The new judicial structure of the United Nations that would take over the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has been met with scepticism by the Rwandan government. Kigali wants "frank discussions" about the place of detention of convicts and the fate of the archives.
by Clive Muhenga
Since 2 July, the small tourist town of Arusha in northern Tanzania shelters two judicial institutions of the United Nations: the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunal (IRMCT). The latter is called upon to perform the essential functions of the ICTR which has been scheduled to close by late 2012.
Although currently small and temporary, the IRMCT will soon have its own building in Arusha. This comes in contrast to the ICTR, which rents the premises of the International Conference Centre. Much of the building will house the archives of the ICTR – that is to say, all evidence, decisions and judgements.
"These archives are ours"
IRMCT president, the US-born Judge Theodor Meron, has given his assurance that Rwandans will be allowed access to the archives. But for Kigali, this is not enough.
"We should be the first custodians of such things. There is no good reason why all records related to the genocide would not be stored by us, here in Rwanda," said Rwandan President Paul Kagame, at the eighteenth annual commemoration of the Tutsi genocide on 7 April.
In his speech at the opening ceremony of the IRMCT, Rwandan attorney general Martin Ngoga was not all that explicit. "There are questions that require more discussions, frank discussions," he warned.
In a separate interview with RNW, Ngoga again brought up the archives. "Where will the archives finally be kept since IRMCT is only a temporary entity?" he asked. "There must be a middle ground," insisted the Rwandan magistrate.
Some argue that keeping the archives in Rwanda could lead to the disclosure of some protected witnesses, putting their safety at risk.
Three high-level accused
The IRMCT also has the mandate to find and prosecute three high-level accused who, according to reports, are currently living abroad. They are as follows: wealthy businessman Felicien Kabuga who has been presented by the prosecutor as the financier of the genocide of the Tutsis; former minister of defence Augustin Bizimana; and Major Protais Mpiranya, who served as the guard commander of Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and whose plane was brought down before the beginning of the genocide in 1994.
For Rwanda, the UN Security Council seems to be holding back in its criticism. "If there is irrefutable evidence of the presence of one of these accused in a Member State, more stringent measures should be taken," Ngoga said, criticizing the UN for having so far merely asked states to cooperate. "There must be a new approach, a new language, new methods, new tactics," he said.
Transfer of convicts
The work of IRMCT began after the ICTR decided to send convicts to serve their sentences in Mali and Benin, under an agreement between these countries and the UN. The actual transfer of the convicts, including that of the most famous ICTR detainee, Colonel Bagosora, took place on 3 July.
This did not go down well with the Rwandan government, who wants the convicts to be held as prisoners in Rwanda. "It is this same international community that sent us people found guilty by the Tribunal on Sierra Leone to serve their sentence in our country," said the attorney general who promised to raise the issue with officials of the IRMCT.
Detainees' letter to the UN
On their part, ICTR detainees and their lawyers have always been opposed to any transfer of the accused or convicts to Rwanda.
In protest, several hunger strikes went on in the detention centre. In a recent letter to the UN Secretary-General, the prisoners expressed opposition to the project, stating: "Rwanda does not meet the conditions for such an act of utmost importance from the ICTR." The ICTR has become, according to them, an "instrument of Kigali".