The incoming President of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (MICT), Judge Carmel Agius, yesterday outlined a detailed plan of the changes that he intends to implement during his tenure.
MICT is an international court established by the United Nations Security Council in 2010 to perform the remaining functions of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) following the completion of those tribunals’ respective mandates.
Judge Agius, who was meeting the Minister of Justice, Johnston Busingye, said that top among the changes that he intends to concentrate on is to fix the relationship between the court and Rwanda, which deteriorated over the last eight years under his predecessor, the American Theodore Meron.
“Am I or have I been happy with the relations between MICT and Rwanda? No. I believe that there can be tremendous improvement. We might not agree on everything but what is to be expected is the good will on my part. Even when we don’t agree, we are going to discuss more and work together to reach an agreement in future,” he said.
Agius, who hails from Malta, previously served as the President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), from November 2015 until its historic and timely closure in December 2017, did not shy away from openly saying that there are several areas that he has not agreed on with his predecessor, adding that he was working hard to make changes.
President of UNIRMCT, Judge AGIUS CARMEL signs in the guest book at Kigali memorial center after his visit yesterday. Nadege Imbabazi
“I will not be discussing my predecessor because that would be unethical but should there be changes or should you expect changes in the early release area? Yes. This is one area where I have been in open disagreement with my predecessor. I will definitely be more transparent when I start implementing the mechanisms policy on early release,” he said.
Specifically picking out the case of Aloys Simba who was released by Judge Meron, Agius said that the government in the follow-up to this decision had appealed to him as his deputy to adopt a different approach which would provide for justice, more transparency and more respect towards the victims.
He pledged not to consider any applications for early release for any convict before they serve at least two thirds of their eligibility threshold and also to consider the gravity of a crime as serious as genocide.
“I will make sure that any application for early release before the prisoner has reached two thirds eligibility threshold will not be considered favourable. That is unless the person applying has for example terminal cancer and is going to die in a few weeks or a couple of months. These are things we are looking into,” he said.
Judge Agius also pointed out the need to put into consideration the opinion of the government and that of the genocide survivors before making a final decision.
“In the past, the Rwandan government has been informed about the application and it has replied with serious, lengthy and detailed information which is acknowledged in the decision of the release but that is as far as it goes. It is not considered to be as an opinion that is put into consideration. I intend to change that,” he said.
The issue of archives, which the government has been pursuing for years also came up and on this, Judge Agius said that while he could find a way information to be shared, his hands were tied.
“There is a stumbling block is that the United Nations that the archives of the ICTR will remain their property for the next 25 years. Although there is access to information that may be needed, there won’t be any transfers anytime soon. For now, we can help by making our records available as much as possible to governments, researchers, victims’ associations,” he said.
One other area that Judge Agius wanted is planning to change is how rehabilitation of convicted genocidaires is in his view ‘understood, viewed and applied’
He pointed out that while giving them tasks around the prison was commendable, it was not measure of the kind of people who have changed over the course of their sentences.
“Rehabilitation doesn’t mean working in the prison kitchen washing dishes, it doesn’t mean taking care of the prison compound or helping the priest deliver mass in prison, these may be indications of one’s behaviour but not necessarily whether that person is rehabilitated or not,” he said.
Minister Busingye reminded those present that though it has not been a smooth journey, the government and MICT have travelled a long journey and continue to stand up to the challenges in the best way available.
He touched on different issues including early release which he said his government was not against in principle but only when it is done without thorough, serious and objective consideration.
“The unilateral release of genocide masterminds, some of whom continue to be hosted by the UN in Arusha and in other countries simply fuels their agenda of genocide denial and propagation of the genocide ideology. We do hope that under your leadership, appropriate reforms will take place to put back on track the ideals of the existence of the ICTR/IRMCT,” he said.
About Judge Agius
Judge Agius was first elected to the ICTY by the United Nations General Assembly in March 2001. As of 2009, he served as a Judge on the Appeals Chamber of both the ICTY and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) until the respective closure of the Tribunals in 2015 and 2017. In 2012, he was part of the first Judges to be appointed to serve as a Judge at the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals.