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USIS Washington File

10 November 1999

Rwanda War Crimes Tribunal Working To Speed Up Trials

(Judge concerned by Rwanda's decision not to cooperate) (980)
By Judy Aita
Washington File United Nations Correspondent
United Nations -- Concerned about the delays in bringing indicted war
criminals to trial, the president of the International Criminal
Tribunal for Rwanda is now faced with the Rwandan government's refusal
to cooperate with the tribunal.
The dispute arose after the tribunal's appeals chamber dismissed an
indictment against accused war criminal Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, who
was held 19 months in Rwanda before being brought before the tribunal
in Arusha, Tanzania, for an initial appearance. The dismissal angered
the Rwandan government, which informed Judge Navanethem Pillay,
president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, that it
was suspending all cooperation with and assistance to the tribunal.
At U.N. headquarters to report on the tribunal's work to the General
Assembly and the Security Council, Judge Pillay said on November 10
that the tribunal is "deeply concerned with delays in the
administration of justice" and is working to speed up proceedings.
She pointed out that Barayagwiza was held for a "rather lengthy,
shocking period of detention without trial, which offends all our
consciences. You can only be held for a period of 48 hours without
being brought to court."
Nonetheless, the judge made it plain as well that "we do need the
cooperation of the Rwandan government for the production of witnesses,
both for the prosecution and the defense, and if we do not have this
level of cooperation, if we do not secure the attendance of witnesses,
then, of course, we cannot hold trials."
While the trials are being held in Arusha, the office of the
prosecutor is in Rwanda, the judge pointed out, and "that is where
investigations are held." Rwanda's action, she noted, will "curtail a
crucial part of the tribunal's work."
If Rwanda does not cooperate with the tribunal, it will "affect rights
of accused persons to conduct proper defense because their counsel and
their investigators need entry into Rwanda to locate their witnesses,"
Judge Pillay explained.
The judge said that she was "very distressed over the reaction of the
Rwanda government" and would try to explain the situation to the
government in an effort to convince Rwandan leaders to change their
"As judges we understand the anger and reaction of the government,"
she said. "We are listening to testimony of survivors and we're deeply
moved by their testimony. But as judges we still have to be detached
and apply the law," she said.
"This is our mandate. People are presumed innocent and guilt has to be
proved beyond reasonable doubt, and we cannot have cooperation
tailored on the delivery of convictions," the judge stressed.
During the tribunal's first two years, there were many logistical
difficulties, including the inability of prosecutors to investigate
matters inside Rwanda. It wasn't until 1998, when the tribunal's
judges and the former president judge talked with the Rwandan
government, that the situation eased and then chief prosecutor Louise
Arbour was received by government.
Appearing before the Security Council November 10, Chief Prosecutor
Carla Del Ponte said that she is very concerned about the court's
findings of delays and violations of the accused's rights and is
planning to spend several weeks in Kigali and Arusha to work on the
But Del Ponte added that Barayagwiza's release by the international
tribunal "does not mean that an African state cannot open criminal
proceedings against a suspect against whom there is compelling
evidence for prosecution."
In her formal address to the General Assembly, Judge Pillay emphasized
the need for greater judicial support and better court organization
and management. Nevertheless, she stressed that the court is
determined to complete the trials of those currently in its custody by
May 2003.
Since the tribunal was established by the Security Council in November
1994, a total of 39 persons have been indicted, including the former
prime minister, two former Cabinet ministers, six senior political
appointees, four military leaders, and five burgomasters. Of that
number, 37 are in custody and one is awaiting transfer from the United
The tribunal has completed four full trials and two cases involving
guilty pleas and, as a result, five persons have been convicted and
sentenced to prison terms ranging from 15 years to life. Trial
proceedings in two other cases have been completed and judgments are
expected in December and January, Judge Pillay said.
But Judge Pillay also said that "accused persons have been in custody
awaiting trial for lengthy periods, a number of them since 1996. They
must be tried as soon as possible, in compliance with their
fundamental right to trial without undue delay."
Despite the fact that many logistical and administrative difficulties
of the first two years have been overcome, she said, judicial work has
not progressed as well as hoped and the volume of work is increasing.
The office of the prosecutor is in the midst of about 90
investigations and expects to produce 20 new indictments in 2000, the
judge said.
Administrative problems relating to case scheduling, assignment of
counsel, translation and court reporting services, publication of
court rules and decisions, accurate documentation, computerization of
archives, and adequate staff and facilities continue, she said. The
tribunal has also been inundated with more than 200 pretrial motions
as well as interlocutory appeals over the past two years.
Judge Pillay asked the U.N. members for more support.
"Without timely cooperation, producing witnesses in court as scheduled
is practically impossible, and this slows down the entire judicial
process," she said. She urged nations to pass relevant legislation and
sign cooperation agreements with the tribunal to expedite transfer
The president also asked for help in relocating witnesses to third
party states.
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)

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