Lausanne, January 16, 2012 (FH) – In the following interview with Hirondelle, expert André Guichaoua hails the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda’s contribution to fighting impunity. However, he regrets that it never took steps to prosecute crimes allegedly committed by the Rwandan Patriotic Front, currently in power in Kigali. Guichaoua is a specialist in the Great Lakes region of Africa and has testified as an expert witness before the ICTR.

3 min 21Approximate reading time

Hirondelle: Do you think the work of the ICTR has really contributed to eradicating the culture of impunity?Guichaoua: Everything that contributes to telling the truth, that punishes the most serious crimes that can be committed by individuals, groups or States contributes to eradicating the culture of impunity. The ICTR's Statute has given it the widest possible jurisdiction within  the United Nations context to do this. The ICTR’s judicial decisions have been handed down by independent judges after hearing the arguments of both sides at length. These decisions are universally recognized and now serve as a reference for everyone involved in fighting the culture of impunity. In a region rocked for decades by violent conflicts, the ICTR's work -- unfinished -- to give voice to the victims serves as a reference point and a gleam of hope for all the anonymous and ignored victims of the past and the present. Hirondelle: For you, what is the Tribunal's biggest success? And what is its biggest failure, if there is one?Guichaoua: In a difficult environment, the ICTR will in 20 years have gathered thousands of witness testimonies, documents and reports which make up an exceptional and unique set of archives. For all those -- ordinary citizens or experts -- who want to know, to analyze, to continue this historic work, the ICTR's archives will remain an incomparable resource. They must finally be translated into Kinyarwanda, conserved and protected within the international  framework that made them possible.A failure of the ICTR which it shares with other international bodies is that war and massacres continue today in the Great Lakes region of Africa, and the suffering of millions of people. But the biggest failure is that the two sides in the Rwandan civil war of 1994 are among those most involved and active in the current process of destabilization of the region, which is unprecedented in the recent history of the African continent. Looking at its overall record, the ICTR's refusal to prosecute all the crimes falling within its mandate weakens its legacy and more generally its message of truth, justice and peace. Hirondelle: Do you mean the Tribunal refused to prosecute crimes allegedly committed by former rebels of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, now in power?Guichaoua: Yes.Hirondelle: What do you think about the refusal of some countries to take in individuals acquitted by the ICTR?Guichaoua: Once all the avenues of appeal have been exhausted, a judgment reached incontestably in conditions of transparency and fairness must be respected. Including by those who might legitimately think that a wider definition of admissible evidence in a more flexible or different judicial framework would have made it possible to declare these acquitted persons guilty. You can't question the rules of a judicial process afterwards on the pretext that the judges' final decisions don't suit this or that party. Hirondelle: Do you feel that the ICTR has really prosecuted those most responsible for the genocide? Are all those prosecuted by the Tribunal among the most responsible?Guichaoua: Successive Prosecutors have pursued their strategies according to the means and conditions they inherited, including level of knowledge of the cases, collaboration of UN member States, efficiency of the office of prosecutions, expectations of victims' organizations and constant pressure from the Rwandan authorities. I would say that the symbolic trials of individuals or groups (military leaders, ministers, local governors) have certainly led to the conviction of the main architects of the genocide of the Rwandan Tutsis. But you can certainly ask the question for about a third of cases brought before the Chambers whose judicial or symbolic importance is not obvious. And you can especially ask in relation to the big "absentees" among the indicted. But the reasons for prosecuting or not prosecuting are different each time and understandable: opportunity, solidity of case files, cooperation from States and so on. Hirondelle: France has been accused of not wanting to try the genocide suspects on its territory. Do you think there is a real lack of will to do so?Guichaoua: I think the will exists at the political level and also within the judiciary, which has now got the means. But after so many years of French procrastination and increasing Rwandan demands, it's difficult to shake off role playing, in a climate that is still emotionally charged. In general, judicial procedures are long, and even more so when they are conducted abroad with tight budgets and personnel who need to commit for a length of time. The investigating magistrates cannot lower their standards, but the evidence -- much of which has come from semi-traditional gacaca courts -- is often problematic. And finally it is not realistic for one country to deal with more than 20 cases at the same time when even countries that have held the most trials have not got near that figure. What is needed is to start with one or two high impact cases.  FH/ER/JC