Arusha, August 16, 2012 (FH) –After a trial that took ten years, the “Butare case” before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda could also be its longest at the Appeals stage. One year after the judgment of the six accused, their appeals procedure has hardly got started because of translation problems.

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On June 24, 2011, the ICTR sentenced former Women and Family Affairs Minister Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, her son Arsène Ntahobali and former mayor Elie Ndayambaje to life imprisonment for their role in the 1994 genocide in the southern Rwandan prefectureof Butare. Another former mayor, Joseph Kanyabashi, was sentenced to 35 years, while former prefects Sylvain Nsabimana and Alphonse Nteziryayogot 25 and 30 years respectively. They all decided to appeal, but they are still waiting for the French version of the judgment.

Although some members of the defence teams speak English, the working language of the six convicts is French.On June 24, 2011, presiding judge William Hussein Sekule read out only a summary in English of the court's conclusions. The full judgment in English was distributed to the parties three weeks later. It consists of 1,500 pages, over which the translators are still sweating.

 "We are working tirelessly. It's not easy to translate a text full of judicial terms,” said one of the translators who asked to remain anonymous. “And then in judicial matterseven more than in other areas you have to be very careful when you translate.But we hope to be finished in a few weeks time.”

Cameroonian translator François Bembatoum told Hirondelle in February 2010 that this invisible but indispensable team were already struggling. “Translation, it's not like photocopying,”he said. “There are well known international standards for translation. Unless we get sufficient resources in relation to the workload, well itis just going to take time.” 

Since then, according to a memberof the Registry, the language section has not been spared in the gradualstaff cuts as the ICTR prepares to close by December 2014.

Provisional preparation

The Court has advised the defence teams with members who understand English to prepare provisional  appeals on the basis of the English judgment, which can be adjusted once the Frenchis available. Nsabimana's lawyer Josette Kadji says her team has been doing just that. “We have worked with the English version, while we wait for the French. When we get it, we'll have 60 days to finalize our written appeal.”

Kanyabashi is waiting for the translation of another document as well as the judgment, since the Prosecutor has alsodecided to appeal in his case only. Once the convicts have filed theirwritten arguments, the Prosecutor will be given the necessary time to respondin writing. And it is only after the judges have read all these documentsthat the Chamber will set a date for an appeals hearing. “Maybe towardsthe end of this year, maybe next year,” says Kadji.