HEADQUARTERS BRIEFING ON INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL TRIBUNAL FOR RWANDA
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
24 July 2002
The situation in Rwanda, including the resolution of the crisis in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the pace of proceedings of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, was the subject of a Headquarters press conference this morning.
Attending the briefing, sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the United Nations, were the Special Envoy of the President of Rwanda, Patrick Mazimpaka, and the General Prosecutor in the Rwandan Supreme Court, Gérard Gahima. Anastase Gasana, Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the United Nations, introduced the panel.
Addressing the crisis in the DRC, Mr. Mazimpaka said he had been in New York last month to discuss with the Security Council the way forward in resolving the crisis. At that time, Rwanda thought the missing element was the cooperation of the Government of the DRC in the process of disarmament, demobilization and repatriation of ex-Interahamwe forces, who had been at the heart of the armed conflict between the two countries.
Today, he had come to New York to discuss a "significant step forward" towards resolution of the crisis. In a series of meetings, held in Durban and attended by the Presidents of Rwanda and the DRC, the United Nations Secretary-General and the incoming Chairman of the African Union, an agreement had been reached to set out the modalities for the disarmament of ex-Interahamwe forces and the withdrawal of Rwandan troops from the DRC as soon as possible. A memorandum of understanding, which was awaiting the signature of the Presidents, contained three key elements, including the commitment by the Secretary-General and the Chairman of the African Union to assist in and ensure successful implementation of the agreements reached.
Another element of the agreement was that the Government of the DRC had committed itself to act against the ex-Interahamwe on its territory by cooperating with the United Nations Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC) and the Joint Military Committee in providing information for tracking and disarming those forces. The Government of the DRC had also made it clear that it no longer wanted to have those forces on its territory, poised to use that territory later on to attack neighbouring countries.
A series of measures (already a part of the Lusaka Agreement) had been agreed to, he said, including the preparation of assembly areas where troops could be disarmed, registered and repatriated. The Lusaka Agreement identified some 23 such areas, and he hoped they could be made operational to receive the forces that would be moved there. The Government of the DRC had also committed to ensuring that the forces and their leaders would move to those areas for repatriation.
He said that a permanent structure to monitor and verify the agreement would be put in place by the African Union, South Africa and the Secretary-General. The steps agreed to would take place within a 90-day period following the signing of the agreement. Depending on the success of the operation, Rwandan troops would have started leaving the DRC before the end of the 90 days. It would take 120 days to verify and complete the entire agreement. He also hoped to receive the full support of the Security Council, which had made it clear that no other mechanisms were available through the United Nations. He also hoped that the new agreement would help the situation without requiring further resources from the United Nations.
After a visit to the region by Security Council members, there had been a suggestion to create a "curtain of troops", he continued. But in discussions with the DRC, it had been asserted that such a mechanism would complicate rather than facilitate matters. Direct disarmament and repatriation would be more effective, would be simpler to operate and would require fewer resources, particularly as the DRC was not controlled by one entity.
Turning to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Mr. Gahima said that he had come to New York to discuss Rwanda's grave misgivings over that Tribunal. The ICTR was established in 1994 to bring to justice persons responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Rwanda and neighbouring countries. The Government of Rwanda had been the first party to call for the establishment of the Tribunal.
Despite its shortcomings, Rwanda had continued to support the Tribunal, he said. Many "big fish" who had fled the country with 1994 were living in countries with which Rwanda did not have extradition treaties and which did not have laws of universal jurisdiction. These people would never be brought to justice unless the Tribunal itself handled the operation.
While Rwanda supported the Tribunal, both the Government and the people had misgivings about its performance, he said. The slow pace of trials was unacceptable. With an annual budget of some $100 million and about 1,000 staff members, the Tribunal did not finish a single trial a year. While the Tribunal had spent some $800 million to date, it had conducted and concluded only five trials.
He indicated that the Tribunal's Prosecutor was under pressure from different sources, including some members of the Council, to scale down the process of investigating and indicting genocide suspects who were still at large. The Tribunal had only indicted some 70 people, of whom some 50 had been apprehended. Many prominent military and civilian leaders instrumental in planning and carrying out the genocide were still at large. It was unacceptable that those people would be able to live in peace without being brought to justice.
Regarding witness treatment and protection, he said many witnesses who went to Arusha were mistreated. Many genocide survivor organizations had started boycotting the trials. Some witnesses had even died as a result of the lack of a witness protection programme. The Tribunal had refused to involve the Rwandan Court in working out mechanisms to protect witnesses before, during and after their testimonies in Arusha.
Many had heard of the scandal surrounding the hiring of genocide perpetrators by the Tribunal, he added. The Tribunal itself had indicted two of its members for genocide and dismissed four others. At the time they were dismissed, some 10 other Tribunal personnel had disappeared. The Tribunal, which was set up to try genocide, had become a safe haven for the perpetrators of that crime.
Regarding fee-splitting between genocide suspects and their lawyers, he said there were also reports of fee-splitting between genocide suspects on trial and their investigators. Suspects usually hired defence investigators from among their own relatives. Most of the prisoners in Arusha earned several thousand dollars a year from fee-splitting with their lawyers and investigators.
"Generally, the Tribunal is a mismanaged place," he said. Although the Tribunal had an established budget, essential personnel posts had not yet been filled. The Rwandan Court had held meetings with officers of the Tribunal, including the Prosecutor and the Registrar, and had agreed that dialogue was needed to deal with the Tribunal's problems. Because of infighting, however, negotiations had not taken place. Although trials had come to a standstill by the end of the Court's last term, members of the Court had gone on vacation without resolving such outstanding issues.
The people and Government of Rwanda had come to the point where they felt the international community did not care about justice for Rwanda, he said. He could not understand why there should be one prosecutor for both the ICTR and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). "How could a genocide that had claimed more than a million lives be a person's part-time job?" he asked.
The Prosecutor, moreover, was based in The Hague -- nowhere near Rwanda. In The Hague, Carla Del Ponte received daily briefings from her top managers on cases under way at the ICTY. That was not the case with Rwanda. In the absence of a Prosecutor who dealt exclusively with Rwanda, a Deputy Prosecutor should fill that role. For more than 14 months, however, there had not been a Deputy Prosecutor or Chief of Investigations. The person who had headed the Office of the Prosecutor in Rwanda was a policeman.
In response to a question on Rwanda's cooperation with the Tribunal, Mr. Gahima said the issues raised yesterday in the Security Council by Ms. Del Ponte were not the same issues he had raised. He had drawn attention to issues that she would not dare address.
The Rwandan Court had not prevented genocide survivors from testifying in Arusha, he continued. They had been prevented by instructions from their organizations -- legally registered, functioning organizations. In March, it had been agreed to set up a joint commission. The ICTR had acknowledged that problems existed, and that genocide survivors had their own leadership. At the end of June, further meetings were held and it was agreed that subsequent meetings should focus on the remaining issues. Members of the Tribunal, however, had gone on vacation before resolving the crisis that existed in the Tribunal at the end of June.
Regarding complaints that the Rwandan Court had not cooperated with the investigations of Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) soldiers, he said they had no obligation to investigate on the Tribunal's behalf, whether the party concerned was a RPF soldier or any other. Rwanda had not in any way obstructed the Tribunal's work. It respected the Tribunal's independence and had not deterred officers of the Tribunal from going anywhere.
The trial of RPF soldiers was not something the Rwandan Court was indifferent to, however. Rwanda had its own national mechanism. The international criminal justice system was based on the premise that there was no State able and willing to prosecute offences that might have been committed. Rwanda's preference was for Rwanda to try those offences. They had already tried some and would continue to do so. They had not, however, obstructed the ICTR.
In response to a question, Mr. Gahima said that the Tribunal owed even its modest success to Rwanda's support and assistance. Rwanda could not be indifferent, however, to its shortcomings. The Rwandan Court was speaking out because it cared about the Tribunal. The perception of the Tribunal in Rwanda was very negative. How could the Tribunal promote peace and reconciliation if Rwanda's perceptions of the Tribunal were so negative?
Dr. Gasana said that the International Tribunal had been created at the request of the new Government of Rwanda to try those who perpetrated the genocide and to help the new Government achieve stability.
Asked to update correspondents on the status of domestic trials in Rwanda, Mr. Gahima said that to understand the challenges the legal system faced, one had to go back to 1994. Massacres had claimed the lives of more than 1 million people. Many people had participated in committing atrocities. At that point, the Government had had to make a choice. The choice had been to deal with what had happened in a way that would help the rule of law in the future. Rwanda's justice system, however, had collapsed. The courts, the prosecutors and the police did not exist. They had to start by rebuilding institutions, recruiting staff, training and equipping them and passing laws to create a framework within which to try the perpetrators of genocide. That process had taken time. Trials had started after two years. Because the justice system had to be created from scratch, they had not been able to try as many cases as they would have liked.
If the people who committed the atrocities had not been arrested, he continued, they would have been subject to revenge killings. Difficult choices had been made. Some 2,500 people were tried a year. He did not know of any country that held so many murder trials. He was happy with the progress of the trials. No legal system in the world had been was created to deal with crimes of such mass violence.
He added that a system called "gacaca" had been established, inspired by traditional conflict-resolution systems in which the community was involved in dispensing justice. The "gacaca" courts would try many ordinary people. Only the leadership would come under the classical judicial system. He hoped the new arrangements would help the Court expedite the trials of genocide suspects and many others who might be implicated. He also hoped that the process would help the healing Rwandan society and allow it both to confront the past and move forward.
He did not believe the detention of so many suspects was a violation of human rights. It was something that had to be done. The difficult conditions in the prisons were due to a lack of resources. More was spent on the health-care of prisoners than on the average Rwandan citizen, he said.
A correspondent asked how many genocide suspects were still in Rwandan prisons. Had the "gacaca" trials begun? Mr. Gahima said that about 115,000 were already in prison and there were some 180,000 cases in all. "Gacaca" had started in 12 locations on a trial basis. Over the next couple of months they would evaluate how the "gacaca" trials had operated in those 12 locations and gradually expand the system to the rest of the country.
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