The United Nations Security Council has tasked the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to finalise and ease the process of transferring genocide suspects to Rwanda for trial.
The resolution was made after presentations to the Council by both the Tanzania-based court officials the Rwandan Government which was represented by Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama.
The development was confirmed by Aloys Mutabingwa, Rwanda’s Special Representative to ICTR, who said that negotiations to allow the transfers are going on and that the government was dealing with some obstacles cited by the ICTR.
In a telephone interview from Arusha, Tanzania, Mutabingwa said that among the obstacles raised by the ICTR were issues to do with the protection of defence witnesses and the working conditions for defence lawyers.
Another concern raised by the ICTR is the provision in the law that calls for a special life imprisonment under which a convict may be imprisoned in isolation. The tribunal’s Appeals Chamber insists that life imprisonment in isolation does not conform to the tribunal’s standards.
The chamber recently rejected an application to have five ICTR suspects transferred to Rwanda on the basis of these concerns. But according to Mutabingwa, this kind of imprisonment will not affect the cases that will be transferred to Rwanda.
“We are calling upon the tribunal to enforce the UN Security Council recommendations,” Mutabingwa added.
The tribunal which was set up 14 years ago to try key perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis, has until the end of next year to close its doors and the statute establishing it provides that all remaining trials be transferred to national jurisdictions.
After 14 years, the tribunal has completed 35 cases; others are on trial while some arrested suspects have not yet gone on trial. Meanwhile, Mutabingwa expressed concern about the recent transfer of nine convicts to Mali from where they are to complete their sentences.
“We have expressed our deep concern on the transfer to Mali, and we had asked for their transfer to Rwanda but the tribunal turned a deaf ear,” Mutabingwa lamented.
Among those who were transferred, are two convicts in the infamous Media Trial; Hassan Ngeze and Ferdinand Nahimana who are serving 35 and 32 years of imprisonment respectively.
Justice Minister Karugarama recently informed the Senate that the country has met all necessary requirements for the Arusha convicts to serve their sentences in Rwanda.
“A team from ICTR visited Rwanda and found that we have all technical needs to host the convicts. We have signed the agreement to enforce that and we are waiting them to fulfil their promise,” Karugarama said.
So far, 15 convicts have been transferred to Mali – the only country so far to receive them to complete their sentences, including former Prime Minister Jean Kambanda who is serving a life sentence.