Recently the prosecutor asked that four accused, including three prisoners in Arusha, be transferred to Rwandan courts because of the end of the ICTR mandate in December 2008.
The lawyers of the three Arusha prisoners vigorously denounced this motion well before the much awaited debate before an ad hoc chamber. The responsibility for these transfers falls on the ICTR judges. In the event of a refusal, the ICTR will with difficulty be able to meet its deadline of trying them by 31December 2008.
In the meantime, in a joint letter addressed to the president of the Association of Defence Counsels at the ICTR (ADAD), and which copies were addressed to the president of the UN Security Council and to senior officials at the ICTR, the lawyers of the three prisoners who are subjects of the motion, asked for the solidarity of their colleagues. Lawyers and some human rights organizations have indeed already expressed doubts on the impartiality of Rwandan courts in regards to the perpetrators of the genocide. A meeting of the ADAD is scheduled for Saturday in Arusha.
The lawyers directly concerned estimate, for their part, that it is important, in the interest of justice, "that urgent measures be taken to compromise the realization of this unhealthy, dangerous and diabolic attempt concocted from Kigali for the benefit of the prosecution".
The prisoners who are the subjects of the transfer requests are the former commander of the military camp of Ngoma in Butare (southern Rwanda), Captain Ildephonse Hategekimana as well as Gaspard Kanyarukiga and Yussuf Munyakazi, two businessmen. They are respectively defended by the Togolese Ahlonko Robert Dovi, the Congolese Ernest Bahati Midagu and the Tanzanian Jwani Thimothy Mwaikusa. According to them, "the fairness and impartiality of Rwandan courts remain petty words".
This position contrasts with that expressed by the prosecutor who affirms that Rwandan courts answer the criteria of fairness. According to him, Rwanda possesses professional and independent judges who have been familiar with genocide cases for more than ten years. He adds that the defence rights will be fully respected.
The prosecutor also points out that Rwanda abolished the death penalty, which, in the past, constituted the principal obstacle for the transfer of cases. He finally underlines that Rwanda gave assurances that trials of the prisoners transferred from Arusha will be followed by international observers.
Apart from the three persons held in Arusha, the prosecutor also requested the transfer to Kigali of a fugitive, police inspector Fulgence Kayishema.
Invited to prove its capacity to try Kayishema by an ICTR chamber, Rwanda answered that the High court, which should try this case in first instance, has 26 experienced judges and 19 members of the support staff trained in law. In the event of an appeal, the defendant would be tried by the Supreme Court which has 14 professional judges and 8 members of the support staff trained in law. Rwanda also states that its prosecution has 14 prosecutors and that the Bar of Kigali includes 280 experienced lawyers.
Six people still await in the United Nations detention center in Arusha to be tried, 15 others are still at large, 4 are the subjects of extradition procedures and await in Arusha. All the prisoners are in the dark as to the fate which will be reserved to them and no other country, except Rwanda, has shown the least eagerness to try them. Only France has agreed to try two accused who are currently on its territory and who, paradoxically, were claimed by the ICTR.
If they do not want to go to Rwanda, the only exit which seems available to these defendants on standby of judgment would be to plead guilty. In order to accelerate the procedures, the ICTR admitted this procedure since its creation. Of the 33 persons tried, only 8 have recognized their guilt. Seven have already been sentenced, the eighth after two days of proceedings is waiting for a judgment which will be quick.
The last ICTR defendants could be tried in such a manner. We are, however, unaware if the judges, theoretically independent, will ratify a "free" decision taken within the framework of this constraint.
© Hirondelle News Agency