Costly Rwanda genocide tribunal nears deadline

Michel Bagaragaza constantly rolled a pencil between his fingers and thanked the judge, whom he addressed as “Madame, la Presidente”, for her every question.

The former head of the Rwandan tea industry, Bagaragaza was testifying against one of the alleged masterminds of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, in which extremists from the Hutu majority killed about 800 000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Bagaragaza is a key figure for the United Nations’ International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Facing charges of having participated in the genocide himself, he was persuaded to testify against other defendants in return for leniency.

“We hope his testimony will expedite the proceedings,” said ICTR spokesperson Tim Gallimore. “We want to meet our deadline and complete all the trials by the end of 2008.” But that, he added, will be possible only if some defendants are tried by courts in other countries.

Since it took up its work 11 years ago, the Arusha-based tribunal has often been criticised for inefficiency.
Experts say it was a mistake to have made Carla del Ponte its chief prosecutor in the beginning. Del Ponte, chief prosecutor of the UN tribunal for war crimes by the former Yugoslavia, based in The Hague, spent little time in Arusha.

She was replaced as the ICTR’s chief prosecutor in 2003 by Hassan Bubacar Jallow, who has been accused of focusing too much on Hutus’ crimes and ignoring acts of revenge by Tutsi rebels, whose leader was the current Rwandan President, Paul Kagame.

Prosecuting masterminds of the Rwandan genocide has so far cost about €820-million. Twenty-eight sentences have been handed down to date—three acquittals and 25 prison terms ranging from six years to life. Should the ICTR achieve its goal of concluding 70 trials by the end of 2008, each trial will have cost on average at least €12-million.

“Despite all the criticism, the ICTR has accomplished a lot,” Gallimore said. “Genocide has been defined legally for the first time.”

Gallimore also pointed out that judges in Arusha had decided that rape could be an act of genocide, and he said that sentencing Rwanda’s former prime minister Jean Kambanda to life in prison had sent a strong signal to government leaders that they are not above international law.

The era of special UN tribunals is gradually coming to an end.

In the future, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague will prosecute those responsible for mass killings and civil wars.

The trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, charged with backing brutal rebels in Sierra Leone, marks the transition: judges of the UN tribunal for Sierra Leone will conduct the proceedings, but the ICC will provide the courtrooms and a cell for the defendant.—Sapa-dpa

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