The first international court to deliver verdicts related to genocide, and to recognise rape as a means of perpetrating genocide, will complete its mandate this month.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, ICTR, has indicted more than 90 people in connection with the 1994 genocide in the country.
The United Nations Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to prosecute people responsible for genocide and other war crimes committed there in 1994.
Over just 100 days, around 800,000 people were killed, mostly by ethnic Hutu extremists.
They targeted members of the minority Tutsi community, as well as their political opponents – whatever their ethnic origin.
Those indicted by the international court have included high-ranking military and government officials, politicians and businessmen.
Seventy-five have been prosecuted and 61 convicted of genocide and related offences.
The tribunal’s active term is ending on the 31st of December, and Prosecutor Justice Hassan Bubacar Jallow says much has been accomplished.
“The tribunal closes after having contributed significantly in ensuring that there’s accountability who played a leading role in the genocide against the Tutsis in 1994. It also comes to an end after having made a contribution in the development of jurisprudence of international criminal law, particularly in relation to genocide: defining, explaining, the elements of the crime of genocide.”
Mr Jallow says the Mechanism — which is the ICTR’s successor — has inherited nine fugitives from his court, one of whom has just been arrested by authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“He is Ladislas Ntaganzwa, former mayor of Nyakizu Commune in Butare. He was arrested and is presently in custody. He was indicted for genocide and crimes against humanity in connection with the killings of over 20,000 Tutsis in that particular commune with the sexual assaults ordered by him against several Tutsi women and generally with the incitement for the killing of Tutsis.”
The President of the ICTR, Vagn Joensen, has updated the UN Security Council on the Tribunal’s progress.
He says its Office of the Prosecutor has published a lessons-learned manual and a guide to the tracking and arrest of fugitives from international justice.
“The Tribunal has directly strengthened the capacity of national criminal justice systems to prosecute effectively international crimes and ensure that the Tribunal’s work will continue to help future triers of international crimes long after the ICTR’s closure.”
Mr Joensen says the ICTR has ensured that the events in Rwanda will never be forgotten, and may also serve as roadmaps for future international tribunals and for empowering domestic courts.
“The success of the Tribunal is a success for this (Security) Council as it highlighted the possibilities, through justice, to address conflicts and fight impunity and to provide at least some comfort to the victims of heinous crimes.”
UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson says future trials may cover current conflicts in places like Syria, South Sudan and Mali.
He stressed the significance of staying united and focused on defending human rights.
“It is important that democratic societies do not fall in the trap of such provocations to divide us as human beings of equal worth. The social fabric in many of our societies is fraying. Polarisation and division are growing. This is how the seeds of uncontrollable violence are sown.”
The UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, who visited Iraq in November, spent time with members of the Yazidi community and other minority groups.
“I was deeply moved by the stories they shared of the horrors they have been through – killings, rape, torture, forced displacement and the destruction of their communities – simply because of the beliefs that they hold, simply because of who they are.”
He says the United Nations has the ability to rid the world of genocide.
“It was the atrocities committed during the Second World War, in particular the Holocaust, that led to the adoption of the Genocide Convention in 1948, 67 years ago. However, genocide was not eliminated by the convention. These crimes have continued to be committed. Nevertheless, we have the capacity to change our world and make it a better place where genocide is no longer a reality.”