The news that the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) will soon hand over, to Rwanda Correctional Service, an armoured car, that has for years been grounded at the tribunal’s liaison office in Kigali, should and will not excite Rwandans, especially if one is to weigh in what is at stake.
The vehicle, according to reliable sources, was brought to the tribunal’s Kigali office to facilitate the transportation of senior administrators of the Tanzania-based UN-backed court during their sojourns in Rwanda. This was at the time when the country’s security was deemed a concern, but these officials have for years not been seen using it, at least during their public visits.
Hence, as the court prepares to wind up its activities, it has decided to hand over the vehicle to ‘transport the international suspects’ when need arises. But I highly doubt that need will arise anyway.
Besides the truck, the tribunal also intends to hand over the Umusanzu Documentation Centre, a relatively modest resource centre based in Kigali. The centre helped set up smaller library facilities at several Judicial Palaces spread out in 10 jurisdictions set in what used to be called prefectures before the territorial restructuring.
All these are being done ahead of the imminent closure of the tribunal, which will be temporarily replaced by the Residual Mechanism for International Tribunals.
The facilities that the tribunal intends to hand to Rwanda are far less than what the latter has for years demanded, and with justifiable reasons.
Rwanda has requested, and has been backed by the regional leaders under the auspices of the East African Community, that it takes custody of the archives the tribunal has accumulated in over 17 years of its existence, citing legal, historic and academic reasons.
However, the most important reason why Rwanda should have these documents accumulated in the over sixty cases tried by the tribunal, notwithstanding the verdicts that came of them, is the sense of psycho-social relief this will bring to the aggrieved Rwandans, especially the survivors of the Genocide, most of whom never got a chance to come face to face with the architects of the 100-day massacre that left over a million innocent lives dead.
Already, the call by the survivors, which was backed by the government, to have the convicted genocidaires, led by former Prime Minister Jean Kambanda, to be sent to Rwanda to serve their sentences was rejected by the tribunal, which saw it fit to ferry them off to western African countries of Mali and Benin and reports from there have indicated the kinds of lifestyle they lead, including operating lucrative businesses.
I cannot blame that warder in the Bamako Prison in Mali for letting these men from a country they know little about, let alone the weight of the atrocities for which they were convicted, to do whatever they wish in exchange for any sorts of inducements.
Someone will argue that even Rwanda is hosting convicts by the International Special Court for Sierra Leone but what should be known is that the facility where these men convicted of war crimes in the Northern African country, which is Mpanga Prison, was constructed under the supervision of officials from ICTR with hope that it would host the Rwandan ICTR convicts which never was.
The ICTR itself has conducted or facilitated training for Rwandan warders so the scenario in Mali is highly unlikely to occur in Rwanda.
Back to the issue of archives, another alternative for the United Nations is to institute a Genocide Centre or its equivalent, establish it in Rwanda and make it the official home of the archives.
As the tribunal winds up its activities, with its legacy highly in balance, at least in the eyes of the Genocide survivors, owing to the spate of acquittals of high profile officials whose role in the Genocide is well documented, let these documents be brought within the proximity of those to whom its symbolism matters most.
The writer is a journalist