Always Rwanda

This started as my on-line journal while I was living, working, and conducting my master's field research in Rwanda in 2003. I returnedto Rwanda as an Assistant Director for an educational program and decided to pick it up again.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Lets get started

As I am back to Rwanda-related work, I will start posting relevant articles on current issues.

Case of Rwandan Lawyer Revives Tensions Between Kigali And the ICTR

Hirondelle News Agency (Lausanne) NEWS
March 7, 2006 Posted to the web March 8, 2006 Arusha

In normal circumstances, the news that a Rwandan lawyer had been appointed to represent one of the accused at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) would have been received with a round of applause and an outpouring of national pride.
The long-awaited announcement however provoked an unexpected spark from Rwanda, which risks rekindling the tensions between Kigali and the tribunal that have in the past come under regular strain.
The first alarm bells sounded through the Rwandan newspaper The New Times which quoted a Rwandan official in charge of hunting down genocide suspects as saying that a Rwandan lawyer, Callixte Gakwaya, was one of their targets.
Gakwaya is a member of the Mozambican bar association and has been appointed to defend a former Rwandan businessman and genocide suspect held by the tribunal, Yussuf Munyakazi.
It would be a strange situation indeed if a lawyer accused of the same crimes as his client was allowed to defend him at an international court.
The information was confirmed by Rwanda's special representative to the ICTR, Aloys Mutabingwa, who revealed that a warrant of Gakwaya's arrest had already been passed to Interpol.
"We were very surprised because the ICTR was aware of the arrest warrant against Gakwaya", said the Rwandan diplomat commenting on the suspect's appointment.
Warning signs
Though Mutabingwa described the situation as grave, he also seemed to extend an olive branch.
"I hope this does not become an issue between us and the tribunal. It is in its interests to cooperate with us by giving us suspects [to try in Rwandan courts] who are not on its list", he said.
For the initiated, these were clear warning signs that the tensions were again approaching fever pitch.
The ICTR reacted irritably ten days later. A statement quoted the acting deputy registrar, Everard O'Donnell as saying that he had on many occasions requested Rwanda's opinion before Callixte Gakwaya's appointment but that Kigali had kept silent.
O'Donnell went on to add that the accused person had previously served as a defence assistant in a trial that is already completed and that Rwanda had raised no objections.
The deputy registrar challenged the Rwandan authorities to prove Gakwaya's guilt as the ICTR did "not feel able to take any action in respect of his appointment in the absence of sensible information form the Rwandan government".
Mutabingwa came back with guns blazing and described the registry's communiqué as "pure rhetoric" and that it did not reduce the gravity of the accusations against the lawyer.
According to him, the ICTR was adopting a defensive stance and accused it of being "adamant" when discussing the issue of "recruiting genocide suspects or their accomplices".
Kigali maintains that the ICTR has employed several genocide suspects and the Rwandan envoy threatened to make their dossiers public if a diplomatic solution was not arrived at soon.
As regards Gakwaya, Mutabingwa pointed out that he would give the ICTR a copy of his warrant of arrest and would demand that it cooperates in his arrest and extradition.
"If the ICTR wants, it can prosecute him but not employ him" he said ironically.
Mutabingwa went on to say that he would not furnish the registry with further proof against Gakwaya as it would prejudice the case against him.
An old axe to grind
The antagonism between Kigali and the tribunal is not new matter - it has its roots in the very beginnings of the tribunal.
In November 1994 - with Rwanda as one of the members of the UN Security Council at that time- Kigali voted against the establishment of the court, citing among other issues the fact that there would be no death penalty for anyone found guilty.
The criticisms emanating from Kigali were to increase as time went by.
At first, the main focus was on the slow pace of the trials. But the real big crisis broke out in November 1999 when the tribunal released, on procedural grounds, Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, a former politician and media official.
This angered Rwanda and it severed relations with the tribunal, which were only later re-established when the prosecutor rescinded her position.
The truce however did not last long. The following year, the then Prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, announced that she would open investigations into alleged war crimes committed by members of the current government army.
It was the beginning of a merciless protracted game of chess, between the Rwandan authorities and Del Ponte that only ended with her departure in August 2003.
In the meantime, the tribunal was hit by another crisis - that of Rwandan witnesses coming to testify in Arusha - which lasted the better part of 2002. Genocide survivors' associations forbade their members from testifying at the ICTR, citing harassment at the hands of defence lawyers during cross-examination.
Even though the current crisis might appear to be less severe than the previous ones, it risks affecting the tribunal which at this crucial moment is trying to avoid anything that might interfere with its image and hamper its completing its task and finishing all trials and appeals by 2010.
To make matters worse, Rwanda has now demanded that the ICTR arrest Emmanuel Bagambiki, a former Préfet (Provincial Governor) who was recently acquitted by the tribunal, on the basis of new charges brought against him by Kigali. Things do not look pretty at all.

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