22.12.08 - ICTR/PRISONERS - ICTR DOES NOT KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH ITS PRISONERS WHO HAVE BEEN RELEASED

Arusha, 22 December 2008 (FH) - The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), created to try the organizers of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, is still embarrassed by the releases which occur either after an acquittal or at the end of a prison sentence.
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A newly acquitted Gratien Kabiligi, a former general, joined last week André Ntagerura, a former minister, who has since February 2006 sought a host country. He will until then live at the Tribunal's expense. Four previous persons who were acquitted, after variable delays, have found refuge in France or Belgium. These two countries do not wish to make it a habit and are more and more reserved in front of new requests.

Although nothing is planned on their subject in its mandate, the ICTR endeavours to help them. For Ntagerura, after many steps which proved to be futile, he transmitted the case to Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The former minister, who has become a part of the Tribunal, which he crosses its corridors relentlessly and spends hours in the library, personally filed a recourse before Canadian courts.

The ICTR is the only one to face this kind of problem. Released from the other "ad hoc" Tribunal created by the United Nations, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, are welcomed as heroes in their native regions that have become countries. For Rwandans, whether they are acquitted or released, the return to Rwanda is not even considered.

For the persons who have been released, no solution is in sight. They are requested to melt in the African landscape. Pressed by his lawyer who made the point that Nzabirinda had saved money to the Tribunal by pleading guilty, the head warden committed himself to helping him but that would have been reproached against him by the officials of the Tribunal because nothing is planned on this subject. Questioned by the Hirondelle Agency, the spokesperson of the ICTR answered: "he is a free man".

The headquarters agreement signed with Tanzania only provides that those who leave prison have a two-week delay to leave the country. For this reason persons who have been acquitted are maintained under the control of the Tribunal. They cannot theoretically circulate freely and live in a "safe house".

The persons who have been released after serving their sentences, on the other hand, are left to their own. Three people have faced that faith until now. The first, Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, who had reached an agreement to join his family in the United States, died three weeks after his release in a religious institute where he had been staying. The secondly, after having wandered the corridors of the ICTR and having obtained small savings, is in a refugee camp in Malawi. Nzabirinda requested to go to Belgium where his family is and where he was arrested as he had refugee status.

After having drank a few beers and having celebrated his release with his friends, he feared Monday to be left to his own and finally deported to Rwanda. "What am I doing here?", he questioned himself. "They just had to try me in Belgium! They arrested me there, let them send me back there!"

PB/MM/GF

© Hirondelle News Agency