Paris, October 15, 2011 (FH) - The American ambassador for War Crimes, Stephen Rapp, confirmed in an interview with Hirondelle News Agency that the United States was backing Kigali's request for cases of genocide-accused before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to be transferred to Rwanda's judiciary.

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A diplomatic cable disclosed in September by Wikileaks revealed that this issue had been under discussion between Kigali and Washington since 2009.

Until 2008, the United States - in line with ICTR judges - was "not convinced that Rwanda respected the independence of Justice", Stephen Rapp explained.

However, by the end of 2008, the ICTR was unable to reach its stated goal of winding down first instance trials in response to a request by the UN Security Council.

Considering the ICTR too slow and too costly, Washington changed its mind regarding transfers. In a diplomatic cable dated December 1st, 2009, the American Embassy in Kigali mentioned discussions between Stephen Rapp and Rwandan officials on the sidelines of a November meeting in Kigali of prosecutors of international criminal tribunals: "Rapp said that the USG [US Government] supported transferring to Rwanda for trial the cases of most, and perhaps of all trials which had not yet begun or had not yet been apprehended by the ICTR", read the document.

ICTR's new deadline for finishing its first instance trials has been reset by the United Nations for December 31, 2011.

According to the same cable, Rapp suggested Rwanda should accept "judges from foreign or international courts" to integrate its tribunals dealing with transferred accused. At the time, Rwanda seemed reluctant.

"One of the advantages we saw is that, if we have situations where defendants want to cite witnesses and those witnesses feel uncomfortable with coming to Kigali, the presence of an international judge [on the competent Rwandan court] would allow these witnesses to be heard by the foreign judge's jurisdiction. This could facilitate the process", Stephen Rapp told Hirondelle News Agency.

On June 28, 2011, ICTR judges decided for the first time to transfer a pending case to Rwanda. In a memorandum written to support the transfer of Pastor Jean Uwinkindi, Rwanda announced its intention to modify the law so as to include "judges from foreign or international courts" in its tribunal, thus following Rapp's suggestions.

Uwinkindi has appealed the decision for him to be transferred. "If the Uwinkindi appeal is denied, I suspect the Rwandan legislation will move on. The Rwandans don't want the presence of an international judge to be a condition but they can see the advantages of this, and they are prepared to voluntarily take it on", Stephen Rapp said.

"Other options have been studied", Rapp added. However, as "there is no other solution, we have to try to make this one work". He contended that Rwandans were "as good as anybody in the world in terms of being able to deal with the specific issue of what happened on a given hill on this or that day".

Uwinkindi's Defence counsels denounced in their appeals brief filed on September 8 a "let's-wait-and-see-what-happens" policy. His lawyers stressed that no proof had been provided that Rwanda could lead such trials meeting "international standards".

"Fourty nine witnesses have already told us that they would not come to Kigali if the trial were to take place there. They are scared", Uwinkindi's British co-Counsel Iain Edwards told Hirondelle News Agency.

The Appeals court is slated to render its final decision before the end of the year.


© Hirondelle News Agency