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Address to the 70th United Nations General Assembly: Twentieth Annual Report of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda by Judge Vagn Joensen, President


Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

As I stand before you today, marking my fourth and final appearance before the United Nations General Assembly in my capacity as President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (“ICTR” or “Tribunal”), I would like to first congratulate His Excellency, Mr. Mogens Lykketoft of Denmark, for his election as President of this Honourable Assembly. It is with great pleasure that I wish your Excellency a successful tour of duty.  I am also happy to be able to have an active part in furthering the theme of your Presidency, “the United Nations at 70 – a new commitment to action”. As the United Nations celebrates its 70th anniversary and as the ICTR passes the torch to the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (“Mechanism”), we, as representatives of the ad hoc tribunals can once again reaffirm our commitment to action, to the prevention of atrocities such as those that took place in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia and continue to reinforce our message to the international community that no longer will such crimes go unpunished.

Excellencies, it remains an immense honour for me to address the distinguished members of this Assembly and to present to you the Twentieth and final Annual Report of the ICTR. The report details the progress made in the last year towards the completion of the Tribunal’s mandate and the transition to the Mechanism. 

I will now begin by providing you with a brief overview of the work undertaken throughout the reporting period from 1 July 2014 to 30 June 2015, where the Tribunal has, in the face of a very high workload, made significant progress towards the goals of the completion strategy keeping us on track for completion of the remaining judicial work by the end of this 2015. Of the many achievements that the ICTR has made towards completing its mandate, one of the most important accomplishments is that the Appeals Chamber has now completed its work in all but one case. The sole remaining judgement on appeal in the Nyiramasuhuko et al. or “Butare” case is expected to be delivered in December 2015. In that regard, the ICTR's formal closure is planned for 31 December 2015, shortly after the return of the final appeal judgement. Thereafter, the Tribunal will be comprised of only a small team to complete the required liquidation activities, which are projected to be completed in the first half of 2016.

As we begin to prepare for life after the ICTR, I also want to thank the Tribunal’s Division of Administrative Support Services who, amongst others, continue to play an important role in the significant progress that the Tribunal has made in the ongoing transfer of responsibilities to the Mechanism while at the same time ensuring the efficient management of the Tribunal’s downsizing process and providing assistance to departing staff members.


As Your Excellencies are aware, the Tribunal has completed its work at the trial level with respect to all of the 93 accused and since January 2013 the Tribunal’s remaining judicial work has been in the Appeals Chamber. During the reporting period, the Tribunal issued three appeal judgements concerning four persons in the Karemera & Ngirumpatse, Nizeyimana, and Nzabonimana cases, bringing the total number of persons whose judgements have been completed at the appellate level to 55. Litigation in connection with the Butare case, the Tribunal’s final appeal, generated an unexpectedly high volume of motions before the Appeals Chamber during the reporting period. The motions in the Butare case, comprised of six defence appeals and one prosecution appeal, were disposed of prior to the oral hearings, which were held from 14 to 22 April 2015 in Arusha, Tanzania. Since April, the Appeals Chamber has been engaged in intensive deliberations and judgement drafting, the result of which is a plan for delivery of the judgement before 31 December 2015.

Turning to cases transferred from the ICTR to national jurisdictions, I wish to inform you that there are now four cases pending in national jurisdictions – two in Rwanda and two in France. The function of monitoring the referred cases now rests with the Mechanism. During the reporting period, however, the Tribunal provided staff to assist the Mechanism with monitoring these four cases: staff from the Tribunal based in Arusha acted as interim monitors of the proceedings in Rwanda during part of the reporting period, and an Appeals Chamber staff member in The Hague acted as interim monitor for the cases transferred to France throughout the reporting period. Both have submitted regular reports to the Mechanism, and the ICTR has followed the progress closely and will continue to provide support as required until its closure. I would like to express my deep gratitude to the staff members from both the Tribunal and the Mechanism who agreed to take on these important roles in addition to their core duties, and to commend them for their service as monitors while ensuring that this function did not cause any detriment to their regular workload.


Considering the work completed by the Tribunal during the reporting period, I feel that it is incumbent upon me to take this opportunity to commend the Appeals Chamber, as well as the entirety of the staff of the ICTR for their continued hard work. I would like to once more reinforce the fact that the significant progress achieved towards the completion of our mandate and the transition to the Mechanism would not be possible without their persevering efforts. As we near the end of our mandate and continue to work to complete the final appeal without delay, the staff who remain at the ICTR are among the most dedicated and professional individuals in the organisation. This is evidenced by the fact that many have sacrificed opportunities for more secure and lucrative employment prospects in order to see their work through until the end. I sincerely hope that Member States will continue to encourage the Secretariat and other UN entities to strongly consider applications from qualified ICTR staff members, especially those who remain with the Tribunal until the completion of their contracts.


Excellencies, despite persistent staffing challenges, the ICTR has made substantial progress in the preparation and transfer of its paper, electronic, and audio-visual records for preservation and management by the Mechanism. This work was done in collaboration with the Mechanism in order to ensure that the records will be easily manageable after their transfer and also accessible to posterity. As of 1 October 2015, the Mechanism has received approximately 78% of the physical ICTR records, which will be housed in the Mechanism’s archives, and the remaining records will be handed over to the Mechanism prior to the completion of the Tribunal’s liquidation activities in 2016.

In addition to the inventory and appraisal of the ICTR records, the Tribunal also worked on the redaction of audio-visual records of trial proceedings. These records, which are vital to the ICTR’s goal of ensuring that the events in Rwanda will never be forgotten, may also serve as roadmaps for the creation of future international tribunals and, possibly almost as important, can be used to further empower domestic courts and educate the world on the importance of challenging impunity.

While the ICTR may shortly close, the records generated over the past two decades provide not only an account of the Genocide, but also tell the story of the Tribunal and the countless number of staff members and people from every corner of the world who along with those involved with the trials themselves have effected and been effected by the work of the ICTR. While the process of transferring these records moves forward, I especially thank all of the staff working on these important projects and commend them on the work they have completed with distinction.

Discussing the transfer from the ICTR to the Mechanism presents an opportune time for me to say a few words about my dear friend and colleague, President Meron.  Over the course of the years that we have worked together, I have been impressed by President Meron’s energy, perseverance and dedication, especially when you consider that he is balancing the responsibilities of President of the Mechanism and of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (“ICTY”). Together, President Meron and I have been able to foster an environment whereby our two Offices work in close collaboration and he has been instrumental in the Tribunal’s ability to complete its mandate and transfer its remaining residual functions to the Mechanism. As I reflect upon our friendship and professional relationship, I note with sadness that this will be the last time that the two of us stand here together and provide our respective briefings to this distinguished Assembly. I further note that this will also mark the final briefing by President Meron as President of the ICTY as his second term of Office will shortly expire. I wish to thank him on behalf of the entire Tribunal for his service as President of the ICTY, which has included serving as the Presiding Judge of the ICTR and ICTY Appeals Chamber, working hard to retain the judicial integrity and highest procedural safeguards which are paramount to the legitimacy and moral force of the Tribunals.


I will now provide an update on the work of the Office of the Prosecutor (“OTP”). During the reporting period, the OTP focused on the remaining appeals and providing assistance with other ongoing litigation, supporting the core work undertaken by the OTP of the Mechanism, and compiling various lessons learnt and best practices manuals. As part of its principal litigation function, the OTP continued to assist the Mechanism OTP with its judicial assignments and was further involved in the reviewing and updating of its disclosure obligations in all completed cases.

During the reporting period, the OTP also handed over the responsibility for the tracking of the three remaining fugitives to the Mechanism OTP and continued to transfer functions and responsibility for the management and preservation of its official records and archives to its Mechanism office. The OTP has also been exemplary in its work on a number of projects related to the preservation of lessons learnt and best practices that will be pivotal in shaping the legacy of the ICTR. For example, by creating a best practices manual for the prosecution of sexual and gender-based violence and by providing a manual that identifies the lessons learnt from the ICTR Prosecutor’s referral of international criminal cases to national jurisdictions, the OTP has and will continue to strengthen the capacity of national criminal justice systems to effectively prosecute international crimes. Upon closure, the OTP shall also submit a formal closing report to the Security Council, detailing many of the key challenges and accomplishments it has faced over the past 21 years of operation.


I now return to an important concern that the ICTR has raised in both the General Assembly and Security Council for years, that of relocating acquitted persons and those released after serving their sentences. Since 2011, the Security Council has called upon Member States to assist the Tribunal with the relocation of acquitted and released persons who are currently residing in Arusha. However, apart from Belgium, who agreed to accept and reunite one of the Tribunal’s acquitted persons with his family in September 2014, there have been few developments in this area despite tremendous efforts by the Registrar and myself who worked tirelessly until the end of 2014 to find solutions to this very troubling problem. While the Mechanism took over the formal responsibility for relocation as of 1 January 2015, the ICTR remains committed to assisting the Mechanism in its relocation efforts until its closure. However, I once again reiterate that the assistance of all Member States is essential to the Mechanism’s ability to relocate these acquitted and released persons, some of whom have remained in Arusha for over a decade.


Over twenty years ago, in November 1994, the United Nations Security Council tasked the ICTR with being apart of bringing peace and reconciliation to the Great Lakes region through the prosecution of those responsible for the atrocities in Rwanda in 1994. As I stand here today, two decades later and on the precipice of closure, I firmly believe that the Tribunal, along with many others, assisted in rebuilding the trust between the Rwandan people and the United Nations and through justice, as well as through numerous outreach and capacity building programmes, aided Rwanda in putting the country back together.

As we reflect on the work that the Tribunal has accomplished, I recall that November 2014 marked the 20th anniversary of the creation of the ICTR by the Security Council. To commemorate this occasion, the Tribunal organised events to pay tribute to the victims and survivors of the Genocide and to recognise those brave souls who walked into a courtroom, most for the first time, and recalled events that as former ICTR President Judge Navi Pillay so rightly put, “shocked the collective conscience of mankind”. The events held by the Tribunal included a symposium on the legacy of the ICTR and the Seventh Colloquium of International Prosecutors, and brought together hundreds of scholars and legal practitioners as well as politicians, government officials, international and national prosecutors and judges, and media representatives from across the globe. The Tribunal also held satellite events in December 2015 in The Hague, where its Appeals Chamber is seated, and here in New York, the place of its establishment by the Security Council.

To ensure that the work that the ICTR has done in the wake of the Genocide is not forgotten and to ensure that the ICTR’s continued battle against impunity lives on long after its closure, the ICTR launched a new short film on the occasion of its 20th anniversary, which is available on the Tribunal’s homepage. The video has attracted more than 125,000 views, renewing public interest in the events that took place in Rwanda in 1994 and reinforcing the message that the Tribunal has made by bringing those accused of the most heinous crimes to justice and, as stated in the film, coming even “closer to a time when international law offers justice to all people, everywhere”.

It has been said, and I must echo, that prosecution and judicial decisions alone cannot maintain peace or achieve reconciliation in a region devastated by such violence. In order to ensure that affected communities not only understand the work of the Tribunal, but also the ramifications of the Genocide and lessons learnt in the fight against impunity, the ICTR continues to implement outreach and capacity building programmes and will do so until its closure. One of the most important initiatives was the creation of the Umusanzu Information Centre in Kigali and the 10 additional provincial information centres located across Rwanda. These information centres, which provided library services, legal reference materials, trainings and notifications about ICTR related activities, played a key role in information dissemination and improved communication and access to the jurisprudence of the ICTR and other legal materials.  I am happy to announce that these information centres along with the materials contained within them have been handed over to the Rwandan Government, which has promised to continue to make them available to the Rwandan people.

The ICTR has also engaged in various awareness raising campaigns and conducted numerous trainings of legal professionals both in Rwanda and throughout Africa. Further, the sharing of developed practices and lessons learnt remain a priority for the ICTR.  In addition to the best practices and lessons learnt manuals previously referenced, I want to note that the OTP has also published a lessons learnt manual for the tracking and arrest of fugitives from international justice and, in collaboration with other prosecution offices, created a guide entitled “Prosecuting Mass Atrocities: A Compendium of Lessons Learned and Suggested Practices from the Offices of the Prosecutors”.

The sharing of developed practices between the international criminal tribunals and the International Criminal Court has also been an important initiative launched by the Tribunal in 2013, which saw significant progress this past year. The goal of these developed practices workshops, two of which were held in The Hague during the reporting period, is to bring together legal officers from the international and hybrid criminal tribunals to discuss and share developed practices and lessons learnt. By conducting these workshops and by producing best practices and lessons learnt manuals, the Tribunal has provided tools for the continued development of international law as well as tools that can be used by national jurisdictions to guide and strengthen their existing judicial systems.

Before I conclude, I would like to mention that an event marking the Tribunal’s closure is planned for 1 December 2015 and it is my hope that many of the distinguished representatives from UN Member States will join us in Arusha, Tanzania as we make ready to pass the torch to the Mechanism while recognising the Tribunal’s two decade long pursuit of international criminal justice.  In these final months, the focus remains on completing the transition of functions to the Mechanism and on the completion of the sole remaining appeal in an efficient and timely manner without compromising fair trial rights. By 1 January 2016 the Tribunal will be in its liquidation phase and the Mechanism will have fully assumed jurisdiction and responsibility for all residual functions and the archives of the ICTR. As the end approaches, the Tribunal again calls upon the international community to provide it with the necessary support to allow the ICTR to close its doors with a completed mandate.

Mister President, Distinguished Members of the General Assembly, Your Excellencies, it remains my honour to address this Assembly one last time. With our mandate nearly complete, I wish, on behalf of the entire Tribunal, to express our gratitude to your Governments for supporting the work of the ICTR and helping in our collective fight to challenge impunity. However, there is still work to be done. Embracing Mr. Lykketoft’s theme of “a new commitment to action” and with the support of Member States, I believe that the ICTR’s commitment to the development of international law and justice will continue to evolve in a meaningful way and lead to the eventual realisation of our goal to end impunity.

Thank you for your attention.

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