The recent news that the ICTR might transfer its archives to Kenya is dispiriting for a number of reasons. The new is not official yet, so we could be jumping the gun.
However if true, it does raise some critical questions about the legacy of the Tribunal.
What is even more disturbing is that denying Rwanda the archives would be depressingly predictable.
Sadly the Tribunal has often taken an adversarial approach to Rwanda.
There is an element of - as if it would be much happier dispensing justice without Rwanda’s input.
Of course few would have been naïve enough to assume it would be smooth-sailing all the way, but it is unfortunate to what extent relations deteriorated over the years.
There was, it seems, a tendency for the Tribunal to be over-protective of its turf and misinterpret cooperation as some sort of competition.
Some might argue that this issue is being blown out of proportion, but that would be a mistake. Giving Rwanda the archives would be important for many reasons.
There is of course the practical benefit of having all that material in the Country.
The archives represent possibly the most comprehensive collection of genocide-related material in the world.
It would certainly be absurd for the Tribunal to claim that Rwanda does not have the capacity to take care of the Archives.
We are not exactly being given a blueprint for a moon landing here.
There is no reason why Rwanda cannot be the guardian of this information on a purely practical level.
However one also should not discount the symbolic nature of having the archives stored in Rwanda.
It would be a sign that the Tribunal looks on Rwanda as an equal and as a partner, not as an adversary.
It would also be a symbol of the fact that justice does not occur in a vacuum.
It might be easy for those involved at the ICTR to forget that the genocide was not just an event which can be boiled down into endless legal discussions and formulations.
It was a horrifying act which had an unimaginable impact of millions of people and changed the Country forever.
Such niceties may not enter into the legal haggling, but they are important.
As such, there is a moral obligation for the Tribunal to ensure that the archives are given to Rwanda.
The prosecution of cases before the Tribunal was not merely justice for its’ own sake.
It was justice for those who died and an affirmation to those who lived that the International Community-despite its shameful conduct during the genocide- can take some steps to redeem itself.
Justice is not merely a cold, mechanical concept without any reference point to real life. Buried in the mass of information are people’s stories and histories.
It would be perverse for all this to be given to another Country. It would serve to further distance Rwanda from the work of the Tribunal. I don’t think I need to spell out how disturbing this could be.
And ultimately, justice should not only be done, but should be seen to be done.
Handing the archives to Rwanda would be on the same continuum and would help to rectify some of the missteps the Tribunal has made in the past.
It is not a trivial issue- it is something worth fighting for.
The author is a regular contributor currently residing in the UK