Experts on why Rwanda should take custody of ICTR archives

The Mechanism of the International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) will close shop next year but prior to that, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has to find a home for the archives containing all the work done by the tribunal in about 20 years.
Dr Gallimore addresses the Kigali International Genocide Forum. He says he has rallied for Rwanda being the final home of the archives. (File)
Dr Gallimore addresses the Kigali International Genocide Forum. He says he has rallied for Rwanda being the final home of the archives. (File)

The Mechanism of the International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) will close shop next year but prior to that, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has to find a home for the archives containing all the work done by the tribunal in about 20 years.

Despite the fact that the archives are a property of UNSC, there has been efforts both from Rwanda and international community to have the archives housed in Rwanda as they would contribute the tribunal’s own set agenda of reconciliation.

Reasons put forward by the UNSC regarding its hesitation in transferring the archives to Rwanda include the security of witnesses who testified in confidentiality.

But to many experts on genocide, and, especially the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Rwanda deserves to keep these records.

However, there are forces keen not to see this happen. Among such elements include includes Genocide deniers and suspects for whom the further the evidence is from crime scenes, the easier it is for them to continue manipulating their way around the evil of 20 years ago.

The archives in question hold nearly 900,000 pages of transcripts and audio and video recordings of more than 6,000 trial days, as well as more than 10,000 interlocutory decisions and the judgments of all persons accused at the Tribunal.

They also consist of documents openly presented in court which had originated in Rwandan government archives, from the Ministry of Defence, embassies, institutions such as banks and information taken from the accused which experts say rightfully belongs to Rwanda.

In an interview with The New Times Dr Tim Gallimore, a former spokesperson in the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), said for the last 10 years, he has rallied for Rwanda being the final home of the archives.

“Over those years, I have urged many Rwandan officials, including the Rwandan Special Representative to the ICTR, about engaging the UN system to secure the archives. That urging was not successful and it would appear that it might be too late now,” said Gallimore.

However, he proposed that relevant ministries and civil society entities in Rwanda should put forward a proposal to establish a UN Information Centre in Rwanda that would take custody of the ICTR archives and continue the education and outreach work that was being done by the Umusanzu Centre – that has since been closed.

However, Kigali has for long urged that the UNSC can transfer the archives to Rwanda but remain in the custody of the UN as well using the deduction method where what they think is sensitive is transferred somewhere else.

But Rwanda’s efforts to house the archives seems to be hitting a dead end following recent remarks by the ICTR president Vagn Joensen, who hinted on the possibility of having the Tribunal’s archives sent to The Hague in The Netherlands.

Indeed, as several scholars say, the testimonies of witnesses and survivors are an important part of constructing the history of Rwanda and can provide a basis on which to construct a new collective identity in the post-conflict era.

‘Part and parcel of Rwandan story’

In his elaboration on why Rwanda is the rightful home for the archives, Justice minister Johnston Busingye said the materials are part and parcel of the story of the atrocities meted out to a part of Rwandan population by fellow citizens, within their borders, in the service of an extremist ideology.

“Separating them from Rwanda is as impossible as it is unjustified. Whatever material archived at the MICT, written or physical, belongs to our story and to the larger collection in Rwanda. We believe these archives can have their full impact and meaning if hosted in Rwanda where they identify with the story of a people and a whole country,” said Busingye, who also doubles as the Attorney General.

Minister Busingye gives a keynote speech during the Kigali International Genocide Forum last year. (File)

As a fact, all Rwandans, current and future generations, victims, relatives, witnesses, perpetrators, their relatives, each one has their respective use of them as visual reminders of their history and solemn determination that genocide will never happen again.

It has been argued that more than anybody else Rwandans should access them easily and at minimum logistical cost.

This implies that the UNSC may decide to move the archives to Rwanda but remain in the Security Council’s custody.

However, according to Busingye, “Anybody else who lays any claim to their use (individual or organisation), will be able to find them where they belong or not losing much in case of failure.”

“We hope the UNSC will make the one right choice; decide that these archives are hosted in Rwanda as a UN heritage, but in the world we live in, what is clear or urgent to us may not be so to others. The world is replete with examples where the right decision was missed when it was needed most.”

Busingye further expressed frustrations, saying Rwanda has not seen any properly reasoned material objecting to Rwanda hosting the archives.

“In any event, I doubt there could be any. Whether objection comes up eventually or not, we will continue to pursue this cause because it is justified. Most importantly, we do not consider this to be a Rwandan struggle more than it is an international community one. The Genocide against the Tutsi happened in Rwanda but remains a crime against humanity,” he said.

The minister shares a similar view with Prof. Linda Melvern, a British investigative journalist, author and scholar who has for long expressed concerns at a proposal to keep the ICTR archive in Arusha since at least 2007 when the department of judicial affairs of the UN set up a consultative committee to study and determine who would be the ultimate custodian of the ICTR archives.

The committee was chaired by former prosecutor at the ICTR, Richard Goldstone.

In 2008, Melvern wrote to the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Rosemary Museminali, expressing concerns that after the Genocide against the Tutsi, many original documents from the national archive were taken to Arusha by researchers and investigators.

These originals are kept in the evidence unit based at the ICTR in Arusha.

“There is a great deal of information in the archives of the ICTR which is unavailable anywhere else,” Melvern told The New Times.

“There is material classified by the ICTR and which would certainly help to expose the organised nature of the Genocide. An independent assessment of ICTR archives and a study of the court’s policies of restricting certain parts of it would be of great service in furthering the continuing research.”

Prof. Linda Melvern, a British investigative journalist, writer and scholar.

Other researchers and historians argue that the judicial records and ICTR archives are the best historical narrative of the Genocide and hold a great potential for re-imaging Rwanda based on the truth about the past.

The Tribunal can magnify the impact of its legacy to Rwanda by providing access to this invaluable national resource and, as a matter of fact, the records of the Tribunal will be useful for future generations of Rwandans and all peoples of the world, others say.

The UN Resolution 1966 stipulates that in managing access to these archives, the MICT will ensure the continued protection of confidential information, including information concerning protected witnesses, and information provided on a confidential basis.

It also adds that, for this purpose, MICT will implement an information security and access regime, for the classification and declassification as appropriate of the archives.

This implies that even if the archives were to be relocated to Rwanda, no one could just access them without the authorisation of the UN.

Survivors react

Ibuka, the umbrella association of Genocide survivors’ organisations, has been at the forefront in demanding for the archives to be housed in Rwanda mainly on the grounds that genocide crimes were committed in Rwanda against Rwandans so it was only right that Rwanda owns all the evidence of what happened on its territory.

“We can only be able to teach the next generations about the reality of what happened and how it damaged the nation using those very archives,” Ibuka Executive Secretary Naftar Ahishakiye told The New Times.

Over the course of years, Ibuka has written to the UNSC and ICTR, requesting that the archives be transferred to Rwanda but, according to Ahishakira, UN officials did not seem enthusiastic about the request.

“It is not in anyway logical to take evidence of the crimes committed against Rwandans to another country. Those who committed these atrocities are also Rwandans so that decision would not be right at all.

“As a legacy we must keep this information. It is a memory of what happened to our loved ones and my hopes are high that they will bring the archives here,” he said.

Dr Phil Clark, a political scientist specialising in conflict and post-conflict issues, said evidence gathered by the Tribunal was almost entirely from Rwanda, including the firsthand testimony provided by hundreds of prosecution and defence witnesses.

Returning those materials to Rwanda is returning them to their source – to their rightful owners, he said.

“Bringing the archives to Rwanda would also enable everyday Rwandans to view the materials used in the trials. This would finally make the Tribunal accessible after years of operating at a distance – in Arusha. In the process, this would help fulfill the Tribunal's own stated objectives of contributing to peace, reconciliation and the rule of law in Rwanda,” said Clark.

He urged Rwandans and the government to continue lobbying the UN to allow the country host the archives.

“Rwanda can point to the creation of the Gacaca archives; the local expertise generated around that and the benefits of the Gacaca records for the entire population. The same expertise and benefits are relevant when considering the ICTR archives,” Clark added.

What experts agree on is that the ICTR archives are very precious but what remains unanswered is whether the UNSC would agree to do so come 2016.