BRIEFING BY PRESIDENT OF RWANDA WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL19991109
The President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda told correspondents this afternoon that without Rwanda's cooperation, the Tribunal could not continue to try cases.
In a briefing at Headquarters, Tribunal President Navenethem Pillay said she was distressed by yesterday's announcement by the Rwandan Chief Prosecutor that his Government had decided to suspend all cooperation and assistance to Tribunal organs. She noted that there were 31 persons currently awaiting prosecution.
The Chief Prosecutor's announcement followed the decision of the Tribunal's Appeals Chamber to release former Rwandan Foreign Minister Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, on the grounds that his rights had been violated through a combination of delays in the pre-trial stage of his case [charged with genocide and crimes against humanity, he had been detained for 19 months before being brought before a Tribunal judge].
The suspension of cooperation would affect the production of witnesses for both the prosecution and the defence, she said. "If we cannot secure the attendance of witnesses, then of course we cannot hold trials. It is a matter of grave concern." Furthermore, Rwanda was the only place from which the Office of the [Tribunal] Prosecutor could function. The Government's decision would curtail the investigations that were a crucial part of the Tribunal's work. Also, entry facilities and travel papers for Tribunal employees and defence counsel would be affected. The 31 trials underway would be derailed. "I am very distressed over the reaction of the Rwandan Government.. The only way we can gain credibility is to act as independent judges and that is what this is about. It is a decision of the Appeals Chamber. It is accepted by the trial judges because we are obliged to accept and follow this decision."
Judge Pillay announced that she would be meeting this afternoon with Rwanda's Ambassador to the United Nations to discuss the matter. Asked what stance she intended to take, she said that she fully understood the anger and frustration of Rwandans. For three years, the Tribunal judges had been listening "day in and day out" to testimony from survivors and were deeply moved. "But as judges, we still have to be detached and apply the law." She felt obligated to explain the decision by Appeals Chamber and to explain how the International Criminal Tribunals worked and what was meant by the principle of a right to a fair trial.
She added that she might recount an example from her own country, South Africa, involving the criminal prosecution of the former Minister of Defence and 10 others. The trial had involved a huge cost to the country since, as a result of an agreement with the previous
Rwanda Press Briefing - 2 - 9 November 1999
government, taxpayers had to pay the costs of the defence. After an eight-month trial, they had been acquitted. In response to very stormy public reaction, President Nelson Mandela had insisted that the decision of the Court be accepted, saying of the judges: "That's why we put them there. We want them to be independent and fearless."
In response to specific questions about the Appeals Chamber's judgement, she said the Chamber had interpreted the Statute and Rules to give itself expansive jurisdiction to hear the matter. She could not comment on the substance or the merits of the decision, however. As to what precedential force the decision might have, she said she did not know how many other persons might fall into Mr. Barayagwiza's category. He alone had been subject to a 19-month delay before being brought for an appearance before a judge; the Appeals Chamber had made it clear that it was looking only at facts that were unique or peculiar to his case. The Trial Court would have to apply, wherever applicable, the rulings and interpretations of the Appeals Chamber. What constituted delay, and to what extent that delay was prejudicial to the accused, would be a subjective decision of a Trial Chamber.
A reporter asked her to comment on a Human Rights Watch characterization of the decision as an instance of prosecutorial incompetence by a poorly funded prosecutor's office. "I have no basis for saying there was incompetence here", she replied. The case involved a lengthy, shocking period of detention without trial. However, the two ad hoc tribunals were in the hands of sovereign nations that had the custody of individuals.
She acknowledged that there had been many logistical difficulties during the first two years of operation of the Tribunal [which was established in 1994] but after visits with the Government in 1998, the situation had eased a bit. In her speech before the General Assembly yesterday, she had stressed the need for greater judicial support and better organization of the Court management system. She had underscored the Tribunal's determination to complete the trials of the remaining 31 accused persons in their custody by May 2003, the expiration of the Tribunal's mandate.
Asked if Mr. Barayagwiza could be retried, she said that the Appeals Chamber decision precluded subsequent prosecution on the charges. However, if new evidence were presented, she assumed that would be a different situation. She added that the Government of Cameroon [where Mr. Barayagwiza was arrested] had already turned down Rwanda's request to extradite of Mr. Barayagwiza.
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