The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) could have done more to secure a higher conviction rate of suspects of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
The admission was made by the outgoing chief prosecutor of the United Nations-backed tribunal, Hassan Bubacar Jallow.
Jallow was in the country, yesterday, to bid farewell to government officials he worked with during his 12-year tenure as prosecutor at the tribunal.
The Tanzania-based tribunal’s mandate lapsed in December last year after 21 years of operation in which it tried 85 suspects, almost all of them masterminds of the Genocide.
The Residual Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals then took over from the tribunal and it is among others, supposed to continue tracking the three so-called ‘Big Fish’, arrest and put them to trial.
Jallow, who has also been the prosecutor at the mechanism, said that looking back in hindsight, the court could have performed better adding that they have documented lessons learnt to inform future international prosecutions.
“We have tried to document some of the lessons we have learnt from the work we have done. How the cases can be improved, how the investigations can be improved, how prosecution of sexual violence can be improved. All this so that they provide lessons for national courts and international courts when they engage in such activities in the future,” said Jallow.
The tribunal, though credited for setting precedent as the first criminal court of international nature to define rape as a war crime, has often times been accused of not doing enough to ensure justice is done, especially by the survivors of the Genocide.
The court has seen high-level suspects – most of them their role in the Genocide well documented – released, while others have been handed what campaigners called ‘a pat on the back’.
Of the 85 cases tried by ICTR, 14 ended in acquittals, some of them members of the genocidal cabinet.
Going forward, Jallow said, the process bore numerous important lessons for the world in the handling of other international cases in the future among them the need for cooperation between the national and international legal systems.
“The prime lesson is that international criminal justice is necessary to reach those whom the national courts cannot reach. But international justice will not be able to prosecute everybody; it means you must empower national courts that will discharge this particular responsibility,” Jallow told The New Times.
During his time at the court, 10 cases were referred to Rwanda’s national courts despite initial attempts to block the transfers.
At least two of the suspects who were already under ICTR custody have been transferred to Rwanda.
Jallow said there was need to give actual effect to the principle of complementarily between national and international systems.
Complementarily, he said, would come through empowerment of national courts.
The Minister for Justice, Johnston Busingye, said among the important developments that took place during Jallow’s time in office was the transfer of capacity from an international to a national jurisdiction.
“Many international courts fail on that account, at times it is not always budgeted for or it is not always among their top assignments. This is something that the rest of the courts should emulate,” Busingye said.
Jallow said the Mechanism was currently searching for the three ‘Big Fish’ and had already conducted investigations ready to effect the arrests.
“There is a lot of work going on that we cannot share with the media and with the public. Work is going on in many countries in Africa, Europe and elsewhere in order to ensure that Felicien Kabuga and others are apprehended,” Jallow said.
The former businessman who has been dubbed the financier of the Genocide has eluded the international court for over two decades.
The other two are; former head of the presidential guard, a notorious force that executed the Genocide especially around Kigali, Protais Mpiranya and the Augustin Bizimana, who was the defence minister in the genocidal government.
Since the inception of the tribunal at least 93 indictments have been made, of which 61 people were sentenced; 14 acquitted; 10 sent to Rwanda for trial; three are deceased; two had their cases withdrawn while three were transferred to the Mechanism.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Belgian-born Serge Brammertz as the prosecutor of the Mechanism, replacing him Jallow.