14.09.07 - JUSTICE/PROSECUTION - THE PROSECUTORS SEND THE BALL BACK TO THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY

The Hague, 14 September 2007 (FH) - The prosecutors of the international tribunals met recently at the Chautauqua Institution of Syracuse University (United States) and reminded that the fight against the impunity of "crimes which disturb the international community" is the business of all.
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Nine prosecutors, including two members of the prosecution team at the Nuremberg trial, took part in this meeting organized to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the second Hague conference. At that conference, 26 countries (mainly European, but also Russia, Japan, the United States and Mexico) signed the first rules of war and, especially, for the protection of civilians. In all, 49 countries have ratified these rules.

Fifteen months before the end of the mandates of the two international criminal tribunals, for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia (ICTR and ICTY), and as the prosecutors try to apply a strategy for the completion of their work, this meeting was the occasion to remind countries of their obligation to co-operate.

The international community must, they wrote, "hold the promises registered in the laws, apply judicial decisions, arrest the accused and hand them over to the appropriate jurisdictions".

Analyzing this declaration, Mr. Lurquin, a senior defence counsel at the ICTR, sees it also as a de-responsabilization of the institutions in place and fears that the closing of the ad hoc tribunals "will lead to conditions of impunity".

He worries about the consequences of such a closing: "certain countries do not have the means of prosecuting the wanted defendants who reside on their territory" and moreover the national courts have not invested much in the past, why would they do so after the closing of the ICTR?

As for the formal Chautauqua Declaration, the absence of prosecutions does not only seem to lie in the non-competence of the countries since the prosecutors do not fail to stress that the "legal instruments are from now on available".

Nevertheless, how could it be explained to the victims of the Rwandan genocide that some of the defendants were tried and others not? In a press conference preceding the Chautauqua meeting, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Mr. Moreno-Ocampo, declared that "the victims have as much a right to peace that to justice" by adding that "as long as fugitives remain free, victims will see themselves threatened and crimes will continue".

Of course "it is the constant of any justice system to not be able to arrest all suspects" deplores another expert of international criminal justice. However, the list of fugitives is well established and many of them have already been found but are not worried for as much.

Rwanda is requesting the transfer of fugitives. However, it is reproached for not presenting all the democratic guarantees necessary, in spite of the recent abolition of the death penalty. Indeed, certain countries grant, still to this day, the statute of refugee to Rwandans and even if the latter are the subject of current arrest warrant, they will not be extradited.

At the time of the arrival of the International Criminal Court, an international permanent court, whose jurisdiction is unfortunately temporally limited since it cannot consider crimes committed before 2002, is it acceptable that a certain number of people identified as potentially having a connection with the perpetration of serious crimes, in fact the Rwandan 1994 genocide, are not tried because, for financial reasons, the qualified international courts had to close their doors?

With the difficulties encountered in the application of the ICTR completion strategy, the absence of concrete implication of the national courts as well as the grey zones that persist and the debate on the crimes charged to the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), Mr. Lurquin, like many of his colleagues interviewed in Arusha, wonders whether it would not be better that the tribunal continue its activities, beyond 31 December 2008, date on which it is supposed to finish its first instance trials

AV/PB/MM
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