Statement by Honourable Tharcisse Karugarama, Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of Rwanda

Mr. President,

Excellencies here present,

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me join others in thanking His Excellency Vuk Jeremic, the President of the UNGA for having invited the Republic of Rwanda to take part in this important and interesting thematic debate. We are honored to share experiences and views on the role of international criminal justice in bringing reconciliation in conflict or post-conflict States.

Systems we create, just like our lives, always require us to look back and check their usefulness. It is with this perspective that Rwanda values the importance of this thematic debate, which will evaluate whether the International criminal system in place has met the expectations placed upon them of ensuring accountability, which is important to enhance reconciliation.

 Your Excellencies,

Let me be courageous enough to state that international criminal justice is in a crisis of credibility with regard to fostering national reconciliation in post conflict situations. Neither the tribunals set up to address the issue nor the application of the principle of Universal Jurisdiction has succeeded in that objective. Hence there is a need to review what we have achieved over the last two decades and chart a way forward for the future.

To be methodical in the assessment of the role of the International Criminal Justice System in Reconciliation, it is important to approach that assessment on whether the International Justice System can by its nature enhance reconciliation and whether it has best practices/benchmarks to boast of.

To evaluate the performance of the ICJS, allow me to draw your attention to the nature of International Courts and tribunals put in place to ensure accountability in different conflict situations; The ICTR, ICTY, the UN Special court for Sierra Leone (Hybrid tribunal), ICC, etc. Other than the Special Court for Sierra Leone, all the other courts/tribunals are housed outside the Countries where the atrocities were committed. As a result they are viewed as foreign, detached and contribute very little to National reconciliation process. By their nature, they serve legal and academic interests more than peace building and national reconciliation. In that regard the Sierra Leone kind of tribunal may probably be more appropriate because it involves all stakeholders.

In all fairness, these international Courts and Tribunals can be credited for having produced a substantial body of jurisprudence, including the definitions of the elements of the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, as well as forms of responsibility, such as superior responsibility. This is good for the future of the practice of international law as we now have a well-established foundation and precedent on which to move forward into the future. The works of these tribunals have transformed the resolutions, treaties and conventions emanating from the United Nations, into practical tools to be used by the International criminal justice system in its efforts to end impunity.

Permit me to limit my observation to the performance of the ICTR in relation to reconciliation process. The mission given to the ICTR in the UN Security Council resolutions establishing it was partly to contribute “to the process of national reconciliation and to the restoration and maintenance of peace…” In Rwanda’s experience this objective has not been achieved:

  1. Most of the master-planners of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi are still at large.
  2. The biggest beneficiaries of the ICTR have not been Rwandan survivors-orphans and widows, or Rwanda as a Country in general but rather the technocrats running the ICTR apparatus
  3. In spite of the existence of correctional facilities such as the one housing the prisoners from the Special Court for Sierra Leone, The technocrats running the ICTR system have denied Rwandans the right to host the convicted perpetrators of the genocide, sending them to far distant Countries instead. This has frustrated survivors who feel that the ICTR does not value them. On the contrary trials under Gacaca judicial system (the homegrown legal initiative), the perpetrators of genocide or their families were brought together with the survivors of genocide to collectively examine all aspects of genocide and punish those responsible for it. This gave chance to national healing and reconciliation.
  4. Technocrats running the ICTR system have denied Rwandans the right to host the archives, which constitute an integral part of Rwanda’s history. For some obscure reasons they have denied the Rwandans the right to own their own history. Rwanda feels betrayed by this kind of attitude.
  5. The time and cost of the trials at the ICTR in comparison to the trials in Rwanda demonstrate how in the eyes of the Rwandan survivors reconciliation cannot be achieved on the basis of international justice.
  • Comparison in terms of handled cases
Courts Number of cases handled Duration
GACACA 1.958.634 10 years
Ordinary Courts 15,286 17 years
ICTR 75 17 years
  • Comparison in terms of financial expenses
Courts Estimation of expenses Duration
GACACA About 52M USD 10 years
Ordinary Courts About 17M USD 17 years
ICTR About 1.5 Billion USD 17 years

NB: Rwanda’s Gacaca trials cost $50 USD per suspect and tried about 1.3M people, ICTR tried 75 Rwandan over 17 years at a cost of over $20M USD per suspect.

In Rwanda’s experience international tribunals such as the ICTR do not necessarily foster national reconciliation in post conflict situations. On the contrary, if national jurisdictions were facilitated they could lead to better results.

 Another international tribunal that needs mention is the ICC:

In principle the Court was meant to be able to act independently of political interference, an indispensable precondition for its permanent acceptance in the eyes of the world. Unfortunately, its activities have not measured up to the challenge.  ICC has been selective in its method of investigating and prosecuting perpetrators of serious international crimes in that it has so far failed to accept the glaring truth that similar crimes have been committed in other parts of the World with impunity.

Another challenge facing the ICC is that the UN Security Council can refer cases to the court yet some of its members have veto powers that would block any move to refer their own nationals to the court.

The nature of the ICC therefore, within the limits of the current mandate, cannot lead to the process of national reconciliation.

The other aspect of international criminal Justice system I wish to deal with is the issue of Universal Jurisdiction exercised, most abusively, by some national jurisdictions.

Rwanda believes in an International Justice system, based on equality of states, equality of all the people before the law; a system based on recognizable universal shared values. Rwanda however rejects political manipulations, double standards and excessive abuse in the application of this noble objective.

Rwanda has been a victim of the abusive use of the principle of Universal Jurisdiction. In 2006 a Judge in France (now discredited and proven by competent jurisdictions to have been politically manipulated) issued arrest warrants against senior leadership of the Rwandan Government without any investigations, using genocide fugitives and political opponents of the Rwandan Government. This lone Judge was able to hold an entire Nation at ransom under the guise of international justice and although he has been proven to have been politically manipulated he has not been held accountable.

Another Judge in Spain issued indictments against senior leadership of Rwanda on the basis that no genocide was committed in Rwanda or that if it was committed at all, it was by the victims not by the perpetrators. The Judge clearly denies genocide or negates it under the guise of international justice and universal jurisdiction; yet he cannot be held accountable. He also cited the political manifesto of the Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation du Rwanda-FDLR (A genocidal rebel group operating in Eastern DRC) as a base for his indictment. The whole indictment is full of hate language that is shocking to say the least. Yet some countries or at worst individual actors in those States pretend they have an obligation to respect and perpetuate that kind of situation to persist thus holding our country into perpetual bondage and frustration. This kind of power without controls is dangerous to international peace and security. The UN needs to face up the challenge caused by abusive application of the principle of universal jurisdiction.

In relation to universal jurisdiction:

  1. There is need to strike the right balance to end the culture of impunity while at the same time establishing safe guards against the potential abuse of the principle of universal jurisdiction,
  2. There must be a system of review where by an aggrieved party can appeal to another judge or another tribunal to review the decision of a judge issuing indictments and/or international arrest warrants against the leaders of another country,
  3. The review process can be before a court of national, regional or international jurisdiction but certainly there must be a system of review such that no individual judge anywhere in the world should have unlimited power to hold an independent and sovereign state at ransom for political or any other gain hiding behind universal or other perceived or assumed jurisdictional competence,
  4. While this review process is going on, individuals and States should be permitted to conduct their businesses normally until the review process is completed. Short of this, large and powerful states or political judges from those states may gag, stifle or swallow small nations or its entire leadership or both. This has high potential for instability and negative effects on international law and order.
  5. International arrest warrants should have a blessing of the Interpol to avoid partisan political manipulation. Bilateral relationship between States should not be taken as an excuse to flout Interpol’s position. In all circumstances the opinion of international police (Interpol), should be sought whether international arrest warrants should be issued on the basis of evidence available. Where Interpol itself has not issued or advised that international arrest warrants should be issued, no state should feel obliged to respect arrest warrants issued by individuals judges from any UN member state.

In conclusion let me restate that Rwanda believes in a fair international legal order based on shared universal values and mutual respect between States; a system where justice is not just about form but substance. We will cooperate with any State or individual that will enhance a fair international legal order.

I thank you for your kind attention.