Global perspective Human stories

UN war crimes tribunals move closer to completion

Judge Graciela Gotti Santana, President of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT), briefs the Security Council meeting on International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals.
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Judge Graciela Gotti Santana, President of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT), briefs the Security Council meeting on International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals.

UN war crimes tribunals move closer to completion

Peace and Security

All of the 253 people indicted by UN tribunals for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed decades ago in Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia, have now been accounted for, the Security Council heard on Tuesday. 

The President and Prosecutor with the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) briefed ambassadors on progress made over the past two years as it moves closer towards wrapping up for good.

The Mechanism was established by the Council to continue essential functions of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which closed in December 2015, and another for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, which concluded two years later. 

A proud legacy 

“The work of the Mechanism and its predecessors has contributed to justice on two continents, produced an extensive body of international criminal jurisprudence, and created an important reservoir of lessons learned for future courts,” said Judge Graciela Gotti Santana, the IRMCT President, underlining the need to safeguard this legacy. 

She said that focus has been on providing the Council with timeline projections for completion of all activities, and options for the transfer of those that remain.  A framework document was submitted in April.

Furthermore, budgetary requirements have fallen by more than a quarter, the field office in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, will close in September, and just under half of all posts will be eliminated by December. 

Streamlining operations 

“Having now transitioned to our purely residual functions, we have reduced in size and streamlined operations, but remain determined to conclude the final stages of the mandate you have entrusted to us,” she said.

Ms. Gotti Santana noted that important work remains to be done, which will require significant resources. 

“The Mechanism remains mandated to supervise the enforcement of sentences, with 41 convicted persons currently serving their sentences in 12 States and another seven persons under our jurisdiction,” she said.

“In the near term, it is expected that the work related to this function will increase, as more prisoners reach the threshold for consideration for early release.” 

Preserving a ‘powerful resource’ 

Another mandated task involves managing, preserving and facilitating access to the Mechanism’s archives and those of the two former tribunals.

“This function is closely connected with one of my key priorities, namely to consolidate the rich legacy of these courts, which can serve as a powerful resource for combatting denial and revisionism,” she said.

Demonstration of justice

IRMCT Prosecutor Serge Brammertz said the fact that all 253 persons indicted by the tribunals are now accounted for “is an important demonstration of the international community’s determination to secure justice for atrocity crimes,” though adding that more justice is still needed.

Over the past two years, the Prosecutor’s Office has received 629 requests for assistance from UN Member States, providing support to some 219 national case files.  

While Rwanda and the countries of the former Yugoslavia are key partners, the Office has also met with prosecutors from Eswatini, Mozambique, South Africa, Belgium, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, the United States and elsewhere. 

Greater accountability needed 

“Our national colleagues know that there are persons who committed genocide living in their countries with impunity, some in plain sight. And they know that every single case is about victims and survivors who are still waiting for justice to be done,” he said.

Today, bringing perpetrators to justice is now the responsibility of national courts, he said, and while countries have achieved significant results, more accountability is urgently needed. 

“Rwandan authorities are still seeking to bring to justice more than 1,000 fugitive génocidaires. Likewise, prosecutors in the former Yugoslavia still have thousands of suspected war criminals to investigate and prosecute.  

"Domestic authorities in third-party Member States, particularly in Europe and North America, are also prosecuting these cases under ‘no safe haven’ policies,” he said.

Mr. Brammertz insisted that “continuing this work is essential - for the victims and survivors, of course, and for Member States, who have made accountability a priority at the national level, to secure the rule of law and promote reconciliation.”