was joining these defendants for trial. You would think that it would be quicker but it hasn’t proven to be so.” Multiple-defendant trials mean that every prosecution witness is cross-examined by multiple defense attorneys in three different languages. And that makes for slow going, Taylor says. “The big problem is they simultaneously translate [testimony] in three languages usually. The witnesses typically testify in Kinyarwanda, the native language of Rwanda. And the official language[s] of the court [are] English and French,” he says. “And that creates lag time between your question and your answer.” Another reason for the length of the trials is that each defendant’s case always has to be put in historical context. Usually, the trials document the defendant’s day-to-day whereabouts and actions during the 1994 genocide and relate the killings back to the origins of the Hutu-Tutzi conflict in 1959, according to three lawyers who’ve practiced before the tribunal. “And a good number of these cases have been going on at least five years and aren’t close to being finished,” Taylor says. DEFENSE THEORIES Moran and Taylor have mounted similar defense theories for their clients that would be common in any criminal court in the United States � other people were responsible for the genocide, not their guys. Moran says his client, Muriganeza, the former Rwandan civil service minister, is accused of traveling to various towns in Rwanda and encouraging Hutus to commit genocide. “And I’m bringing in witnesses to say, �No, he wasn’t there.’ And witnesses are a problem,” Moran says. “I have people I’d love to have come in, and they won’t come. I can’t force them. In theory there is subpoena power, but in fact if somebody said, �I’m not going to come,’ they’re not going to come. A lot of these people are scared to death.” Testifying for the defense can make enemies for witnesses who return home to Rwanda. Sometimes, testifying at the trials can cost the witnesses their lives, he says. Taylor maintains that his client, Muvunyi, the former Rwandan army lieutenant colonel, wasn’t responsible for the actions of his men. “He’s actually accused of having members of his unit engage in genocidal acts. I don’t think that there’s any instance where he . . . led them into genocidal acts,” Taylor says. “He wasn’t in command. He was second in command.” Stephen Rapp, the chief of prosecutions for the ICTR who is a former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, alleges that Moran’s and Taylor’s clients participated in genocide. But their defense theories have merit, Rapp concedes. “In most of these government [Cabinet minister] cases we have evidence that the accused had a responsibility of going to their home area and getting everyone on board,” Rapp says of Moran’s client. “Prosper [Muriganeza] comes to town. And he says, �You must work for your country.’ And by that night 200,000 people were dead. The government came to town and made it happen.” Rapp says prosecutors have witnesses who’ve testified that Muriganeza did encourage genocide. But, Rapp says, “Prosper’s case is not as strong as others in terms of his involvement at the grass roots” of verbally encouraging genocide. The defense theory for Muvunyi is interesting, Rapp says. Taylor’s argument is that Muvunyi “was a more moderate fellow and people below him could have killed him in a minute. And they [the subordinates] were really in charge and he’s not responsible for them. He’s partially right in that,” Rapp says of Taylor. But Muvunyi nonetheless helped it all happen, Rapp alleges. While earning $110 an hour before the ICTR is pocket change for an experienced American lawyer in private practice, that’s a high fee for lawyers in other parts of the world, says Rick Wilson, director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic at American University’s Washington College of Law. “The African lawyers are dying to get into these cases,” says Wilson. “For the American lawyers, counting lost time and travel, they’re barely breaking even.”
John Council is a reporter for Texas Lawyer , the ALM publication in which a version of this article first appeared.

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