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As UN tribunal on Rwandan genocide wraps up work, Security Council cites role in fight against impunity

President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) Vagn Joensen.
UN Photo/Amanda Voisard
President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) Vagn Joensen.

As UN tribunal on Rwandan genocide wraps up work, Security Council cites role in fight against impunity

Adopting a new resolution today, the Security Council welcomed the completion of judicial work of the United Nations tribunal set up in the wake of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, following delivery of the court’s last judgment on 14 December and its impending closure, set for 31 December 2015.

After 21 years of bringing those most responsible for the genocide to justice, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) wraps up its core judicial functions at the end of the month, and the Security Council acknowledged its “substantial contribution…to the process of national reconciliation and the restoration of peace and security, and to the fight against impunity and the development of international criminal justice, especially in relation to the crime of genocide.”

Delivering his final report to the Council earlier this month, ICTR President Judge Vagn Joensen noted that on 14 December, the Tribunal would deliver its 45th and final judgement on appeal in the Nyiramasuhuko et al. or Butare case involving six accused.

“With the completion of this case, the ICTR will formally close its doors on 31 December 2015 and only liquidation activities will remain to be completed during the first half of 2016,” he said, adding that in so doing, the ICTR will become the first ad hoc international criminal tribunal to complete its mandate and hand its remaining functions over to its residual mechanism, the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, which the Council set up in 2010 to carry out a number of essential functions of both the ICTR and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), after the completion of their respective mandates.

As for statistics, Judge Joensen told the Council the span of its wok the ICTR had held 5,800 days of proceedings, in which the tribunal brought indictments against 93 individuals, issued 55 first-instance judgements and 45 appeal judgements and heard the “powerful accounts of more than 3,000 witnesses who bravely recounted some of the most traumatic events imaginable during ICTR trials.”

Between its first and last judgement in Akayesu and in Butare, the Arusha, Tanzania-based Tribunal issued many novel judgements that have significantly impacted the evolution of international law, he noted, including the first conviction for rape and sexual violence as a form of genocide as well as the first judgement against a Head of Government since the Nuremburg and Tokyo Tribunals.

Through the text, the Security Council urged all States, especially those where [eight remaining] fugitives are suspected to be at large, to intensify their cooperation with and render all necessary assistance to the Mechanism, in particular to achieve the arrest and surrender of all remaining fugitives indicted by the ICTR as soon as possible. The Council also encouraged the Mechanism and the Rwandan Government to collaborate on matters related to the legacy of the ICTR “with respect to reconciliation and justice in Rwanda, including in respect of access to archives.”

Today’s resolution was adopted by a vote of 14 in favour, with Russia abstaining, and by it, the Council also decided to extend the term of office for 17 permanent and ad litem judges of the Trial Chambers and the Appeals Chamber at the ICTY, and reappointed Serge Brammertz as Prosecutor of tribunal for a term from 1 January 2016 until 31 December 2016.