KIGALI - The decision not to transfer to Rwanda suspects and convicts from International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), has once again put the tribunal under spotlight as a fellow UN court sends in convicts to serve their sentences in the country.
According to experts and government officials the coming of eight Sierra Leone convicts, to serve their prison sentences in Rwanda, is likely to mount pressure on the ICTR to revisit their infamous decision.
In March, Rwanda and the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), a UN instituted tribunal for masterminds of the crimes committed during Sierra Leonean civil war signed an agreement to see some of the convicts serve their jail terms here.
This agreement came to pass on Sunday morning when the first batch of the prisoners arrived to their new detention facility in Muhanga.
Justice Minister, Tharcisse Karugarama on Sunday stressed that : “The decision by the ICTR not to send prisoners here is a contradiction,” after a UN court has, itself, determined that the country’s detention facilities meet, or even surpass international standards.
“We believe that anybody who had doubts should re-visit, or re-examine their doubts.”
“The decision by the Special Court for Sierra Leone to transfer those convicts here is an eloquent testimony that this court, after due diligence, was satisfied that the facility at Mpanga meets international standards,” Karugarama said.
“We are told that it is ranked among the best in the world! – they (the SCSL) have set a good example and others should be able to follow suit.”
Experts said the move puts ICTR under strong scrutiny, in its position that Rwanda’s legal facilities do not meet international standards.
“This does not end on detention facilities alone, it also questions the sincerity of the excuses put forward by the ICTR to deny transfer of cases to Rwanda and is likely to mount pressure on the court to re-visit that decision,” a legal expert who preferred anonymity said.
Meanwhile, the Sierra Leone convicts who arrived yesterday appreciated the conditions within the Prison and seemed to adjust fast to the new environment.
“When they arrived at Mpaga prison, they were pleased with their new environment and told prison warden that they were surprised with what they saw,” said Mary Gahonzire, the Commissioner General of National Prisons Services.
Rwanda has continuously pushed for the transfer of convicts of the ICTR but the tribunal has remained defiant, instead opting to ferry off the convicts to western African countries like Mali.