Tribunal under time pressure

In three months, Hutu extremists in Rwanda in 1994 had killed more than 800.000 members of the Tutsi minority and moderate Hutu murdered. Rwanda trials to end in exactly one year, at the end of 2011. But 20 criminal cases still underway against alleged masterminds of genocide. The court is running out of time

Sir Dennis Byron is a polite gentleman from the Caribbean who likes to make a joke sometimes. The judge, who was born in 1943, uses appearances before international audiences to make flaming appeals: "Use your police, make arrests," says then the jurist from the island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis. Byron is president of the Rwanda Tribunal, which brings to justice those responsible for the 1994 genocide. He's worried: The court in Arusha, Tanzania, is running out of time.

Ten of those charged in Arusha are still fugitives. Among them is former Rwandan defense minister Augustin Bizimana. The businessman Felicien Kabuga, who is said to have financed the genocide and is apparently in Kenya, where he enjoys protection, is also among them.

The mandate of the court, which was established in 1994 and costs the United Nations about $120 million a year, has been extended several times. When all first-instance trials are over at the end of 2011, the UN Security Council will allow two more years for appeal proceedings. "We are scaling down our activities, although our workload is extremely high at the moment," Byron says.

Skeptical human rights organizations
Skepticism grows among human rights organizations. "We are concerned about how quickly the pending cases are to be rushed through," says Leonie von Braun, international criminal law expert at Amnesty International. "If work is not done cleanly, it can play into the hands of the defendants."In the end, guilty parties would have to be acquitted.

The tribunal in Arusha filed 92 charges and handed down 53 verdicts so far: 45 defendants were sentenced to prison, eight acquitted. Under time constraints, judges try to transfer cases to several countries. France took over two cases. Three trials to possibly be taken over by Rwanda, although the judiciary there is accused of partiality.

Among them is the case of priest Jean Bosco Uwinkindi, who was arrested in Uganda in July. The indictment reads like a book of horror. The pastor of a Pentecostal church near Kigali was known in 1994 as a partisan of Hutu extremists who preached hatred against the Tutsi minority. He is alleged to have led hit squads that killed people seeking protection and pursued them into the swamps. "In July 1994, when Pastor Uwinkindi left Rwanda, nearly 2.000 bodies were found in the vicinity of his former Kayenzi church," the indictment says.

Historic and the view to Germany
There are far more suspects than Arusha could ever try. Tribunal president Byron is looking to Germany as a result. The Frankfurt Higher Regional Court will soon decide whether to open a trial against Onesphore Rwabukombe. The former mayor of the northern Rwandan municipality of Muvumba is accused of participating in several pogroms. He had been arrested in July in the Rhine-Main area.

The Runda Tribunal has achieved something historic: On 2. September 1998 ied the first genocide verdict in an international court in Arusha. The case of Jean Paul Akayesu, former mayor of the Rwandan city of Taba, also marked the first time that rape was considered a genocidal crime. "Sexual violence was a step in the process of extermination of the Tutsi group," judges found. It was a matter of "destroying the spirit, the will to live and life itself".

Chief judge Byron does not let up even in the final phase of the tribunal. He urges arrest of wanted suspected war criminals, even if his tribunal can no longer conduct trials but would have to hand over indictments to other courts. His concern is that "the perpetrators of Rwanda will escape punishment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.