The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR, the Tribunal) convicted Augustin Ngirabatware, a former government minister, of genocide, incitement to commit genocide, and extermination and rape as crimes against humanity on December 20, 2012.
Ngirabatware was sentenced to 35 years in prison for his role in orchestrating the Rwandan genocide as Planning Minister in the Hutu government. Ngirabatware was the last person facing trial before the Tribunal, and when the final cases on appeal are resolved, the ICTR will close. The Tribunal has stated that it must close by December 2014, when all further cases will be transferred to local courts in Kigali. Since its creation in 1994, the ICTR has resolved 71 cases, resulting in 92 indictments, ten acquittals, and 32 convicted Rwandans who are currently serving prison sentences in Mali and Benin. The ICTR will attempt to complete the seven outstanding appeals involving seventeen individuals before its closure next year. The first appellate decision—an acquittal in the cases of Justin Mugenzi and Prosper Mugiraneza—was handed down on February 4, 2013, and ICTR President Judge Vagn Joensen predicted that seven convicted persons will receive appellate decisions during 2013, with the remaining ten appeals to be decided in 2014. The United Nations has also stepped up its search for nine alleged perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide who remain at large.
The ICTR determined that local courts have demonstrated their ability to fairly try Jean Uwinkindi, the first indictee transferred to Kigali, justifying the transfer of the remaining indictments for trial in local courts. However, Uwinkindi’s case has been stayed since his counsel challenged the constitutionality of the transfer. As this case is resolved, public opinion throughout the international community will have to act as a check on fair and humane treatment of indictees by monitoring how individuals are treated when they return to their home country. Eight individuals convicted by the ICTR, including those who have been acquitted or who have completed their sentences, have already stated that they do not want to return to Rwanda, but no other state has agreed to accept them.
Despite the availability of local courts, the ICTR has determined that if any of the three most wanted indictees are captured, they will be tried using a special international legal structure, the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT).One such indictee, Ngirabatware’s father-in-law, Felicien Kabuga, is still at large and wanted by the international community for genocide, crimes against humanity, and serious violations of international humanitarian law. Kabuga is a millionaire accused of funding the 1994 genocide that killed one million Tutsi people. He has a $5 million bounty on his head, put up by the United States. Kabuga is still in hiding, allegedly in Kenya, according to ICTR prosecutor Hassan Bubacar Jallow. The two other most wanted indictees are Protais Mpiranyi, former Commander of the Rwandan Presidential Guard, and Augustin Bizimana, former Minister of Defense. While the end of its mandate is in sight, the ICTR stated last month that it will not relent in its search for the remaining indictees, and has expanded its search to other African countries outside of Kenya. As the UN increases its resources to apprehend the three most wanted indictees from Rwanda, there is a danger that public perception of their guilt necessarily follows, decreasing the chances for the indictees, assuming they are apprehended, to receive a fair trial either at the local or international level.
The MICT, established by the UN Security Council on December 22, 2010, will assume the remaining functions of the ICTR as it completes its mandate. It will manage the archives from the ICTR’s tenure, continue to protect witnesses and victims, and hear all appeals filed after June 2012, including a potential appeal by the recently convicted Ngirabatware.
In the pursuit of justice, the public’s perception of trials within Rwanda remains of chief importance. International criminal tribunals in general suffer a fair amount of criticism regarding whether justice is truly served by prosecuting individuals outside of the country in which war crimes were committed. Critics have also raised the question of whether prosecutions executed in an international tribunal promote or contravene efforts of transitional justice. As the ICTR closes and the execution of justice is transferred to yet another external tribunal, Rwandan citizens and the international community will be watching closely to ensure that each indictee receives a fair trial, that the state of Rwanda eventually gains control over its process of transitional justice, and that justice is served.