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Court's anti-genocide work is 'unfinished'

A U.N. tribunal's chief prosecutor emphasized on Rwanda's 25th anniversary of its genocide that the work of bringing perpetrators to justice is incomplete.

The chief prosecutor for a United Nations tribunal emphasized on Rwanda's 25th anniversary of its harrowing genocide that the work of bringing perpetrators to justice has not yet been completed.

Eight fugitives remain at large from the 1994 genocide, said Serge Brammertz, a Belgian jurist who is chief prosecutor for the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals.

Unlike national courts, the United Nations-sponsored IRMCT has no police force or powers of arrest, so it must rely on cooperation from national governments to detain fugitives.

"For a criminal tribunal like the mechanism, our work remains unfinished so long as fugitives remain at large," said Brammertz. "And for international criminal justice as a whole, fugitives are an illustration of ongoing impunity that threatens the effectiveness of our work.”

The IRMCT is the successor to the former International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, or ICTR, and former International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, or ICTY. Brammertz urged the world to use the anniversary of the Rwanda genocide to reaffirm its shared responsibility for preventing more such horrors.

Some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred by the majority Hutu population in Rwanda over a 100-day period, in what remains the worst genocide in recent history.

Rwanda's genocide began hours after a plane carrying then-Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana was shot down and crashed as it approached Kigali on the evening of April 6, 1994. The crash killed Habyarimana, an ethnic Hutu like most Rwandans. The Tutsi minority was blamed. Hutu extremists began slaughtering Tutsi with help from the police, army and militias.

Rebels led by Paul Kagame, now the country's president, ended the slaughter by ousting the extremist Hutu government that had planned and orchestrated the killings to destroy the Tutsi group.

Afterwards, the ICTR convicted 61 people who bore the greatest responsibility for the genocide. But the fight for justice remains unfinished, Brammertz said, particularly since eight fugitives remain at large.

“For the victims, it is difficult if not impossible to move forward when those indicted for horrific crimes remain free and have not had to face their day in court," he said in a statement.

Brammertz called for urgent international cooperation to locate and arrest all of the remaining fugitives, including those sought by Rwandan courts. But he emphasized that the processes of educating people about genocide prevention and remembering the victims were key to combatting genocide denial and ideology.

“What has been established in the courtroom must be taught in the classroom," he said. "Future generations need to know the dangers of genocide ideology. They need to know the truth so they can firmly reject genocide denial at all times and in all places.”

Of the 90 people indicted by ICTR, eight remain at large and three of those fugitives — Félicien Kabuga, Protais Mpiranya and Augustin Bizimana — have been earmarked for trial before the IRMCT, according to a court statement on the search for the fugitives.

The court prosecutor requested referrals to Rwanda in the cases of the five other fugitives: Fulgence Kayishema, Charles Sikubwabo, Aloys Ndimbati, Ryandikayo, and Phénéas Munyarugarama.

Monument over a mass grave in Kigali, Rwanda (AN/Adam Jones)

Responsibility to protect

The late U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who died in Switzerland at the age of 80 last year, was the commander of U.N. peacekeeping troops when they experienced their greatest failures — the 1994 Rwanda genocide and the 1995 Bosnian massacre in Srebrenica.

In cables between Annan and a force commander, the two discussed the possibility of a Rwandan genocide before it happened. One of those cables, sent by a Canadian general in January 1994, had asked for authorization to prevent the “extermination” of Tutsis in Kigali and the killing of “up to a thousand Tutsis.” Annan instructed the general to follow diplomatic protocol, which effectively did nothing.

Annan later apologized for the troops’ failures to save civilian lives. To his credit, he called for U.N. reports to be prepared about the events leading up to the genocide that contained serious criticism of his actions. But he never accepted personal or institutional responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of lives lost collectively.

He went on to champion a new “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine that is still debated today. It promoted the idea that countries should sometimes intervene ahead of time to prevent more genocide, crimes against humanity and other war crimes.

Canada's government set up an International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty to study the issue. It released a landmark report entitled “The Responsibility to Protect” at the end of 2001 that sought to reconcile the notions of intervention and sovereignty.

On the 1oth anniversary of the Rwanda genocide, the United Nations appointed a special adviser on the prevention of genocide. Four years later, it appointed a special adviser on the responsibility to protect. Those two advisers now work out of a U.N. Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect.

During the past week, Rwanda marked the grim anniversary. At the Kigali Genocide Memorial in the nation's capital, African Union and European Union officials joined in commemorating a genocide that Kagame vowed would never happen again.

'A state of permanent commemoration'

Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the African Union Commission, and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, helped Kagame and First Lady Jeannette Kagame light a flame of remembrance at the mass burial ground of 250,000 victims.

“Our bodies and minds bear amputations and scars, but none of us is alone,” President Paul Kagame told a ceremony that included officials from Belgium, Canada, Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Niger. “We exist in a state of permanent commemoration, every day, in all that we do."

Bodies of victims are still being found even a quarter-century after the genocide; Rwandan authorities said last year they found mass graves with 5,400 bodies.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his nation joins the Rwandan people and the international community in remembering and paying tribute to all those who lost their lives in the genocide.

“Today, we also honor the bravery of all those who risked their lives to save others in this dark time," he said. "We recognize the members of the United Nations peace support mission in Rwanda, including Canadian peacekeepers and General Roméo Dallaire, who, in spite of their small number and limited mandate, did everything in their power to protect those seeking refuge."

Trudeau said the Rwanda genocide, like all others, "showed the world the unconscionable cost of division and hatred," and he asked all Canadians to remember and honor the victims "by fighting hate, protecting the most vulnerable, and working to make our world a better one.”

Human rights organizations emphasized the need to ensure accountability while working to prevent more genocide. Amnesty International said the global rise of the "politics of demonization" in recent years showed the world has failed to learn some lessons from the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

“It is shameful that the conscience of world leaders is all too often pricked only in the aftermath of massive atrocities," Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s secretary general, said in a statement. "Then as soon as the news moves on, they go straight back to peddling the hateful and dehumanizing rhetoric that fuels these horrific incidents in the first place."