KAMPALA (AFP) – The tribunal responsible for trying alleged criminals of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide said on Saturday it cannot complete its work before the court’s UN mandate expires and may send cases back to Rwanda. “There will be at least one case that will not finish,” said Roland Amoussouga, senior legal officer at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), at a news conference at the Commonwealth summit here.
“So the question is, can we achieve what is expected of us by the deadline?” December 2008 is the deadline for all cases to have their first hearing. At least a few cases will spill over that point, including one involving three Rwandan ex-ministers that will likely re-start, he added. The fast-approaching date is the “nightmare of the (court) president,” he said.
Rights group Amnesty International petitioned the ICTR earlier this month to prevent it from extraditing suspects from its base in Arusha, Tanzania, to Rwanda until the country starts holding fair trials and protecting victims. But Amoussouga said the tribunal was still considering whether or not to send its remaining cases back to Rwanda after December 2008. “The decision will not be political, but of a judicious nature,” he said.
Over the past 10 years, the ICTR has indicted 90 people for organising the genocide, arresting 76; some 29 have been handed jail terms ranging from six years to life imprisonment; five were acquitted; and 14 are still missing. Amoussouga appealed to Commonwealth member countries to hand over fugitives from justice. “It is important to us that there is no more impunity; accountability will be the name of the game,” he said.
Top fugitive Felicien Kabuga, accused of funding the mass purchase of machetes, is reportedly hiding in Commonwealth member state Kenya while four suspects are currently fighting extradition in the British courts. To prepare for its deadline, the tribunal is now considering requests of suspects to be tried under the jurisdiction of foreign countries, much to the consternation of rights groups like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch. The ICTR decided this week to let France try Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, a Roman Catholic priest, and Laurent Bucyibaruta, a former government official, both exiles in France, for genocide-related crimes. The government in Kigali has expressed outrage at the decision.
It has severed diplomatic ties with Paris over accusations from a French judge about the role now President Paul Kagame played in the shooting down of his predecessor Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane, which sparked the slaughter. In turn, Rwanda accuses France of arming and training perpetrators of the ethnic Hutu-led slaughter of minority ethnic Tutsis in which an estimated 800,000 people were killed in a matter of months. Amoussouga refused to comment on what effect the ICTR’s decision to let France try the suspects would have on relations between the two countries.