The Registrar of the International Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) Abubacarr Tambadou, is currently on an official visit in Rwanda where, among other things, he met with victims of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, in addition to holding talks with top government officials. The Gambian lawyer sat down for an interview with The New Times’ Hudson Kuteesa and answered questions on issues including the current status of genocide suspect Felicien Kabuga’s trial, the legacy of the now defunct International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), and the possibility of transferring the tribunal’s archives to Rwanda. The excerpts: First of all, tell us about the purpose of your visit to Rwanda? As a registrar of the Mechanism which has two branches; one in The Hague and one in Arusha, with field offices in Sarajevo and Kigali, I cover a lot in terms of activities and services that we provide to the Mechanism’s branches. So, it is part of my responsibility to visit the field offices in Sarajevo and Kigali to ensure not only that my organ continues to provide efficient services to the other organs of the mechanism, but also to ensure that our cooperation with Rwanda continues seamlessly. I undertake regular visits to Kigali to interact with senior government officials, to interact with victims’ groups in addition to overseeing my office here in Kigali. My meetings with government officials cover a broad range of issues – issues about our activities, issues about the challenges, and discussions on how to find mutually acceptable ways forward in overcoming those challenges. One of the key topics in regard to the ICTR and the IRMCT is the repatriation of their archives to Rwanda. Tell us about the possibility of that? The question of the archives has been a long-standing one. The government of Rwanda has always made its position clear that it wants these archives and their claim to the archives is understandable because the ICTR was created as a result of the terrible genocide against the Tutsi that occurred here in 1994. The proceedings at the ICTR – in as much as they were intended to establish the guilt or innocence of those who were charged with committing a violation of international humanitarian law, were also meant to establish an accurate, impartial historical record of the genocide. The claim by Rwanda to these archives is an understandable one, however, the decision as to whether the archives should come to Rwanda or not remains with the Security Council of the United Nations because the archives are the property of the United Nations. And again, the decision that the Security Council will take about the archives will depend on the broader context of these archives in as much as the archives are about Rwanda and Rwandan history and politics, they serve a greater purpose. What we should always remember is that what happened here in Rwanda must be taught to everyone around the world. People from all continents, from all countries around the world, must know what occurred here in Rwanda. And the objective of that is so we can all learn lessons and prevent a recurrence of similar genocide or international crimes in other places. Let us talk about the trial of Felicien Kabuga which is on hold due to concerns regarding his health. What are the possibilities that may come out of this situation? I am afraid I can’t go into the possibilities because it is an ongoing judicial proceeding and I don’t want to make any statements on that because I do not simply want to preempt what the chamber is going to do. However, what I can tell you is the current status of the case. It is suspended at the moment because the trial chamber is evaluating Kabuga’s fitness to stand trial and whether the case should continue and in what form. So, that is where we are. We are waiting for a decision from the trial chamber to give direction to the case going forward. ALSO READ: Kabuga is not fit to stand trial – forensic psychiatrist What can you say about the legacy of the ICTR and the IRMCT? To what extent have they served their purpose? The ICTR’s legacy is, I believe, incredibly long-lasting, so wide-ranging, and so profound that I cannot begin to list all of those here in this exchange today. It is a subject of great research, of books written and I think we don’t have time for me to elaborate on a book here, but what I can do is to choose some of the main highlights of the ICTR for you. The ICTR has helped the international community to know facts about the genocide, which perhaps we would not have known or would have raised doubts as to its reliability or credibility if it had come from a different source, but here we are an international judicial institution established by the United Nations which is known for its neutrality. Judges were independently chosen, carried out their work impartially and objectively, with an independent prosecutor who has been appointed with a team of investigators to descend onto Rwanda and beyond to conduct their investigations and gather the evidence and to present it before an impartial judicial body which has decided and determined that what happened in Rwanda was a classic case of a fact of common knowledge. Let’s not forget that the ICTR was the first international tribunal to deliver verdicts against people for genocide. It was also the first international tribunal to recognize rape as genocide, which now opened the window for other tribunals to build upon. It was also the first international tribunal to hold members of the media responsible for genocide. It exposed the dangers of the unmanaged so-called freedom of expression. In terms of the legal and judicial legacies of the ICTR, as I said they are wide-ranging, they are far-reaching, they are profound and I think the world is a better place, and we have all learned good lessons as a result of the legacies of the ICTR. Of course, there are other legacies in terms of outreach and satisfaction of the victims, because these judicial pronouncements are a means to an end, and that end is to help bring closure for the numerous victims. Some convicts of the genocide have come out and written books or held interviews characterized by revisionism of what happened. How do you feel about such? Well, let me start with this basic statement that we should all condemn denialism and revisionism of the genocide. I think no amount of denial can change the facts that have been judicially established by the ICTR. The ICTR trial chambers have stated that the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi is a classic instance of a fact of common knowledge. So we should all condemn those who seek to rewrite history based on their own imaginations and their own burble. However, when people have served their sentences; when they are perceived to have paid their debt to society and they are released after, they have certain basic human rights that we can’t also deny them. As I said, what we should condemn is when they take those rights too far to deny the facts of the genocide because when they do that they hurt the victims more. I think we should all speak against that. The ICTR and the mechanism presently are doing that, the president of the mechanism, the prosecutor of the mechanism, and I have at every opportunity presented condemned denial and revisionism. There are particular genocide convicts who served their jail terms outside of Rwanda, who now don’t have a country. Rwanda says it is willing to allow them to return. What is their fate currently? I believe this question is specifically referring to the eight released and acquitted who are in Niger at the moment. Rwanda has consistently stated its willingness to accept them back to Rwanda because they are Rwandan nationals. On the other hand, the United Nations has an obligation not to force people to go to a country against their will, and so far these eight men in Niger have expressed very unequivocally that they do not want to return to Rwanda. Now the UN cannot force them, unfortunately. It would be against international law to compel someone to go to a country that they do not wish to go back to. Having said that, the security council has consistently stated in no less than eight security council resolutions, encouraging the member states to accept the released and acquitted persons on their territories. The ICTR transferred some suspects to be tried in Rwanda. How do you rate the job Rwanda has done in terms of trying them? I am not in a position to make that assessment about the internal domestic legal system of Rwanda and so I cannot offer any views on that, but what I can tell you is that the trial chambers of the ICTR having determined that Rwanda meets a threshold of fair trial etcetera, which is why they decided to transfer those case files to Rwanda for prosecution here. So, the threshold has been met satisfactorily by Rwanda at the time that these cases were being transferred. We continue to provide assistance to Rwandan authorities in their investigation and prosecution of those cases, and that is why it is a statutory mandate of the mechanism to assist national jurisdictions such as Rwanda to ensure that they are able to investigate and prosecute the cases that have been tried here in their domestic jurisdictions.