Arusha, 25 May 2007 (FH) – The appeal judgment, last Monday, of Mika Muhimana, an obscure Rwandan elected municipal official, leaves without answers the questions on the prosecution strategy of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) created to bring the individuals allegedly responsible for the 1994 genocide.
Nothing would have let one think that the name of the former city councilor of Gishyita (western Rwanda) would become a historical figure in Rwanda and for all of humanity. An uneducated man, a person in charge of a small administrative entity during the 1994 genocide, Muhimana, whose sentence of life in prison was upheld on Monday by the Appeals Chamber currently shares his life with dignitaries of whom he would not have dared to shake the hand 13 years ago: real or presumed organizers of the genocide. It is only with his judgment that he has received his notoriety.
The presence of this lowly person at the side of giants like Colonel Théoneste Bagosora, alleged "mastermind" of the genocide, brings doubt to the coherence of the ICTR trial policy. Muhimana could have been judged by a national jurisdiction in Rwanda or elsewhere and the United Nations tribunal, which is approaching the end of its mandate, end of 2008, would have thus saved, at the same, time invaluable funds and precious time for its “completion strategy".
According to a calendar fixed by the Security Council, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda must finish its trials by 31 December 2008. It will then have cost more than one billion dollar. If the services of the court cannot say the exact cost devoted to the Muhimana case, they are sure of a thing: among the individual trials, Muhimana’s was the most expensive; "more expensive, for example, than that of the former Minister of Finances Emmanuel Ndindabahizi", underlines a source at the clerk's office.
And yet, the former Prosecutor of the ICTR, Carla Del Ponte had said that the mission of the Tribunal "is to identify and try the principal persons responsible for these crimes, those which were shown particularly active in the design and the preparation of these crimes". The Swiss Prosecutor made this reminder on 2 April 2002 at the opening of the trial of Colonel Bagosora and his three co-accused. But reality in the detention center of the ICTR, in the small Tanzanian city of Arusha, contradicts the remarks of Mrs. Del Ponte. Because some pons like Muhimana rub shoulders with masterminds of the genocide.
"The ICTR never publicly exposed the precise criteria which would have explained its choices", deplored the French sociologist André Guichaoua in an interview with the French daily newspaper Le Monde on 27 June 2005. "Its policy appears from the outside to be quite made up as they go. A policy of which the winners are those which made the adequate efforts to profit from protections, hiding places, changes of identity and to obscure their tracks while waiting for the Tribunal to close its doors ", added professor Guichaoua who is one of a renowned expert witnesses of the prosecution at the ICTR.
The Office of the Prosecutor explains the presence of Muhimana at Arusha because of the extreme cruelty and the barbarism of the crimes for which he was tried: women whom he walked naked after having raped them, slitting a pregnant woman open, castration of a man, etc.
But this argument can not be sustained for another former city councilor, hardly more educated and not less obscure, Vincent Rutaganira who was never accused of such macabre crimes. He directed, during the genocide, the sector of Mubuga, close to the administrative entity of Muhimana. Another common point: they were both stopped on Tanzanian territory; undoubtedly, due to a lack of financial means to get away further from Rwanda. Whereas, the majority of their fellow prisoners had been able to cross several borders.
But the two men’s destinies diverged. Whereas Muhimana supported his innocence until the end of his trial, the older Rutaganira, finally chose the short cut of a deal. Represented by François Roux, the French lawyer of people with modest means, the former council of Mubuga pled guilty to "complicity by omission" of the crime of extermination of Tutsis in his entourage. This allowed him to receive on 14 Mars 2005 a six years prison sentence; the lightest sentence ever pronounced by the Arusha tribunal.
With these two former clerks, is added the former chief militiaman of Cyangugu (southern Rwanda) Yussuf Munyakazi. Admittedly, he is often described in several genocide trials in Rwanda as a remarkably dedicated killer. But the trial at the ICTR of this henchman, who is still demanding a Rwandan-speaking lawyer because he does not understand any of the official languages of the court, will certainly not contribute to the understanding of a genocide which claimed nearly a million victims. The arrest of this local chief militiaman, on 5 May 2004, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a country that supposedly sheltered several large fish, is, however, one of the very last catches of which can pride the Office of the Prosecutor.
© Hirondelle News Agency