Failure to Act Risks Undermining Court’s Legacy
December 12, 2008
The tribunal has not prosecuted even one of the serious Rwandan Patriotic Front crimes from 1994. This glaring omission means delivering one-sided justice and risks tarnishing the important work that the court has done to date.
Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda's (ICTR) prosecutor's failure to date to bring cases against Rwandan Patriotic Front officers responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the 1994 genocide risks undermining the court's legacy, Human Rights Watch said today. On December 12, 2008, ICTR Prosecutor Hassan Jallow will brief the Security Council, which is finalizing plans to close the court.

The ICTR is mandated to prosecute persons responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Rwanda in 1994. However, unlike the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which has prosecuted crimes committed by all parties to the conflict, the ICTR has thus far prosecuted only persons charged with committing genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

Against the backdrop of the genocide, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which has since become the country's governing party, killed thousands of civilians, in the process committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

"The tribunal has not prosecuted even one of the serious Rwandan Patriotic Front crimes from 1994," said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program. "This glaring omission means delivering one-sided justice and risks tarnishing the important work that the court has done to date."

RPF crimes have been well-documented, including by a United Nations Commission of Experts, which concluded that the group had "perpetrated serious breaches of international humanitarian law" and "crimes against humanity." The Field Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as well as Human Rights Watch and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) documented the RPF's violations of international humanitarian law. Recently, cases have been opened against its leaders in Spain and France.

The prosecutor for the ICTR referred one RPF case to Rwandan national courts involving the killings of 15 civilians, including high officials of the Catholic Church, in June 1994. In October, the Military Court of Kigali acquitted two senior officers for the crimes while two more junior officers who had pleaded guilty to the crimes were given reduced sentences of eight years on grounds that the crimes were not premeditated. The Rwandan prosecutor has appealed the decision to a higher Rwandan court. After the officers' arrest, the ICTR prosecutor indicated that he would reassert jurisdiction over the case if the trial did not meet international standards, but he is refraining from comment while the decision is on appeal.

In the meantime, the ICTR's trial chambers have in three cases refused to transfer trials for genocide to the courts in Rwanda, citing fair trial concerns, including the ability to secure and protect witnesses.

"The concerns about fair trials expressed by the tribunal are even more pronounced for Rwandan Patriotic Front cases," said Dicker.

The ICTR is currently scheduled to finalize trials by the end of 2009. Unless the Security Council grants an extension, it will be difficult to bring RPF cases before the court.

"The doors seem to be closing with the mandate of the court unfulfilled," said Dicker. "The victims of the RPF crimes also deserve justice. Failure to bring these cases before the court will call into question the impartiality and independence of the ICTR."

Human Rights Watch raised its concerns in a letter to the ICTR prosecutor today.