When a judge undermines the legacy of international justice

Judge Theodor Meron. Net.

“Laws are like sausages, better not to see them being made” so observed the Nineteen Century German statesman, Otto Von Bismarck. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was always in that sense, much like sausages.

Much is claimed for it, and rightly so in most cases, but, better not to look too closely at its failings. But now, one would have to be willfully blind not to see how one man’s decisions threaten to tarnish the court’s entire legacy.

In a matter of a few days, 88-year old Judge Theodor Meron will seek a further mandate as President of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT).

The mechanism was opened by the UN Security Council to perform residual functions following the winding up of the ICTR, and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Judge Theodor Meron has held the mechanism’s presidency since 2012.

A distinguished jurist, Meron has all the credentials to fully understand the grave importance of the position he holds, and the power and influence he wields.

“By establishing the Mechanism, the Council has helped to guarantee that the closure of the two pioneering ad hoc tribunals does not open the way for impunity to reign once more”, he declared at his appointment in June 2012.

Yet, only a few years later, Rwanda’s National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG) is moved to issue this damning verdict about the judge’s decisions.

“Such decisions demean the Genocide Against Tutsi, and give room for impunity. The presence of the culture of impunity is what led to the Genocide...it is this kind of impunity which culminated in the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi, when murdering Tutsi was no longer regarded as a crime, but, as something to be rewarded instead...”

The reason for such strong condemnation is Judge Theodor Meron’s decisions to grant early release to a number of those convicted by the ICTR for their part in the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi.

To date, 14 mass murderers have walked free, and some have had their sentences reduced.

Most of those released read like a who’s who of those who planned and executed the genocide. They include, Ferdinand Nahimana, who earned the dubious honour of being dubbed Rwanda’s Joseph Goebbels, the infamous Nazi propagandist.

One of the founders of the notorious Radio Television Libre des Milles Collines (RTLM), Nahimana’s broadcasts exhorting the Hutu population to murder their neighbours is singularly responsible for countless deaths.

Alphonse Nteziryayo a former Prefect of Butare, and before that Commanding Officer of the Military Police, pleaded not guilty before the ICTR to all six counts of the worst crimes of genocide.

It was under the leadership of Nteziryayo that there remained hardly any Tutsi in Butare. In conjunction with Robert Kajuga the president of the Interahamwe militia which spearheaded the genocide, Nteziryayo trained, and armed the militia, and mobilised the population in his prefecture to murder every last Tutsi.

The list goes on and on in the same vein. Ten men but for whom tens, if not hundreds of thousands murdered in unimaginably horrific ways would be living today. All now enjoying life as free men.

For the Rwandan government, this may come as little surprise. The judge has form. As president of the Appeals Court for the ICTR, he acquitted or reduced the sentences of the worst, most unapologetic of planners of the Genocide Against the Tutsi.

Justin Mugenzi, Prosper Mugiraneza, both cabinet ministers in the genocidal government of then President Juvenal Habyarimana, were sentenced to thirty years imprisonment for their role in the genocide. Judge Meron overturned the conviction on appeal.

Businessman, and brother in law to Habyarimana, Protais Zigiranyirazo was acquitted by judge Meron. Zigiranyirazo had been a member of the inner circle, known as Akazu, which comprised the true believers in the genocide ideology.

Chief among members of the Akazu, was Colonel Theoneste Bagosora. Bagosora was arguably more powerful than Habyarimana himself, such was his influence. It was he who left the Arusha negotiations, promising to go and unleash the apocalypse.

As the world now knows, he went back, and he and the rest of Akazu did exactly as promised. Mind bogglingly, judge Meron reduced Bagosora’s sentence from life imprisonment to thirty years.

The judge seems intent on releasing everyone convicted of masterminding the Rwanda Genocide Against Tutsi. Now under consideration for early release are Aloys Simba, Dominique Ntawukurikiryayo, and Hassan Ngeze.

In 1994, Prime Minister Jean Kambanda visited the National University of Rwanda, to personally commend the staff there for their enthusiasm in killing Tutsi.

In a chillingly clinical announcement, he reminded them to go to Colonels Gateke, and Aloys Simba, who were in charge of distributing weapons, should they need more supplies to continue what was euphemistically termed “work”.

And it was Ngeze’s infamous “Ten Hutu Commandments” which among other instructions prohibited any mercy towards Tutsi. He would go on to practised exactly what he preached, in particular in Gisenyi, where he led by example.

Judge Meron is now asking Rwanda to give their position on his intention to grant early releases to Aloys Simba, and his colleagues. It is the first time that Rwanda has been approached.

Even this, however, has been somewhat shambolic. The court documents to which Rwanda is asked to respond, and which should be in the public domain, have not been released.

For Rwanda, it is all too little too late. They were dumbfounded by the judge’s decisions. “Nothing about these people has changed,” said Rwandan Justice Minister and Attorney-General Johnson Businye. “They have shown no remorse, not even acknowledgement of their crimes. We are calling for an investigation into the basis for these releases, and asking that they be brought to a halt...”

It is not just Rwanda which has expressed concern. Documents from the court, seen by this newspaper, question the validity of these early releases, and propose a change in the rules. But, little has been done.

The Security Coucil is supposed to review the MICT every two years. It is doubtful whether it has ever done so. An important part of MICT’s residual function, is to pursue those accused of participating in genocide  who are still at large. Yet even where they are living in broad daylight like Fr Wenslas Munyeshyaka in France, the judge has shown no inclination to fulfill this crucial part of his obligation.

The ICTR is credited with many firsts: the first ever international tribunal to deliver verdicts in relation to genocide. First international tribunal to define rape in international criminal law, and to recognise rape as a means of perpetrating genocide.

We cannot even begin to imagine the anguish felt by those victims of rape as they watch their persecutors walking unrepentantly out of prisons. The UN Security Council stood by as Rwanda was engulfed by the horror of Genocide, turning a blind eye so as not to be involved.

It convened the ICTR, one suspects in part as a redemptive exercise. It must not now turn a blind eye, as one judge however distinguished,  makes a mockery of justice, showing little thought or feeling for the victims of one of the  C20th’s worst crimes against humanity.



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