Arusha — Most of the prisoners of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) started Monday an unlimited hunger strike to protest against transfers requests of certain cases to Rwanda.
This movement was confirmed by an official source. According to the announcement made by the prisoners and communicated to the press, 40 of the 55 prisoners are on a hunger strike.
On 7 September, the ICTR prosecutor requested that three on the six prisoners awaiting the start of their trials be transferred to Rwandan court in order to meet the deadline for the end of the ICTR mandate in December 2008. No decision has yet been delivered for this motion.
In a letter dated 5 October and signed by 40 on the 55 persons currently held in Arusha, the interested parties asked the president and the judges of this UN tribunal "to confirm the independence of the ICTR" by refusing any transfer to Rwanda.
They instead asked to the chamber presidents "to act in concert to schedule without any further delay the proceedings for the six prisoners still awaiting their trials".
The signatories suggest that if the ICTR would not be able to try them, that its president should "in convenient time ask the Security Council to prolong the mandate of this tribunal consequently or to transfer some non completed trials to courts in countries other than Rwanda".
The prisoners argue that the motions of the prosecutor "only fit the tripartite agreement between the USA, the United Kingdom and the leaders of the RPF in power in Kigali aiming to quickly end the mandate of the ICTR in order to protect the members of that front from criminal prosecution for crimes which they committed in Rwanda during the jurisdictional period of this tribunal".
The prisoners often accuse the ICTR of practicing a "victors' justice".
This allegation was repeated by the President of the Association of Defence Counsels at the ICTR (ADAD), American Professor Peter Erlinder, who held a press conference Monday.
The lawyers of the three prisoners threatened with transfer to Rwanda had requested the support of the ADAD in their opposition to the transfers to Rwanda.
The ADAD held a general assembly over the weekend during which it decided to address the judges as a "friend of the court" during the awaited debate on the transfers.
Among the prisoners who did not sign the letter, for the first time in the history of the ICTR, Colonel Théoneste Bagosora, former cabinet director to the Rwandan Defence Minister. It was not possible to establish what motivated him. Generally, only the prisoners or persons detained who cooperate with the prosecutor abstain from signing letters of complaint; but today were added some defendants whose trial are in progress.
A defence counsel stated Monday afternoon that he was informed by his client that the strikers had only drank water or fruit juice.