The UN-backed Tribunal for Rwanda has always been a bit outside the regular circuit of commentary on social media. Maybe because it was – unfortunately – an afterthought to its sister tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Maybe because it’s based in Arusha, Tanzania. Its work seems to get less promotion and less understanding than other international courts. But the crimes it’s dealing with are huge, complex and fundamental.
But this week the focus is fully on the tribunal (ICTR
). Why? Because it’s stopped. Shut down. Closed its doors. Time for some sober assessments.
Oh yes, that’s one of the critiques: the ICTR hasn’t actually tried that many people. And Rwanda itself has via a local system of hearings known as gacaca.
And then, on this final day, the Court made one of those decisions
that are difficult to explain. Several people have been held by the tribunal for more than fifteen years now. Six stood trial together in what was known as the Butare case. Convicted of different forms of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, they received sentences ranging from 20 years to life. The appeals judges upheld the convictions. But reduced the sentences.
That hasn’t gone down well among some Rwandans.
And for those who follow the details, the convoluted legal reasoning in the press release
had them foxed.
Now we are on the subject, though, it might be time to mention some of the other things about this court that people are worried about. Those who have been acquitted by the ICTR have nowhere to go. They are stuck in a safe house in Arusha. And they’ve received no compensation for the time they’ve spent locked up. There’s no provision for that in the statutes.
And then there’s also a row brewing over a former ICTR fugitive, one of the nine poster boys they’d wanted to capture. Rwanda is due to take the case over. But now the Democratic Republic Congo thinks otherwise.
Prisoners as political pawns: the ICTR must be pleased to have dodged that particular diplomatic dogfight.
Lead image: International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (Photo: Larissa Lee Beck/DPA)