By Mike Pflanz
The UN’s special genocide tribunal for Rwanda was accused of being a waste of time and money on Monday night after two former government ministers were freed by the court – 14 years after first being arrested.
Justin Mugenzi and Prosper Mugiraneza were initially arrested in 1999 before eventually being found guilty of inciting genocide in 2011 after an eight-year trial.
Yesterday however, the tribunal’s appeal judges threw out their convictions because of “errors” in the earlier judgment.
The ruling means the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has now spent £1 billion, much of it donated by Western countries, including Britain, to put just 43 people permanently behind bars.
Twelve others indicted by the court have been freed after being acquitted, while a further 15 could join them if their pending appeals go the way of yesterday’s judgment.
Taken together with other defendants who have died or have not yet been arrested, the cost per person for the court’s 92 indictees is now higher than £11 million each.
“The thing that is so terrible to us is the amount of money the court has spent versus its achievements, which are so very few,” Naphtar Ahishakiye, acting head of Rwanda’s Ibuka genocide survivors group, said last night.
“Every time we hear of a lawyer or a judge making a mistake that means another perpetrator is freed, we again feel pain. So many appeals are still waiting, and we are afraid more people will be released.”
A former senior official at the ICTR said that he was “increasingly disappointed” at trials that were “dragging on” and judges were handing out “unbelievably low sentences for convictions of the gravest of crimes”.
“The expense is an issue, and the results of that spending are even more disturbing,” said Tim Gallimore, who sat at the heart of the tribunal’s operations as its chief spokesman between 2004 and 2008.
“The money would have been better spent on restitution and financial reparations to the genocide survivors, to at least make it easier for them to cope with the trauma inflicted on them by the perpetrators who are being pampered by the ICTR.
“It is difficult to say that the victims and survivors of the genocide against the Tutsi have received justice.”
The condemnation follows a sharp rise in criticism of costs and slow operations of other world courts, including the International Criminal Court, which faces claims it has unfairly targeted only African suspects.
The Rwanda court, which sits in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha, is now on track to become the world’s most expensive such “ad hoc” tribunal.
By the time it winds down in December 2014, its spending may have passed that of its sister tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
The ICTR promised at its inception in 1994 to indict some 700 senior politicians, government officials, clergymen and journalists accused of orchestrating the genocide, when 800,000 people were killed in 100 days.
That figure was later reduced to 300 but eventually only 92 people have been indicted.