First-ever ICTR trial transfer could be recalled from Rwanda

02 June 2015 by Clive Muhenga, Arusha (Tanzania)

The UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) has for the first time said that a genocide case handed over to the Rwandan judiciary by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) may have to be returned, due to fair trial concerns. If taken, the decision would be a serious setback for the Arusha court’s exit strategy.

Rwandan genocide court artwork by Surian Soosay (Photo: Flickr/ssoosay)
Image caption: 
Rwandan genocide court artwork by Surian Soosay (Photo: Flickr/ssoosay)

Jean Uwinkindi’s transfer to Rwanda was the first to be approved by the ICTR. Long under pressure from the UN to finalize all cases, the court heard its last appeals case in April [IJT-180], and has been expected to finally close its doors when that judgment is announced. Its residual functions, including monitoring transferred cases, have been absorbed by the MICT, which operates with a fraction of its predecessors’ UN-level staffing.

The ICTR transferred Uwinkindi’s case to Kigali on 19 April 2012, following a long legal battle by lawyers of the Pentecostal pastor. Previously, the ICTR had rejected all transfer requests by the prosecutor, arguing that Rwanda lacked conditions for fair trials. But after Kigali implemented a series of reforms, the court finally agreed.

Yet some observers remain unconvinced. Carina Tertsakian, a researcher on Rwanda for Human Rights Watch, tells IJT that despite important legal and administrative reforms, “we believe that the Rwandan justice system still lacks sufficient guarantees of independence, and that fair trials cannot be guaranteed in all cases”.

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