Rwanda Tribunal On Path to Closure

Arusha — For several months now, drivers in the little Tanzanian town of Arusha seem to have forgotten the morning sirens of UN prison vans bringing genocide suspects to the courtrooms of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). The Tribunal's car park looks increasingly empty, and its corridors are no longer full of jostling lawyers. As ICTR President Vagn Joensen told the UN Security Council in October, "we are rapidly approaching the conclusion of our mandate". Having tied up all trials before the lower courts and most of its appeals, the ICTR now has two years left to complete its remaining appeals and close its doors.

No-one is above the law

On November 8, 1994, the UN Security Council decided in Resolution 955 to set up the ICTR "for the prosecution of persons responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of Rwanda between 1 January 1994 and 31 December 1994". It may also deal with the prosecution of "Rwandan citizens responsible for genocide and other such violations of international law committed in the territory of neighbouring States during the same period". Since this historic text was adopted, the ICTR has officially indicted 92 persons, of whom 83 have been arrested thanks to the tracking teams of its four successive Prosecutors.

Those arrested include 15 members of the interim government that was in place during the 1994 genocide. The interim government had a total 19 members, all from the Hutu ethnic group. Army generals, churchmen, university professors and businessmen have also been arrested, as well as media personalities such as Italo-Belgian Georges Ruggiu, the only non-Rwandan indicted by the Tribunal. For ICTR spokesman Roland Amoussouga, bringing to justice "such high level suspects underlines the principle that no-one is above the law". Since the start of the first trial on January 9, 1997, the lower courts of the ICTR have handed down 55 judgments involving 75 individuals. Appeals procedures have been completed for 44 of them. Nine accused persons pleaded guilty, bringing them significant sentence reductions, with the exception of Prime Minister Jean Kambanda who was sentence to life imprisonment despite a guilty plea. Kambanda, who headed the interim government, is serving his sentence in Mali, along with some other ICTR convicts. Others are imprisoned in Benin.

Seven appeals for 17 people

After completing its first-instance trials at the end of 2012, the ICTR will concentrate in 2013 and 2014 on completing outstanding appeals, that is, seven cases involving 17 personalities. The most advanced case is that of former Trade Minister Justin Mugenzi and former Civil Service Minister Prosper Mugiraneza, both of whom were sentenced to 30 years in jail by the lower court. The appeals decision in their case is expected on February 4. In the other cases, appeals hearings have yet to be scheduled. Procedures have been slowed down by problems with translation of documents, notably from English into French which is the working language of the individuals concerned.

Despite these difficulties and the added problem of experienced staff leaving, Judge Joensen has said he remains confident that all outstanding appeals will be completed by the end of 2014, in line with a UN deadline. According to Joensen, seven people can expect their appeals judgments in 2013 and ten next year. The most high profile and most complex appeals case pending involves former Minister of Family Affairs Pauline Nyiramasuhuko and five others including her son Arsène Shalom Ntahobali. She is the only woman to have been indicted by the ICTR. The lower court found her guilty of conspiracy to commit genocide and rape, among other things. Then comes the appeals case of four former army and gendarmerie bosses, including Generals Augustin Bizimungu and Augustin Ndindiliyimana. The last joint case involves Matthieu Ngirumpatse and Edouard Karemera, respectively former president and vice-president of the ex-ruling party MRND. The three other cases involve a former minister, army captain and mayor.

Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals

As for former Planning Minister Augustin Ngirabatware, sentenced to 35 years in jail on December 20, 2012, his appeal will be handled by another institution, the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT). The MICT was created by a UN Security Council Resolution of December 2010 to take over the residual tasks of the ICTR and the International Criminal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The Arusha branch of the MICT (for the ICTR) started work on July 1, 2012. Its Hague branch (for the ICTY) is due to start work on July 1 this year. According to Resolution 1966 of December 22, 2010, the Mechanism is mandated to handle appeals filed after June 2012. It is also charged with tracking and judging three of the nine ICTR fugitives still on the run; conserving and managing the archives; supervising the implementation of sentences; and continuing the protection of witnesses and victims.

Of all these tasks, the most difficult will be to hunt down the top three most wanted fugitives: rich businessman Félicien Kabuga, the alleged financier of the genocide; former Defence Minister Augustin Bizimana; and former head of the presidential guard Protais Mpiranya. ICTR and MICT Prosecutor Hassan Bubacar Jallow said in a speech on July 1, 2012: "In creating the MICT, the Security Council once more called upon all Member States to cooperate in the arrest of the three accused. I would like to reiterate that call and underline the fact that the efforts of international criminal justice will not be completely successful until these leaders of the genocide are arrested and called to account for their deeds."

In his first report to the Security Council on December 5, MICT President Theodor Meron also stressed that "the arrest and trial of these three fugitives is a top priority for the Mechanism". The files of the six other ICTR fugitives have been transferred to Rwanda .

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