KAMPALA - In an unprecedented move, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has proposed to have the East African Community (EAC) treaty amended to enable the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) handle the tribunal’s remaining trial cases.
The proposal was made on Monday by the ICTR Chief Prosecutor at the ongoing EAC Peace and Security conference in Munyonyo, Kampala.
In a statement read for him by Paul Ngarua, an ICTR Prosecution counsel, Hassan Jallow also requested that the regional bloc be empowered to take up the UN detention facility in Arusha.
“The East African Court of Justice needs your initiative to empower it to handle the cases, structures and archives of the ICTR after the tribunal closes,” Jallow told the delegates.
“This can be achieved by amending the treaty of the EACJ and expand the jurisdiction of EACJ to include prosecution for Genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes,” the Chief Prosecutor pleaded.
ICTR denied the transfer of five trial cases to Rwanda last year on the grounds that the country lacked adequate witness protection, a claim the Government dismissed as baseless, stating that even those in Tanzania are protected by Rwanda.
Jallow’s proposal attracted a heated debate at the Kampala conference after Rwandan officials contested the move saying that it was coming at a time when government is still engaged in negotiations with ICTR to have trials sent back to Kigali.
The Ombudsman, Tito Rutaremara expressed shock at the proposal, arguing that the prosecutor’s proposal was based on advice given to the tribunal by two western NGOs, and neglecting the perceptions of Rwandans.
“We really wonder why they came here and made that proposal. EACJ is not a penal court and most importantly negotiations have always been there. Rwanda has laid conducive grounds to enable the transfer of cases there,” the Rutaremara said.
The Ombudsman added that ICTR should have behaved diplomatically by consulting the Government before making the proposal.
Emily Kayitesi a judge at the East African Court of Justice was equally surprised that the tribunal had tabled the proposal, even after government had made several legal improvements that include building prisons of international standards.
“EACJ has a mandate according to the treaty of handling civil and commercials cases only. Yes it can be extended to penal jurisdictions, but most important is that negotiations are already on to have the cases brought to Rwanda,” the judge said
In an interview with The New Times early this year, Jallow had expressed optimism that the trial cases would be transferred to Rwanda later this year after accomplishment of the capacity building programme in Rwanda’s judicial sector.