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Sunday, 26 August, 2001, 06:15 GMT 07:15 UK
Justice in Africa
Kambanda
Former president Kambanda found guilty of genocide
By Legal Affairs correspondent Jon Silverman

The international effort to prosecute and convict political leaders guilty of war crimes received an enormous boost when the former Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic, appeared before the tribunal at the Hague last month.

But Milosevic was not the first former head of government to stand trial for genocide.

That notorious distinction went to Jean Kambanda who was prime minister of Rwanda in 1994 when almost one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered.

Milosevic
Milosevic - not the first head of state to strand trial for genocide
Kambanda was tried at the international criminal tribunal at Arusha in neighbouring Tanzania.

The highway which connects Kilimanjaro airport in the north of Tanzania with the town of Arusha cuts through lush plantations of banana and coffee.

Masai tribesmen swathed in red blankets sell artefacts by the roadside. The acrid tang of wood smoke hangs in the air. It's a familiar tableau of East Africa.

And when a sign appears saying: "You are exactly halfway between the Cape and Cairo," you can almost believe that, despite the passage of years, Cecil Rhodes and Stanley Livingstone would feel reassuringly at home here.

Almost - but not quite. Because the idea that in Arusha, the drumbeat of international justice could be louder and more insistent than that of traditional African tribalism would have seemed absurd, never mind a century, even a decade ago.

And yet the war crimes tribunal for Rwanda which has been sitting in this remote and dusty town since 1997, is as genuinely ground-breaking as the Victorian visionaries who carved up the continent.

Storm of rebuke

But that hasn't staunched the criticism. Barely a month goes by without another assault on the slowness, the sheer incompetence, the lack of professional balance, the petty UN politicking which - so it's alleged - has hamstrung this court and prevented it from fulfilling its mandate.


is the West - having abandoned Rwanda's Tutsis and moderate Hutus to their fate seven years ago - now allowing, even encouraging, impossible yardsticks by which to measure justice?

It's a cacophony in comparison to which complaints about the functioning of the other international criminal tribunal in the Hague are the merest whispers.

So what's going on here ? Is Arusha just the latest evidence that nothing African works ?

Or, is the West - having abandoned Rwanda's Tutsis and moderate Hutus to their fate seven years ago - now allowing, even encouraging, impossible yardsticks by which to measure justice?

Trading statistics doesn't help much. The critics point out that since 1997, only nine trials have been completed at Arusha.

And that some defendants have languished in custody for years.

Yet, more than 50 of those indicted for war crimes in Rwanda are under arrest - a far higher proportion than at the Yugoslav tribunal in the Hague.

Augustin Misago
Augustin Misago was first Roman Catholic bishop to go on trial on charges of genocide
Despite the hullabaloo about Milosevic, Arusha was the first court to convict a former head of government of genocide. And the first to establish that rape was a crime against humanity.

But Arusha is not the Hague. The perfect jumping-off point for safari trips it may be - but it was nobody's first choice for a war crimes tribunal.

When Nairobi was ruled out by Kenya's President Daniel arap Moi, Arusha was thrust into the limelight.

Though perhaps that's not the word to use. There are power cuts almost every day - and before the court installed its own generator, lawyers working late got used to studying their briefs by candle.

Even at noon, parts of the building are as inviting as an unused store-room - only the brilliant greens and yellows of some of the outfits worn by the Africans illuminate the stygian gloom. The photocopiers and facsimile machines - when they're functioning - work at a snail's pace. And the offices are cramped.

'Poor justice'

But the physical surroundings are trivial compared to the quality of justice. One Anglo-Saxon prosecutor told me that some of the judicial appointments were sheer UN tokenism.

Third World judges with little or no trial experience, way out of their depth, he said.


Dramatic though the appearance of Milosevic was in the dock at the Hague - and I was there to see it - nobody should under-estimate what's happening at Arusha

Name Here
Some African defence lawyers have been accused of spinning out proceedings because their daily rate at Arusha is a fortune compared to what they'd be getting at home.

As an example, visiting journalists are told about the notorious " yoghurt" motion - when counsel petitioned the court because his client wasn't served yoghurt in detention.

But let's keep a sense of proportion. Who now devalues the Nuremberg tribunal because Goering's lawyer was a bombastic time-waster ?

Or, because to get to the courthouse, you had to pick your way through the rubble of Allied firebombing ?

And dramatic though the appearance of Milosevic was in the dock at the Hague - and I was there to see it - nobody should under-estimate what's happening at Arusha.

It's already paved the way for another ad hoc war crimes tribunal, in Sierra Leone.

And it's providing the template for the permanent International Criminal Court which might just make the world a more civilised place. For once, something uplifting may have come out of Africa.

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