The government will not relent in its pursuit for the transfer of archives of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, which are housed at the Arusha-based International Residue Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, the Minister for Justice, Johnston Busingye, has said.
Speaking exclusively to The New Times about the United Nations' decision to keep the archives for the next 25 years, Busingye said that the Government will do all it takes to bring the archives home because they hold important information regarding the country's history .
"The UN can keep custody of them but the proper place of that custody is Rwanda. Our grounds for seeking that they are kept here are justified and real while the reasons advanced for keeping them elsewhere are unjustified and imaginary," he said.
Busingye said that the substantial quantities of documents; regardless of where they are kept, are legally the property of Rwanda pointing out that it was 'inconceivable' that Rwandans were being denied custody of what is legally theirs.
"The issue, therefore, will not getting off our radar anytime soon. All original Rwandan documents used in the cases or kept but were not used in the cases, legally belong to Rwanda. We are not aware of when property in those valuable documents passed from Rwanda to the Court or to the United Nations.
On his one-week visit to Rwanda, the new President of MICT Judge Carmel Agius, who promised both the survivors and the Government reforms at the Tribunal and better relations, said that while he understands why Rwanda wants the archives, there is nothing that he could do within his mandate to have them transferred.
"There are obstacles beyond my powers. The United Nations has already decided to keep all ICTY and ICTR documents as the property of the UN over the next 25 years. The organisation ruled that these archives should not be transferred to any other country. I can't say anything about it because the decision was taken by superiors," he said.
He, however, explained that the Tribunal would facilitate researchers, lecturers, and families of Genocide survivors and others to obtain desired information.
Experts weigh in
The Executive Secretary of Ibuka; the umbrella organisation of Genocide survivors said that the 25 years set by the UN is another excuse to frustrate Rwandans from getting access to what is rightly theirs.
"What is really hard to understand about this? The archives belong to Rwandans. It's their history. Why would the UN be holding on to them? We have the ability to preserve them for very many years to come and if we didn't, you would think that the UN should be at the forefront of supporting us in that area but they are doing the opposite. This should stop," he said.
In an interview with The New Times, British investigative journalist, Linda Melvern who has authored several book about the genocide against Tutsi, said that the failure to transfer the archives was failure of the international judicial system to confront the real problem.
"I have been calling for this for years. I even said this in 2000. What happened in 1994 is that NGOs came here and just took documents. Human Rights Watch still has original copies too. All these documents belong to the Rwandan people. It's what we call 'kicking the can down the road'. It means you never actually confront the real problem," she said.
Yolande Mukagasana, an Author, historian and a researcher of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, says that there was need to give Rwandans an opportunity to make use of the archives.
"Archives relating to the Genocide at the ICTR and other institutions should be made accessible to the children of Rwanda for them to know their history and record of events," she said.
Rwanda has, for several years, been arguing its right to keep custody of the archives which include huge volumes of video recordings of testimonies, written requests to the court, written decisions among other things.