Rwanda’s team of negotiators have lost all chances of convincing the United Nations on allowing the country to host Genocide archives.
Since the closure of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in December 2015, Rwanda has been pursuing a deal to transfer all the archives to Kigali.
However, on November 26, the UN officially inaugurated a $8million state-of- the- art structure that will host the archives in Arusha, Tanzania.
The ceremony was not attended or represented by any Rwandan official.
Rwanda believes that the battle and appeal to have the archives sent to Kigali is not over yet- on grounds that the archives should serve the interest of the country.
Dr. Jean Damascène Bizimana, the Executive Secretary for National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG) told KT Press that Rwanda doesn’t agree with UN decision on keeping archives in Arusha.
“Even when the decision had already been taken, We still believe that we have rights to these files to enable people to conduct research on genocide accessing all files in one place,” Dr. Bizimana said.
According to Dr. Bizimana, although the UN argument to withhold the archives was not based on capacity, Rwanda has a better capacity to handle the archives than the UN center in Arusha.
“With a 2016-2017 budget of Rwf400 million for digitizing over 65million Gacaca judicial cases, 8000 video recordings of the trial held across the country since the year 2002,” Dr. Bizimana believes Rwanda has the capacity to manage the archives.
The current prosecutor Judge Theodore Meron at the ICTR court said at the inauguration that the structure will be a symbol of international criminal justice for the region and the world.
“The building has controlled humidity temperature and weight of construction will support the heavy weight of the archives,” Meron said.
The ICTR has since been transformed into the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals – as part of closure process, but Rwanda has made several appeals to host the archives.
Through the ministry of Justice, Rwanda said then the refusal to transfer the files is a continued way to ignore Rwanda’s natural right and request to be custodian of important records of its own history – archives that contain the work done by the tribunal over 20 years.
ICTR boss Justice Hassan Jallow was very ‘supportive’ of the idea and had tried to push for the transfer of the archives to Rwanda, but left office without achieving this goal. During his tenure, 10 cases were referred to Rwanda’s national courts despite initial attempts to block the transfers.
Minister for Justice, Johnston Busingye was spot on last year when he said that Rwandans will never stop asking for the archives, whether it takes decades or centuries and stated that the archives are a great tool in furthering reconciliation and healing among the people of Rwanda.
What did ICTR do?
After the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in which over one million lives were lost, the United Nations, set up the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania, to try leaders of genocide.
Since inception of the tribunal at least 93 indictments have been made, of which 61 people were sentenced; including former Prime Minister Jean Kambanda, who received a life sentence in prison, 14 acquitted; 10 sent to Rwanda for trial; three are deceased; two had their cases withdrawn while three were transferred to the Mechanism.
The ICTR transferred to Rwanda the last genocide suspect Bernard Munyagishari from its custody in Arusha, Tanzania in June 2015, as part of the closure strategy of the ICTR operations that had been delayed by a year from December 2014.
The court had also confirmed five other case transfers to Rwanda, but they all concern suspects still on the run. They include, Lieutenant-Colonel Phénéas Munyarugarama, former mayors Charles Sikubwabo, Ladislas Ntaganzwa, Aloys Ndimbati and former judicial police inspector Fulgence Kayishema.
Jallow said, “the court could have convicted more genocidaires to serve justice for Rwandans. But documented lessons learnt from this experience will inform future international prosecutions”.
Though the court is considered to have partially failed, Rwanda didn’t sleep. To accelerate the process of Justice on genocide atrocities, traditional community justice system – Gacaca courts- were implemented in the early 2000s and local community elected judges to try suspects.
After 10 years of operations, the Gacaca courts closed in 2012. By then the Rwandan government had tried about two million suspects — 65 percent of suspects were convicted.