8 June 2018

Rwanda Says UN Court Can Still Salvage Its Credibility

Photo: The New Times
Rugwabiza delivers her statement at the UN Security Council in New York.

There are two suggestions for the Mechanism for the International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) to consider if it is to salvage its credibility and, by extension, its legacy, according to Rwanda's permanent representative to the United Nations, Amb. Valentine Rugwabiza.

She was addressing the UN Security Council in New York, during an open debate on the status of the mechanism, six years after it was instituted to replace the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

The Mechanism, which has not arrested any of the top Genocide fugitives that it was mandated to prosecute after the former tribunal closed shop, has instead been busy granting early release to avowed genocide convicts with no atonement for their crimes.

At least 14 of the convicts have been granted early release in a process that was seen not to be transparent nor consistent with procedures of the UN court that was set up to prosecute masterminds of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

This conduct of the court has attracted condemnation from different corners, be it survivors of the Genocide, the Government of Rwanda, and scholars conversant with the Genocide in which over a million people were killed.

"The MICT should be urged to put in place clear rules of procedure for early release and apply them transparently instead of leaving the decision of early release to the personal discretion of the current or future President of the MICT," said Rugwabiza.

The other suggestion is that rules of procedure should be put in place to include conditionalities that will prevent genocide convicts benefiting from early releases from engaging in activities promoting genocide ideology and denial.

Because the convicts are released with no conditions, they are let free to undertake such criminal activities without fear of consequences.

Rugwabiza noted that a number of convicts released before the end of their sentences have since regrouped and organised themselves in an association with view to denying the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and propagating the genocide ideology.

She noted that the ICTR was a pioneer in establishing a credible international criminal justice system.

Some of its achievements, she said, especially the verdicts it delivered in relation to rape and media as means of perpetrating genocide, were significant milestones for jurisprudence on genocide.

"With these positive achievements in mind, it should be concerning to all that the legacy of the ICTR and the credibility of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals are seriously at stake. Since the MICT was established in 2012, it has released, before the end of their sentences, more than 10 masterminds of the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda," Rugwabiza said.

Despite the fact that Rwanda was kept out of all the previous decisions to grant early release to genocide convicts, recently, the Mechanism wrote to the Government of Rwanda seeking their position on the request for early release by three convicts of the tribunal; Hassan Ngeze, Aloys Simba and Dominique Ntawukuriryayo.

While Rwanda appreciates the opportunity to provide "our opinion, which we did," Rugwabiza said, the request from the MICT underlines the lack of transparency and the inconsistency "we have been denouncing for a long time."

It also demonstrates, she said, that the decision not to seek the opinion of the Government of Rwanda or the associations of the victims in previous cases was the personal discretion of the President of the MICT.

"Indeed, one may ask what allowed the MICT to seek our opinion this time while the rules of procedure, have remained unchanged".

The President of the MICT Rugwabiza was referring to is Judge Theodor Meron, reappointed as President of the Mechanism in 2016 for another four-year term. The National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG), in 2016, issued a damning verdict about the judge's decisions.

The Commission detailed "grave mistakes" committed by Meron and the Residual Mechanism on cases related to the Genocide against the Tutsi that he was entrusted, by the UN, to handle.

The American judge, whose current term of office comes to an end this month, has also been linked to unjustifiably reducing sentences of Genocide convicts when he served as the President of the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

A number of others were acquitted.

Meron, 88, is likely to seek another term, a possibility which Genocide survivors have vehemently opposed, urging the UN Security Council to get someone else.

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