Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Rwanda Tribunal digs up partial truth

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) based in Arusha, Tanzania, is due to conclude its business at the end of 2014 following several deferrals. A United Nations Security Council Resolution set up the tribunal in 1994.

Analysts have globally recognised the ICTR’s role in bringing perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandese genocide to justice. However, for a variety of reasons, they also believe that the tribunal has not entirely fulfilled its mandate.

With a year and a half left of its tenure, the ICTR has tried 75 people, sentenced 46 and acquitted 12. Of the 46 defendants who have been sentenced, 17 cases are still pending before the Appeals Chamber, although most of these appeals are at an advanced stage.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has been a regular observer of the ICTR’s proceedings which started in 1997. Carina Tertsakian, a researcher in the Africa division of HRW commended “the important role” played by ICTR in bringing those accused of being most responsible for the genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda. According to her, the Rwandese justice system would not have been able to apprehend such senior leaders of the former regime.

According to the United Nations, the genocide claimed at least 800,000 lives particularly amongst the Tutsis.

But Tertsakian admits that the ICTR has had some weak areas. “We believe one of the main weaknesses of the ICTR is that it has not opened a single case for war crimes committed by members of the former rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (the RPF is now in power in Kigali) even though this was well within its mandate,” she told IPS.

“Credible evidence of the crimes committed by RPF soldiers exists. This important part of ICTR’s mandate has not been executed.”

In Kigali, genocide survivors have united under a group called Ibuka, which means ‘remember’ in Kinyarwanda. They give credit to the tribunal for sending a strong message to the architects of the genocide, particularly those still in hiding, but also express some disappointment.

“The ICTR worries them, which is a cause for celebration. But it is not much if you consider the vast means at the tribunal’s disposal,” said Naphtal Ahishakiye, Ibuka’s executive secretary. He is dismayed that nine of the accused are still at large, including billionaire Félicien Kabuga who is often referred to as the principal funder of the genocide.

According to ICTR spokesperson Roland Amoussouga, the tribunal has cost 1.6 billion dollars as of Dec. 31, 2011.

Ibuka has also denounced certain judgements. “In a number of cases, the tribunal acquitted defendants or handed down sentences that were too lenient, even where reliable evidence was put before it,” said Ahishakiye, who also believes that the ICTR “has contributed practically nothing to Rwandese reconciliation.”

The same criticism was made by the Rwandese government on Jun. 21 this year after a UN debate on international criminal justice. “The ICTR, particularly the Appeals Chamber has, on several occasions in the last months, acquitted a number of members of that cabinet, some of whom had been heavily sentenced at the first instance,” protested Rwandese diplomat Olivier Nduhungirehe.

ICTR officials have to date refused to comment on these “purely political” criticisms.

Those opposing the new regime in Kigali also have their grievances with the ICTR. The United Democratic Forces (UDF), a party created in exile and which is struggling to get registered in Rwanda, claims that the main failure of the Arusha tribunal is to have not sought the perpetrators of the Apr. 6, 1994 strike on the plane carrying then president Juvenal Habyarimana.

“The lack of will to try those responsible for the attack which triggered the genocide is for us a massive failure. It is clear that there was political pressure from some quarters,” said Jean-Baptiste Mberabahizi, spokesperson for the party exiled in Belgium. He denounces this as “the justice of the victor over the vanquished.”

According to French academic and Great Lakes specialist André Guichaoua, “assessments of the qualitative and quantitative achievements of the ICTR may be mixed, but the tribunal has paved a way forward.” He believes that “the prosecutor’s office, judges and their personnel tried the principal architects of the genocide, created jurisprudence and set standards in matters of justice and truth.”

Guichaoua, who was the expert witness in several of the ICTR cases recognises that the tribunal “gave priority to the pursuit and trial of the architects of the genocide” of Tutsis.

But, he pointed out to IPS, the lack of legal proceedings for crimes allegedly committed in 1994 by members of the former rebel forces now in power in Kigali “has undermined the credibility (of ICTR), the scope of its rulings, the unveiling of truth and the comprehension of facts.”

Guichaoua believes that successive prosecutors of the tribunal, with the consent of the UN Security Council, have all succumbed to Kigali’s stonewalling. For this reason he believes the ICTR’s mission has not been fully accomplished.

The ICTR was scheduled to conclude its mandate at the end of 2008, but its officials requested an extension to the end of 2009. At the end of 2010, the Security Council passed a resolution requiring that that all matters be wound up by the end of 2014.

Tuesday 27 August 2013


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The UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) singularly failed to investigate the abduction and murders of Kosovo Serbs in the aftermath of the 1998-1999 conflict, Amnesty International said in a report published today.

It comes on the eve of a UN Security Council debate on Kosovo on 29 August.

“UNMIK’s failure to investigate what constituted a widespread, as well as a systematic, attack on a civilian population and, potentially, crimes against humanity, has contributed to the climate of impunity prevailing in Kosovo,” said Sian Jones, Amnesty International’s expert on Kosovo.

“There is no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity. They must be investigated and the families of the abducted and murdered must receive redress. The UN should not be allowed to shirk its responsibility any longer.”

In Kosovo: UNMIK’s Legacy: The failure to deliver justice and reparation to the relatives of the abducted, Amnesty International reveals how UNMIK failed to investigate reports of abductions and killings, despite being charged by the UN Security Council with protecting human rights in Kosovo.

The report is based on the initial findings of the Human Rights Advisory Panel (HRAP) set up by UNMIK to receive complaints from those who consider their rights to have been violated by UNMIK. The HRAP has received some 150 complaints from relatives of missing persons – primarily Kosovo Serbs believed to have been abducted by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Each complainant claimed that UNMIK had failed to investigate the abduction and subsequent murder of their relative or relatives.

The panel found that in several cases UNMIK was not able to present any evidence that an investigation took place, while in others UNMIK police appear to have given up on the investigation after the victim’s body had been handed over to the relatives. In one case UNMIK police were even unaware that the bodies of a missing husband and son had been found and returned to their family for burial.

In spite of the panel’s findings and recommendations, no further measures appear to have been taken by UNMIK to provide redress and reparation.

Although the report focuses on the abductions of Kosovo Serbs, allegedly by the KLA, Amnesty International’s own research has led to similar findings with regard to UNMIK’s failure to investigate enforced disappearances of ethnic Albanians by Serb forces.

Since 1999-2000, Amnesty International has monitored UNMIK’s progress in a number of emblematic cases of enforced disappearance and abduction. In five cases, involving the enforced disappearances of 27 ethnic Albanians, no-one has yet been brought to justice. In 10 other cases involving the abduction of 13 Serbs and Roma, only one perpetrator has been brought to justice, but by the Serbian authorities.

For nearly a decade after the conflict, UNMIK police and prosecutors failed to initiate prompt, effective, independent, impartial and thorough investigations into many reports of enforced disappearances and abductions. As a result, very few of those suspected of criminal responsibility for the war crimes and crimes against humanity have been brought to justice in international or domestic courts.

“Years have passed and the fate of the majority of the missing on both sides of the conflict is still unresolved, with their families still waiting for justice. The cases considered to date by the HRAP reveal how the victims of human rights violations have been left in limbo due to the lack of will within the UN system to ensure they receive appropriate compensation and other reparation,” said Sian Jones.

UNMIK’s responsibilities for police and justice ended on 9 December 2008, when the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) took over its policing, prosecutorial and judicial functions. This included responsibility for the investigation and prosecution of serious crimes, including crimes under international law. EULEX inherited 1,187 war crimes cases which UNMIK had failed to investigate

“While it is now up to EULEX to open investigations into cases of post-war abduction and murder, UNMIK must make sufficient funds available to provide the relatives of the missing with adequate and effective compensation for moral damages and their pain and suffering, in accordance with international law and standards,” said Sian Jones.

“The legacies of the Kosovo conflict must be resolved – this includes resolving the fate of missing persons from all communities in Kosovo, bringing to account those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and providing reparation. Only when that happens can the scars of the past conflict start to heal.”

Tuesday 27 August 2013


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Memorial erected to 84 tsunami victims of Okawa Primary School

A cenotaph for 84 Okawa Primary School students who died or went missing in the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami has been erected at its schoolyard in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture.

The cenotaph is composed of three sections. The words “love and affection” are carved on the central section, as well as the names of all the victims, while an image of the school building before the quake and the lyrics to the school’s official song are carved on the right and left sections, respectively.

About 200 people, including the parents of children who were lost, attended a memorial service in front of the cenotaph on Sunday. “Twenty-nine months has passed since the earthquake, but many of us still feel we’re not living in reality. Although our emotional scars will never be healed, let’s move forward hand in hand together,” said Kiyokatsu Otsuki, 38, chairman of a group of bereaved families. Otsuki lost his son, a second-grader at the school, in the March 2011 disaster.

Many parents placed flowers in front of the cenotaph while looking at the names of their children. Kazutaka Sato, 46, whose sixth-grade son was killed in the disaster, said with tears in his eyes, “As I looked at every one of the names on the cenotaph, I felt sharply how many people lost their lives.”

Sato added, “While some people say the creation of a cenotaph helps them leave the tragic past behind, it makes me feel intense regret about the lives we might have been able to save.”

Katsura Sato, 48, who lost her sixth-grade daughter, said she told the cenotaph, “I hope you’re nice to each other as good friends and watch over your parents from heaven.” She said she also swore “not to let your deaths go to waste” by never letting the same kind of tragedy happen again.

Tuesday 27 August 2013


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Last victim of Genting bus crash identified as Nigerian student

The body of a unknown woman - killed in the Genting Highlands bus crash last Wednesday and kept at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital mortuary - has been identified.

She was Eitoya Magdalin, a student from Nigeria.

A hospital spokesman contacted by Bernama said that a few of the victim's friends turned up at the department of forensics and identified the body.

“Arrangements are now being made by the authorities to inform the victim's family and next-of-kin to claim the body,” he said.

With this identification, all 37 bodies taken to the hospital have been identified. Of the number, seven have yet to be claimed by the next-of-kin.

Meanwhile, the spokesman said that five other victims of the bus crash who were warded at the hospital were in stable condition.

Another victim, Nur Fathih Jaafar, 21, was discharged from the Selayang Hospital today.

Three others are under observation. They are Indonesian national Nurul Quraitul Aini, 19, Nurfridil Gusman, 23, and Andri Purwadi, 25.

In the crash, the bus had plunged into a 60-metre deep ravine near the 3.5km Jalan Genting Highlands-Kuala Lumpur stretch, killing 37 people, including the driver, and leaving 16 people injured.

Tuesday 27 August 2013


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