Senators have said Rwanda’s lack of representation at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) could have hurt the country’s interests in light of several disputed decisions that have been made by the court in recent years.
The ICTR winds up at the end of the year, but senators are concerned that there are cases whose appeals are pending, and that some convicts have since been seeking retrial.
The country had a special representative at the tribunal until 2009, when the emissary at the time, Alloys Mutabingwa, was appointed as the Deputy Secretary-General of the East African Community.
Before him, former Prosecutor-General Martin Ngoga occupied the office at the tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania.
The observation was made in a report by a senatorial committee that had been tasked to look into the activities of the UN-backed tribunal, which was instituted in November 1994 under Resolution 955 of the UN Security Council, to prosecute individuals responsible for the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
The report was tabled on Tuesday.
“We need a person to follow up on a day-to-day basis; some decisions are being made and we get to know about them after a long time, which might not be the case if we had a person there following up and giving us timely updates,” Senator Jean Damascene Bizimana told The New Times in a subsequent interview.
Bizimana chaired the committee that tabled the report before a plenary session chaired by Senate President Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo.
The probe by the Senate was commissioned after a spate of high profile acquittals, mainly at the appeals level, of persons formerly in senior government positions, and who are said to have had a major role in the planning of the Genocide.
During the interview, Bizimana, who is also an expert in international law, said other reasons that justify the presence of a Rwandan official at the tribunal include the cases where some of the convicts have requested to have their cases reviewed.
The suspects who have requested to have their cases retried include Juvenal Kajerijeri, the former mayor of Mukingo commune, who was sentenced to 45 years.
“There is simply a disconnect between the tribunal and us. We need someone to update us in time, where we need to make a submission before court on any matter, we should be able to do that,” he said.
The Minister for Justice, Johnston Busingye, said he had not received the report, but added that the issues raised were worth looking into.
“We can always make an evaluation to establish if indeed our interests are being hurt because of lack of physical presence at the ICTR, if we find it feasible we can reinstate the office,” said Busingye in a phone interview.
However, another source in the judiciary who requested for anonymity said the presence of an office in Arusha is irrelevant.
“If they are talking about the release of convicts before their time is due, what can the representative do? Georges Ruggiu (a Belgian-born journalist who worked with hate radio RTLM) got early release when Rwanda had a representative there…what could he do?” said the source.
The source said the biggest problem the Government of Rwanda has had with the tribunal has always been the high profile acquittals, “and with or without an office, the acquittals would have happened.”
The tribunal has acquitted 10 of the 41 defendants whose cases were completed on appeals level, and among the acquittals, include about five former ministers, a former operations commander of the then national armed forces (ex-Far) and the commander of the Gandermerie, the equivalent of the national police.
“Some of these actually were acquitted when we had representation in the court, so to me it is inconsequential, and the office there was limited to diplomatic work,” said the source.
Meanwhile, Busingye said that the embassy in Dar es Salaam maintains a diplomatic office in Arusha, which has taken on some of the work by the former representative at the tribunal.
Athanase Rutabingwa, an advocate accredited by the ICTR, said the office is mainly political and cannot in any way influence any decision by the tribunal.
“To my understanding, the office was there to help in the collection of evidence, of which I don’t think there is much work left, and it is work that is done through the ICTR prosecutor, who has maintained good relations with the Government of Rwanda,” said Rutabingwa, also the chairperson of Kigali Bar Association.
Meanwhile, the report heaps blame on the Office of Prosecutor for a series of omissions that may have played a part in the acquittal of some suspects, mainly on appeal level, saying that much of the mistakes were committed in the drawing of charge-sheets.
“Some suspects were just bound together in joint-trials, which minimised individual roles, as the prosecution struggled to place the suspects in these joint-trials in the same place,” said Bizimana, while presenting the report.
He said some of these cases would have been better prosecuted if they were tried individually.