Africa, the ICTR’s Completion Strategy and the role of civil society

February 24, 2011

With attention and efforts focused on the strained relationship between the African Union and the International Criminal Court, the ICTR, its contribution to international criminal justice and its persistent calls for assistance appear to be going unnoticed. Soliciting the support of Africa for the ICTR and its completion process will play an important role in keeping support for international criminal justice on the continent alive.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (the ICTR) aims to complete all trials by the end 2011, with appeals to be completed in 2013. As of 1 November 2010 the ICTR had completed work at the trial level with respect to 60 of the 92 accused (45 first-instance judgments involving 54 accused, two referrals to national jurisdictions and two withdrawn indictments) and appellate proceedings were completed in respect of 33 persons. Ten indictees, believed to be living in the Democratic Republic of Congo (the DRC), Kenya and other southern African states, remain at large. It is hoped that the trials of these indictees will be transferred to able and willing national jurisdictions. A large number of genocide suspects are also believed to be living throughout Africa, particularly Southern Africa.

Despite certain challenges the ICTR is confident that it will fulfil its Completion Strategy. In anticipation of the completion of the ICTR’s mandate the Security Council, in December 2010, voted in favour of Resolution 1966 establishing the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (the Residual Mechanism) to become operational on 1 July 2012. The Residual mechanism will deal with outstanding issues that require resolve. The Residual Mechanism will endeavour to be a small, temporary and efficient structure. Despite its mandate authorising it to continue the “jurisdiction, rights and obligations and essential functions” of the ICTR it does not intend to become a complex and permanent replacement institution. 

The greatest challenge to the success of the ICTR’s Completion Strategy and the Residual Mechanism is securing the cooperation of the international community. The ICTR and the Security Council have on numerous occasions stressed the need for cooperation with regard to securing the arrest and transfer of remaining fugitives, the referral of outstanding cases to national jurisdictions, the transfer of convicted persons for the enforcement of their sentences and the relocation of acquitted persons to willing states. All countries, especially African countries, with the necessary jurisdiction are therefore encouraged to become a part of the ICTR’s positive legacy by assisting it in fulfilling its strategy.

However, despite the call by the Security Council in Resolution 1503 for member states to accept such cases and for the international community to assist with capacity building of national legal systems for those willing to accept such cases, there are very few states that are both willing and able to take such cases. Despite an active campaign to encourage states, particularly in the African region, many that are able do not seem to be willing. Many of those willing are unable. African states which have been approached whilst generally favouring the idea have excused themselves on the grounds of lack of capacity in their judicial systems. The United Nations whilst calling for assistance in capacity building has not developed a program to focus on meeting the needs of states willing to accept such cases. Instead it has been left to potential recipient states to make arrangements with donors for assistance in this respect. The ICTR can only act in an advisory and consultative capacity and relies on donor states and civil society to facilitate the ability and willingness of other states to assist the ICTR in fulfilling its mandate.

The involvement of the international community, and particularly Africa, is important not only for the success of the Completion Strategy but also for the partnership between national and international jurisdictions in the field of international criminal justice which will allow for complementarity to become a reality and for Africa to play a meaningful role in the fight against impunity.

With attention and efforts focused on the strained relationship between the African Union and the International Criminal Court, the ICTR, its contribution to international criminal justice and its persistent calls for assistance appear to be going unnoticed. Soliciting the support of Africa for the ICTR and its completion process will play an important role in keeping support for international criminal justice on the continent alive.

It is therefore essential that civil society engage with their respective governments to encourage cooperation with the ICTR.

SALC with African Rights and Redress is part of the fight against impunity and in 2010 submitted a confidential report to Zambia detailing the names and roles of 16 genocide suspects believed to be living in Zambia.

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