20 years later, has the ICTR delivered?

FOR THE past one week, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has hosted events to mark its 20th anniversary under the theme, "20 Years of Challenging Impunity".

FOR THE past one week, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has hosted events to mark its 20th anniversary under the theme, “20 Years of Challenging Impunity”.

The main event is expected to take place today, November 8, exactly two decades since the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 955that established the tribunal in the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

The stalwarts of the tribunal say they look back with pride over what they have accomplished; the trial and conviction of the former Prime Minister Jean Kambanda – who is currently serving his life sentence in Mali, and  other top government and military officers.

Granted, these convictions were secured, and I will not go into the acquittal of members of a government, whose head confessed before the same tribunal that his cabinet was carefully selected, not depending on someone’s track record in public service, but rather how virulent they were towards the Tutsi.

A number of members of this cabinet were acquitted.

My concern about the legacy of this court is due to a number of reasons.


During one of the meetings that preceded the ICTR anniversary, an official from Uganda’s Directorate of Public Prosecutions, raised a rather important matter – the issue of who should take custody of the archives of the ICTR.

He asked why, for more meaningful legacy of the tribunal to the people for whom it was created, can’t Rwanda take custody of the archives, citing the historical importance they hold to the people of Rwanda.

Indeed, one of the panelists, acknowledged that the UN Security Council decided that the archives remain in Tanzania, under the custody of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunal, and that Rwandans, like the rest of the world, would access the online resources – and not the classified material, at least not for another 20 years until these have been declassified.

This is a bit of a challenge, mainly because, at least during the meeting, it was not made clear who will remain in charge of these archives, when the Mechanism winds up in 2016.

The ‘Big Fish’

That the tribunal is folding before the arrest of Felicien Kabuga, the so-called Genocide Financier, is another aspect that will not auger well with Rwandans, especially Genocide survivors. Yet for many years the tribunal had been claiming that it was closing in on Kabuga and the other ‘big fish’ such as former presidential guard commander Protais Mpiranya and former defence minister Augustin Bizimana.

The three were left in the hands of the Mechanism which may never arrest them, given that they have only two years, and with a skeleton workforce that does not in any way compare to the hundreds of investigators that the ICTR has had for years.

Double standards?

Five years ago, the tribunal, under its completion strategy, referred to France, two suspects – Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, the former Parish Priest of St Famille Catholic Church in Kigali, and Laurent Bucyibaruta, a former Sous-Prefet in the current Southern Province – to have them tried there.

However, when I asked the Chief Prosecutor how come this has taken long, he said “progress was being made by the French judiciary to bring them to book and the suspects have recently been questioned” but they remain free men.

This leaves one wondering if the monitoring of trials by the tribunal’s registry is not being selectively done, given the back-to-back teams that have descended on Kigali to monitor the proceedings against the two suspects that were referred to Rwanda by ICTR.

During the Prosecutors’ Colloquium some people I interacted with said the tribunal was, to some extent, a success, with a particular professor of law at a Dutch-based university saying that the work by the ICTR was more than average, compared with the International Criminal Court (ICC).

He premised his argument on the fact that international justice is always a complex issue since it is out of touch with the scene of crime, and with most of the people involved in dispensing this kind of justice far removed from the events that happened.

This got me thinking on the key fact that I only learnt this year, that on this very day, 20 years ago, the Government of Rwanda, refused to endorse Resolution 955.

Among the reasons advanced by Rwanda in withdrawing support for the resolution was the fact that ICTR would have been set up on Rwandan territory. Back to my chat with the don, he reckons that Rwandans would rather not compare the ICTR to ICC, but rather to their own Gacaca justice system which not only dispensed justice in a record time but also formed the bedrock for the much-needed national cohesion.

The writer is a journalist with The New Times.