The United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was established at the end of 1994 with the mandate to prosecuting all international crimes committed in Rwanda during the previous year.  Unlike the Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals, organized by the “victors” of WW-II, the ICTR and the Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia were created by the UN Security Council (albeit under controversial circumstances).  As a European tribunal, the ICTY has been closely studied and criticized and I will not attempt to offer my own critique in this setting.  My purpose is to raise awareness of the apparent political manipulations that have turned the Rwanda Tribunal into a great-power foreign policy tool, rather than an example from which international justice might flow.

During the thirteen years of its existence, the ICTR Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) has come under great criticism for moving so slowly in bringing its cases to trial, which can be explained either as a lack of competence or a particularly difficult investigative or evidentiary situation.  However, it is without doubt that, unlike the ICTY which has brought at least some charges against each of the protagonists (with the notable exception of NATO forces), at the ICTR only members of the former Rwandan government and military have been among the Accused at the ICTR.  Now the ICTR is scheduled to end its trials in 2008 and appeals in 2010, and the question of transferring detainees to the Rwandan government is in the offing.

Given the mandate of the ICTR to prosecute all crimes committed in Rwanda, this is quite an extra-ordinary set of circumstances.  Either the “Rwanda war” is the only war in history in which only one of the contestants committed crimes during the war (a proposition about which I hope to raise some doubt in this paper)…or the United Nations Tribunal for Rwanda has been manipulated for political reasons to create impunity for a favored contestant and has actually become a “victor’s” tribunal, like those that were established after WW-II.

Because of access to original UN and government documents that the ICTR defense has put into the record, another narrative is developing that confirms the observations of former Chief ICTR Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte with respect to the outcome of the ICTR, as an institution of international justice:

It is unfair that politics undermines our work.  I find it wounding to see that we have managed to ridicule the principles of international justice because Kagame has signed a bi-lateral agreement [with the United States]…READ MORE