After 21 years, 93 cases and $2 billion, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda wound up business at year’s end with one final case.
The judges deliberated on an appeal sought by Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, the former minister for women’s development, her son, Arsene Shalom Ntahobali, and four government officials. Their convictions, which they sought to overturn, included genocide, complicity in genocide, crimes against humanity among other major crimes.
The Tribunal, however, upheld the convictions although lowering the long sentences for the ex-minister and son for complicity in the deaths of thousands of Tutsis in their home town of Butare. There, in April 1994, thousands of Tutsis, fleeing armed Hutus, had gathered at the stadium, where the Red Cross was providing food and shelter.
Pauline’s 24-year-old son, leading armed militia, surrounded the stadium. The court heard how refugees were raped, tortured, killed and their bodies burned. Nyiramasuhuko allegedly ordered the militiamen: “Before you kill the women, you need to rape them.” In another incident, she ordered her men to take gasoline cans from her car and use them to burn a group of women to death, leaving a surviving rape victim as a witness.
She left Rwanda in 1994 following the genocide. Three years later, she was arrested in Nairobi, Kenya, along with her son, the former Prime Minister Jean Kambanda, and eight others.
As of January 1, any unfinished business, such as supporting prosecutions in other countries or trying any of the remaining suspects at large, will fall to a slimmed-down institution known as the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, headquartered in The Hague.
The Mechanism will be about a tenth of the size of the tribunal at its height. Eight Rwandan fugitives are still at large, with $5 million bounties being offered for their capture by the United States through the State Department’s Rewards for Justice program. One high-profile suspect was captured last week in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Beyond the eight most-wanted fugitives, the Rwandan government has issued indictments for more than 400 people accused of involvement in the genocide.
Summing up the Tribunal’s plusses and minuses, Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, international justice advocacy director at Human Rights Watch called the ICTR “an extraordinary evolution in the international response to serious and widespread human rights violations. It signals that all serious crimes, whoever commits them and wherever they are committed, should be prosecuted and tried.”
Rwandan Justice Minister Johnston Busingye, however, faulted the process for not having their own police to execute warrants or carry out arrests. “Some (suspects) are hidden in plain sight, preaching the word of God to the faithful, treating patients in hospitals or engaged in other activities in various countries,” he said.
“States where indicted genocide suspects are sheltering must understand they owe a duty to humanity, and to the Rwanda victims, to ensure that those suspects are brought to justice.”