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Photo of the Plaque of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda via Flickr user Adam Jones, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

As the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) officially closed its doors on December 31, 2015, the human rights community praised its work as an “extraordinary evolution in the international response to serious and widespread human rights violations.” In his address to the United Nations Security Council, ICTR President Judge Vagn Joensen recounted the many accomplishments of the Tribunal, noting how the ICTR was the first international mechanism to interpret the definition of genocide set forth in the Genocide Convention of 1948. Other achievements included being the first international tribunal to define rape in international criminal law, as well as first to hold members of the media responsible for news intended to ignite genocidal acts. The Tribunal further paved the way for the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, and led to the increased use of “universal jurisprudence” for prosecuting crimes against humanity. In short, some believe that the ICTR has paved the way for international human rights.

On November 8, 1994, the Security Council set up the ICTR to deliver verdicts against those accused of committing acts of genocide, in response to the killing of over 800,000 Tutsi people, mostly by Hutu extremists. Since then, the ICTR, hosted for 21 years in the United Republic of Tanzania, held 5,800 days of proceedings, indicted 93 people—including high-ranking military and government officials—and heard the accounts of over 3,000 witnesses who described the most horrific and traumatic events of the Rwandan Genocide.

However, critics believe that the ICTR has not yet prosecuted all those responsible for the Rwandan Genocide. For example, Human Rights Watch expressed disappointment that the court did not hold accountable the many members of the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the group that has been Rwanda’s ruling party ever since the genocide ended. Some critics also argue that the court’s annual budget of around US $100 million should allow it to prosecute more people. Further, debate about where the thousands of court archives will be housed continues, with Rwandans arguing that their history should be located in Rwanda and not abroad. Yet, the biggest remaining issue to victims and their supporters is that of reparations. The ICTR has “delivered nothing for either the victims or the survivors of the genocide,” explained Jean Pierre Dusingizemungu from Ibuka, a group that supports genocide survivors.

At the close of the ICTR, along with its predecessor the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, all further proceedings will transfer to a “residual mechanism” which will also take charge of continuing the search for those who are still at large. In his address to the Security Council, Judge Vagn Joensen urged all States to increase their cooperation with the Mechanism, specifically by apprehending and surrendering all remaining fugitives indicted by the ICTR. He concluded by emphasizing how “the Tribunal has directly strengthened the capacity of national criminal justice systems to prosecute effectively international crimes,” and he ensured that their work will “continue to help future triers of international crimes long after the ICTR’s closure.”

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