Tanzanian Deputy President Mohammed Gharib Bilal and ICTR Registrar Bongani Majola made the call from Arusha, seat of the ICTR, which on Saturday marked its 20th anniversary. The Tribunal is due to close its doors on December 31 this year.
“I humbly call on all governments present to see how they can assume this international responsibility and agree to host persons acquitted or freed by the ICTR after serving their sentence,” said the Tanzanian Deputy President.
Eight people acquitted by the Tribunal and three others who were freed after serving their sentences are still living in a “safe house” in Arusha for lack of a host country and travel documents.
“The ICTR has approached your governments on several occasions to accept these people, but in vain,” Bilal continued.
The ICTR was set up by UN Security Resolution 955 of November 8, 1994. It must close its doors by the end of this year at the latest, according to a calendar set by the UN.
An ICTR "failure"Since it started trials in 1997, the ICTR has convicted 61 people (of whom seven are still on appeal) and acquitted 14 others, of whom only six have found host countries.
The UN Security Council has already passed three Resolutions calling on UN member states to take these people in, but these texts are non-binding and have had little effect.
The Tribunal Statute places an obligation on UN member states to cooperate in the arrest and transfer of ICTR accused persons, but says nothing about acquitted persons and those who have served their sentences.
“A failure of the ICTR, from which lessons must be learned, relates to the inability to help those who have been acquitted by its Trial and Appeals Chambers to live normal lives elsewhere,” admitted ICTR Registrar Bongani Majola.
“It is clear that their situation poses a big human rights challenge,” he added, calling on States to “explore ways and means to put an end to their critical situation”.
The eight acquitted persons in search of a host country include five former Rwandan ministers, two senior army officers and Protais Zigiranyirazo, brother-in-law of former Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana, whose assassination on April 6, 1994 triggered the genocide.
They all want to join their families living in Western countries. They refuse to return to Rwanda, saying their security could be in danger.
The person who has been waiting longest is former Transport Minister André Ntagerura, who was acquitted in February 2004.
After the ICTR closes, it will be the responsibility of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) to continue efforts to find them host countries.