PRESS CONFERENCE ON RWANDA TRIBUNAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
14 April 1999
The current events in Europe underscored the necessity of having international judicial machinery to hold those in command accountable for what happens on their watch, the Registrar of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Agwu Ukiwe Okali, said today during a Headquarters press conference.
The Rwanda Tribunal had been working on that machinery by prosecuting and trying the persons responsible for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Mr. Okali continued. The Tribunal had put up a creditable record and, as far as holding people accountable for actions on their watch, the Tribunal was blazing a trail.
Mr. Okali said a former prime minister had been tried and sentenced to life imprisonment and about ten former cabinet ministers were in custody. Others in custody included army commanders and political leaders. A total of 38 people were now in custody, out of 45 individuals against whom indictments had been issued, which was a good record of arrests. Two trials were ongoing and more were due to begin later in the year.
Upon conviction, the persons were sentenced to a prison term and then prisons were found for them, Mr. Okali continued. Under the Tribunal's statute, the sentences imposed by the Tribunal were to be served either in Rwanda or in any other State volunteering to assist. The Tribunal was intensifying efforts to find States to assist in enforcing sentences. Earlier this year, Mali had signed an agreement with the Tribunal to assist in that way. Negotiations with other States were in advanced stages, for the most part with African States, since the Tribunal's position was that for socio- cultural reasons, the sentences were best served in African countries. Within a month or two, one more such agreements were expected to be signed.
The challenges facing the Tribunal had been administrative and logistic, Mr. Okali said. They had, however, been tackled resolutely and the Tribunal was now proceeding well. Creative solutions had been found to problems that had been due largely to the Tribunal's location in an area with poor infrastructure. Construction of a third courtroom had recently been completed, which enabled three chambers to operate simultaneously, subsequent to the Security Council's decision to add three more judges, or one more chamber, to the Tribunal.
Asked to characterize the cooperation of the current Rwandan Government with the Tribunal, Mr. Okali said it was very good. For some time now, the Tribunal had been receiving excellent cooperation from the government. A few weeks ago, for example, a team of defence counsel had been permitted to go to Rwanda to carry out investigations to defend their client. The fact that they were defence attorneys, not prosecutors, was what made it "an example of very good cooperation".
Asked to elaborate on the need to rely on other governments for the convicted to serve their sentences, Mr. Okali explained that many governments had expressed an interest in assisting, in principle, but the details of the implications of that assistance still needed to be clarified.
"Why can't the Rwandan government itself handle it?" the correspondent asked. Mr. Okali said that both inside and outside the Tribunal, the feeling was that there should be other options. That was why the Security Council had made the provision for serving terms in optional countries.
Asked by another journalist whether there was concern for the safety of individuals in Rwandan jails and why it was so difficult to line up other countries to take the prisoners, Mr. Okali said that prison conditions in Rwanda, as well as in many other African countries, did not necessarily meet international standards. Therefore, even when countries were willing to assist, conditions were not necessarily such as to permit transfer of the "international convicts" into those systems.
A correspondent said 38 people in custody was significant, but it seemed the detainees would be in prison for years and years without trial.
Mr. Okali said the Tribunal was aware that many were in custody and many more were coming. Steps had been taken to speed the process. The rules of procedure had been revised, making trials much speedier, as was the case with one of the current trials, which was going much faster than previously. Proposals for joint trials were also being considered, enabling four or five people to be tried together. Those changes, combined with the three streams of trials, would make a significant dent in the number of detainees being tried. Guilty pleas also accelerated the rate of trials and there had been two such pleas to date.
How many people had been convicted and where were they serving their sentences? a correspondent asked. Mr. Okali said three persons had been convicted so far and they were in the process of appeal. They were being held pending the appeal and had not been moved. Asked for the location of the two who had pleaded guilty and the former prime minister, Mr. Okali said they were still in the Tribunal's detention facilities.
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