During the genocide, the international community did not intervene, but afterwards it set up an « international court ». By DW




Did the court dispense justice? Opinions are divided, and « some » survivors are waiting for justice.

When the genocide against the Tutsis started in 1994, extremist media called for the murder of Tutsis and moderate Hutus to mercilessly killed the perceived enemy. Tutsis. Corpses began floating in rivers like Akagera, and Lake Victoria. According to the UN Security Council resolution 2150, more than a million people were killed during the genocide, including Hutu and others who opposed it. And despite the daily killings that went, the world inactively watched. However, to date, the figure by several media outlets puts it at 800,000.

Diane Paula was just six years when the genocide happened. She hid at the Kicukiro Technical School, commonly known by its French acronym as ETO, (Ecole Technique Officelle). The school was one of the bases of the United Assistance Missions for Rwanda (UNAMIR). A Belgian battalion had been stationed there in the preceding days of the genocide. Following the killing of Belgian peacekeeping forces – who were mandated to protect the Prime Minister Agathe Uwiligiyimana, they [Belgian peacekeepers]w withdrew from the school. Interahamwe militia later took over and killed all the Tutsis estimated to have been 2,000.

« I lost my mum there, everything that happened to her –happened to all the women, » Paula recalled. A hundred days, on 8th November 1994, the UN Security Council decided to set up an extraordinary court to deal with the crimes. At the beginning of 1995, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in the northern Tanzanian city of Arusha began its work. While many of the perpetrators have to face so-called « Gacaca », traditional village courts, the masterminds are held accountable in Arusha. It is an experiment of international justice.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in the northern Tanzanian city of Arusha

61 convictions, 14 acquittals

Twenty-one years after its inception, the ICTR ceased its work. Boubacar Diallo, Attorney General at the ICTR until his last appointment, drew a positive balance at the time: « We have handled an extraordinarily large number of cases, » he told DW.

The tribunal succeeded in bringing military chiefs, local politicians, journalists, and also administrative leaders involved in the genocide to justice. Besides, the ICTR had drafted a large proportion of the legislation that serves as a model for other courts worldwide today: « These courts can now continue the very important fight against impunity in our world, » Diallo concludes.

Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner of Human Rights Watch confirmed that the ICTR had made a significant contribution to the establishment of an international criminal prosecution system for crimes against humanity. However, nine accused persons could not be transferred to Arusha. But these cases were by no means forgotten, and a detention institution pursued them under the auspices of the UN, emphasizes Attorney General Diallo.

Commemoration in Kigali stadium, 20 years after the genocide

Another point of criticism of the ICTR is that the criminal processing of the events of 1994 proved to be extremely costly. The tribunal is said to have devoured about two billion US dollars. In the past, the court, which employed more than 1,200 people, was repeatedly criticized for inefficiency, lack of professionalism, and corruption.

Martin Semukanya, a veteran journalist who covered the ICTR proceedings for two years, calls it « artificial justice ». He says that « justice is there to serve the victims and survivors – and to punish the perpetrators. ICTR was not based in or near Rwanda, but north of Tanzania. The trials did not serve the purpose of the Rwandans, and many do not even know that they happened. Few even traveled there. »

To him, the ICTR did not serve justice after all. « How many people were convicted, to what extent and based on what? Less than 70 people were tried in almost 20 years. That was not satisfactory to Rwanda as a society. That's not justice. » According to Semukanya, the mechanism after ICTR later freed those who had been convicted to a life behind bars. « I think it was a big failure. »

What's the next step?

One thing is clear: even after the closure of the ICTR, the atrocities have still not been fully dealt with. In Rwandan the trials - mainly against civilians - are still ongoing. And the work that the ICTR seems that it has just begun under the so-called « Mechanism » . For this, however, the lawyers are dependent on the cooperation of the states in which the wanted persons are staying - in July, the chief investigator of the « mechanism », Serge Brammertz, publicly rebuked South Africa for delaying an arrest. Earlier there had been allegations that Kenya was protecting Rwandan businessman Felicien Kabuga, allegedly one of the main donors to the genocide.

Following the closure of the ICTR, human rights activist Mattioli-Zeltner appealed to the international community to prosecute the remaining perpetrators and backers of the genocide in Rwanda. "After the 1994 genocide, many of the perpetrators fled to other countries. We believe it is important that these countries remain vigilant. And if there is a suspicion that someone is involved in the genocide, then third countries can investigate these cases and bring the suspects to justice."

Paula herself hopes that with justice comes truth. She decided to forgive. « We trust that all of the perpetrators will be arrested and also maybe come back, either today or tomorrow to ask for forgiveness and share the truth. »  she believes that its the truth that Rwandans are waiting for.

A German court set a precedent almost four years ago: Genocide is one of the offenses that are being tried in Germany according to the principle of international law. This means that German courts may be competent to uphold international law, even if the acts took place outside Germany and without the participation of Germans. At the end of 2015, the Higher Regional Court of Frankfurt am Main – sentenced a former Rwandan mayor to life imprisonment. In April 1994, the accused Onesphore Rwabukombe had « knowingly and deliberately » « prepared, organized, ordered, and carried out » a massacre on church grounds, the court found. Even after the closure of the ICTR, there are still ways to hold the remaining perpetrators to account.


Avec la collaboration de Frejus Quenum, Alex Ngarambe et Silja Fröhlich