Despite the challenges that came with prosecuting Genocide-related crimes, both locally and internationally, a lesson has been learnt that despite how senior one's position may be, impunity cannot be tolerated.
This was said by Prosecutor General Jean Bosco Mutangana during a symposium in Kigali that brought together several experts in international criminal justice.
At the meeting, discussions centred on exploring the current state of international criminal justice, its links with transnational organised crime, and national and regional efforts to deal with these crimes.
Using former mayor Jean Paul Akayesu and former prime minister Jean Kambanda as examples, Mutangana told the participants that some high profile cases had left many lessons, mainly drawn from taking individual responsibility for crimes.
Both men were tried, convicted and sent to life in prison by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
"The way the crime of genocide has been defined by the international tribunal and domestic courts is all about establishing the individual criminal responsibility. The Akayesu and the Kambanda cases were instrumental in defining genocide and its elements. It has sent a clear message that no impunity for senior government officials and heads of government will be tolerated," he said.
Mutangana also cited the 'media case' that involved Genocide ideologue Ferdinand Nahimana, and virulent journalists Hassan Ngeze and Jean Bosco Barayagwiza and credited it for making a huge distinction between hate speech and freedom of expression.
Lesson from ICTR
The prosecutor-general said that though ICTR's budget was much higher, the court had tried fewer cases compared to the hundreds of thousands that have been tried locally.
However, he said the tribunal's legacy shouldn't be evaluated in terms of numbers but lessons learned.
"Despite the challenges that exist at both international and domestic levels, the main outcome is to deliver justice. The triangular perspective of delivering justice through the ICTR, the national courts and Gacaca courts have been complementary," Mutangana said.
After being in place for over two decades, and with a budget of billions of dollars, the UN-backed ICTR wound up its activities after concluding cases involving 85 individuals known to have been masterminds of the Genocide against the Tutsi.
Of these, at least 14 were acquitted and released on questionable grounds.
The Programme Manager for Kenya's International Commission of Jurists, Stella Ndirangu, said her country was going through some reforms which were being waited on to bring significant change in the day to day operations of institutions.
"We have seen quite a bit of institutional reform. In the Director of Public Prosecutions Office, we have seen some specialised units which are tasked with dealing with the challenges that come when seeking or delivering justice. There is, for instance, a level of acceptance that victims have a role to play in the justice system," she said.
The two-day event is organised by Wayamo Foundation in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice of Rwanda, with the financial support of the German Federal Foreign Office.
Wayamo Foundation is an independent, non-profit organisation established to strengthen the rule of law, promote international criminal justice and foster transparency through informed journalism.
In November 2015, Wayamo Foundation launched the Africa Group for Justice and Accountability, an independent group of senior African experts on international criminal law and human rights, whose main goal is to strengthen justice and accountability measures in Africa.