The US is backing Kigali's request to transfer genocide cases before the ICTR said the American ambassador for war crimes, Stephen Rapp. Sources say this issue had been on the table between Kigali and Washington since 2009. He further stated in 2008, both the US and ICTR Judges were "not convinced that Rwanda respected the independence of justice".
The ICTR failed to meet its goals of winding down first instance trials as the UN Security Council had requested. Too long, too costly and unable to achieve stated goals, the US has changed its mind about Kigali's transfer request.
In a meeting of international criminal tribunals held in Kigali, Rapp said that the US supported transferring to Rwanda the cases of most, and perhaps all trials which had not yet begun. Or of those suspects not yet apprehended by the ICTR.
The UN has set a new deadline for the ICTR to finish its first instance trials by 31 December 2011.
According to the same source, Rwanda seemed reluctant about Rapp's suggestion to accept "judges from foreign or international courts" and integrate domestic mecanisms dealing with the accused who would be transferred. However, in June ICTR judges decided for the first time to transfer a pending case to Rwanda. Supporting the transfer of Pastor Jean Uwinkindi, Rwanda announced its intention to modify the law so as to include "judges from foreign or international courts" in its tribunal, thus following Rapp's suggestions.
"One of the advantages we saw is that, if we have situations where defendants want to cite witnesses and those witnesses feel uncomfortable with coming to Kigali, the presence of an international judge [to the competent Rwandan court] would allow these witnesses to be heard by the foreign judge's jurisdiction. This could facilitate the process", Stephen Rapp said.
Uwinkindi has appealed against the decision for him to be transferred. "If the Uwinkindi appeal is denied, I suspect the Rwandan legislation will move on. Rwandans don't want the presence of an international judge to be a condition but they can see the advantages of this, and they are prepared to voluntarily take it on", Stephen Rapp said.
"Other options have been studied", Rapp added. However, as "there is no other solution, we have to try to make this one work". He contended that Rwandans were "as good as anybody in the world in terms of being able to deal with the specific issue of what happened on a given hill on this or that day".
Uwinkindi's defence lawyers denounced in their appeals brief filed on September 8 a "let's-wait-and-see-what-happens" policy. Rwanda is unable to lead such trials meeting international standards, his lawyers said.
"Forty-nine witnesses have already told us that they would not come to Kigali if the trial were to take place there. They are scared", Uwinkindi's British co-counsel Iain Edwards said.
The Appeals court decision is expected before the end of the year.