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Tuesday, 18 December, 2001, 09:24 GMT
Rwanda's genocide tribunal on trial
Remains of genocide victims
At least 800,000 Rwandans died in the genocide
By Helen Vesperini in Kigali

Carla Del Ponte, the woman who took on the Mafia and Switzerland's financial institutions, is now applying herself to the Herculean task of making the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda less inefficient.

In the seven years since its creation, the tribunal, which judges the organisers of the 1994 Rwandan genocide has judged just nine cases, handing down eight convictions and one acquittal.

It's better than nothing, but one verdict a year is on the slow side

Rwandan man
An estimated 800,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus, were killed in three months.

A further 15 suspects are currently being tried and another 31 are awaiting trial at the detention facility in Arusha, Tanzania.

The Rwandan Government recognises that Ms Del Ponte has made some progress in the right direction, but still thinks the tribunal could do better.


President Paul Kagame in a recent interview said: "Given the resources at its disposal and given so far the cases that have been concluded, one can say they're doing relatively less than is otherwise demanded by the situation or should be expected."

Carla del Ponte
Carla del Ponte: No nonsense approach

But he was quick to add: "But the existence of the tribunal itself in my view is very important", and he suggested those responsible for running the tribunal should do their best to make it more efficient.

Some Rwandan officials not directly concerned with justice, say the tribunal has functioned so slowly that they long ago ceased to take any interest in it.

"It's just another UN agency - it works too slowly," one official said.


Rwandan courts in the period from December 1996 to June 2001 judged almost 6,000 genocide suspects, according to a branch of Liprodhor, a human rights group that monitors genocide trials.

Ex-Rwanda PM Jean Kambanda
Ex-Rwanda PM Jean Kambanda - the first head of governemnt convicted for genocide

Justice Minister Mucyo, during a recent trip to the United States, asked the United Nations' Security Council to transfer the tribunal to Rwanda.

One thing Ms Del Ponte has done is to try to weed out incompetence among tribunal staff.

She declined to renew the contracts of a group of staff members earlier this year on the grounds they were incompetent and refused to waver when those fired accused her of racial discrimination.

The tribunal hit the headlines again when it was discovered that genocide suspects were working alongside defence teams.

Other scandals have also dogged the tribunal - allegations that some detainees are running web sites and that others are wrongfully declaring themselves insolvent in order to benefit from defence counsel paid for by the taxpayer.


Another recent problem has been with the treatment of witnesses in court.

Rwanda PM Paul Kagame
Rwanda PM Paul Kagame: Critical of the tribunal but welcoems its existence

Survivors of Rwanda's genocide tend to find testifying a traumatic experience at the best of times.

One Rwandan witness recently accused a tribunal judge of getting rich on the back of the suffering of survivors.

Ordinary Rwandans tend to feel removed from the tribunal, although the tribunal has done its best to make the information centre at its Kigali headquarters more accessible.

Slow work

"It's better than nothing, but one verdict a year is on the slow side," one man said.

Many who do try to follow the workings of the tribunal are baffled at the time and resources spent on defending people against whom they see overwhelming evidence of guilt.

The fact that the tribunal can hand down a maximum of a life sentence, even in the case of the masterminds of the genocide, is also beyond the comprehension of many Rwandans who see their own courts handing down the death sentence to lesser criminals.

"There's nothing complicated about it," said a Kigali student called Jules.

"They know that as long as a case drags on they're still in a job, and obviously it's a well-paid job."

See also:

10 Dec 01 | Africa
Genocide convicts sent to Mali
19 Oct 00 | Africa
Rwanda genocide appeal fails
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