In tackling the myriad global challenges posed by COVID-19, the world must not ignore the perils of endemic hatred and division, and instead, “stand strong” in the face of those who favour impunity over justice, a senior UN judge told the Security Council on Monday.
Carmel Agius, President of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, briefed the Council by webcast on caseload developments, paying tribute to the painful memories evoked in marking the 25th anniversary of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, last year, and that of the Srebrenica genocide against more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in the Former Yugoslavia, in 2020.
The Residual Mechanism took over ongoing cases from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), when they wound down in 2015 after more than two decades of judging the perpetrators of genocide.
“We see every day that these destructive forces are becoming more virulent, and that the purveyors of hate feel emboldened,” Judge Agius said. “We must combat their version of events and offer our solidarity and support to all those who have suffered.”
Against that backdrop, “remarkable” headway has been made on fugitive-tracking, he said, describing the arrest on 16 May of fugitive Félicien Kabuga as a major breakthrough. “With Mr. Kabuga and others having evaded capture for over 20 years, fugitive trials were – until now – more of a contingency plan than a primary part of our operations,” he said.
He commended France and others for their efforts, and similarly, all those who assisted in confirming the death of another fugitive, Augustin Bizimana.
“Let us use this momentum to keep advancing the cause of international justice”, he said, noting by contrast the situation of the nine acquitted and released persons in Arusha, Tanzania, one of whom has languished in uncertainty since 2004. The joint failure to find a solution will only erode confidence in the system and he pressed the Council to help end this untenable situation.
More broadly, he said that as COVID-19 has affected in-court proceedings, cases that were on track to conclude by the end of 2020, are now expected to wind down in the first part of 2021. In The Hague, judgement in the Stanišid & Simatovid trial is expected by April 2021. The Mladid case – originally scheduled for March but postponed until June – has recently been stayed until further notice.
Kabuga arrest, tribute to tracking strategy
Serge Brammertz, Prosecutor for the Residual Mechanism, said the arrest of Mr. Kabuga - among the most wanted fugitives alleged leaders of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda - by French authorities - was the culmination of his Office’s revised tracking strategy and intensified efforts since 2016.
“The most significant development since my last report is that we have now accounted for two of the three major fugitives indicted by the ICTR”, he said. The Office had shifted from reacting to leads from unreliable human sources, to a more pro-active, analysis-driven investigation, he explained.
“We must now redouble our efforts to locate and arrest the remaining fugitives”, he said. There are credible leads on the whereabouts of all six. However, the denial of crimes and glorification of convicted war criminals remain immense challenges. Particularly among Rwandan diaspora communities, there are still concerted efforts to deny the Rwandan genocide.
He equally denounced political interference in war crimes justice in the former Yugoslavia, citing an alarming example just last week of such interference in Bosnia and Herzegovina. “Our first thoughts must be with the victims and survivors of the genocide,” he said. “Their demand for justice is our raison d’être.”