United Nations officials today paid tribute to Judge Laïty Kama of Senegal, the first President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), who died on Sunday in a Nairobi hospital following a short battle with illness.
"Beyond his judicial achievements, Judge Kama was a leader who displayed great wisdom and was a founding father to the institutional development of the Rwanda Tribunal," a spokesman for Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a statement. Spokesman Fred Eckhard said the Secretary-General was always impressed by Judge Kama's "vision, his commitment to work of the Tribunal and to human rights in general."
Mr. Eckhard, who called the death a "great loss" for the UN, pointed in particular to Judge Kama's role in the two landmark cases of Akayesu and Kambanda. The Akayesu case marked the first-ever judgement for the crime of genocide by an international court, as well as the first-ever conviction of rape as a crime against humanity. Judge Kama's verdict in the Kambanda case, which involved the former Prime Minister of Rwanda, was the first-ever conviction of a head of government for genocide.
At the ICTR seat in Arusha, Tanzania, the current President, Judge Navanethem Pillay, said Judge Kama had "dedicated his life to justice for his fellow human beings." The Tribunal's Registrar, Adama Dieng, lauded Judge Kama for having laid the foundations for the court's judicial work, calling the loss a "severe blow."
Mr. Kama served as President of the ICTR from 1995 to 1999, when he relinquished the position in accordance with the Tribunal's Rules. He was re-elected as a judge by the UN General Assembly and, at the time of his death, was serving as a presiding Judge of Trial Chamber II.
Born in 1939, Judge Kama held a number of high-level posts in Senegal, including First Assistant Public Prosecutor at the Supreme Court of Appeal. On the international scene, Judge Kama lent his expertise to the UN working group on arbitrary detention and served on his country's delegation to the UN Commission on Human Rights.