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Address to the United Nations Security Council: Final Report on the Completion Strategy of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda by Judge Vagn Joensen, President

Mister President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to begin by extending my sincere congratulations to the distinguished representative of the United States of America who presides over the Security Council in December, as well as the distinguished representatives of Japan, Egypt, Ukraine, Senegal and Uruguay for their nations’ election to the Security Council beginning in January 2016. I wish Your Excellencies all the best for a successful tour of duty.

I would also like to express the gratitude of the entire Tribunal to the distinguished representatives from Chad, Chile, Jordan, Lithuania and Nigeria for their nations’ service to the Security Council as they near the completion of their terms and express my sincere appreciation to His Excellency, Ambassador Cristián Barros and his team for Chile’s effective and smooth management of the Informal Working Group for International Tribunals, which has been instrumental in facilitating the cooperation between the international tribunals and the members of the Security Council.

Now, after 21 years of the ICTR bringing those most responsible for the genocide in Rwanda to justice, it is my distinct honour and privilege to stand before you today and provide this Council with an update on the Tribunal’s impending closure and to speak about some of the milestones that the Tribunal has achieved over the past two decades.


Excellencies, I am proud to report that on Monday, 14 December, the Tribunal will deliver its 45th and final judgement on appeal in the Nyiramasuhuko et al. or Butare case involving six accused. The rendering of this judgement represents, therefore, the culmination of over 21 years of judicial work by both the Trial and Appeals Chambers and marks the completion of the Tribunal’s core judicial functions. With the completion of this case, the ICTR will formally close its doors on 31 December 2015 and only liquidation activities will remain to be completed during the first half of 2016. In so doing, the ICTR will become the first ad hoc international criminal tribunal to complete its mandate and hand its remaining functions over to its residual mechanism, the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals.


Excellencies, the Tribunal’s final report to the Security Council provides an overview of the work of the ICTR, work that included 5,800 days of proceedings, in which the ICTR brought indictments against 93 individuals, issued 55 first-instance judgements and 45 appeal judgements and heard the powerful accounts of more than 3,000 witnesses who bravely recounted some of the most traumatic events imaginable during ICTR trials.

From the beginning of the Tribunal’s establishment by this very Council, the judges of the ICTR were cognisant of the importance of their role in developing international legal concepts and providing a model for domestic judiciaries by codifying numerous facets of international criminal law and international humanitarian law that, at the time of the Tribunal’s establishment, were either undeveloped or non-existent. The seminal judgement in the Akayesu case represented the beginning of this very task as the Tribunal issued the first judgement by an international court on the crime of genocide and became the first international court to interpret the definition of genocide set forth in the Genocide Convention of 1948. The judgement further provided the first acknowledgment by an international court that genocide against the Tutsi had occurred in Rwanda in 1994, which was subsequently treated by the Tribunal as a fact of common knowledge that could not be disputed.

Between its first and last judgement in Akayesu and in Butare, the Tribunal has issued many novel judgements that have significantly impacted the evolution of international law, including the first conviction for rape and sexual violence as a form of genocide as well as the first judgement against a Head of Government since the Nuremburg and Tokyo Tribunals. Further, by strengthening the jurisprudence on sexual violence crimes through the extended form of Joint Criminal Enterprise and by holding those in power accountable, the ICTR has issued judgements that serve as powerful deterrents to those committing similar crimes in the future while also sending a clear message to the international community that all those who commit genocide or other atrocities, regardless of their position, will no longer go unpunished.


These milestones are but a few of the key jurisprudential contributions that the Tribunal has made to international justice. However, none would have been possible without the efforts of all of its judges and staff who have faithfully served at different periods over the last 21 years. I would further like to acknowledge and thank the Prosecutor, Mr. Hassan Bubacar Jallow and the Registrar, Mr. Bongani Majola as well as all of the Tribunal’s former Presidents, Judges, Prosecutors and Registrars for the indispensable work they have done to ensure that when the Tribunal closes its doors at the end of year, it does so with a completed mandate in hand.

Please allow me to also take this opportunity to express a special note of appreciation to the Legal Counsel, Mr. Miguel de Serpa Soares, to the Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Mr. Stephen Mathias, and to the staff of the Office of the Legal Counsel for all of the support they have provided to my Office and to the Tribunal as a whole.            

In addition, I would like to underscore that the Tribunal would not have been able to complete its mandate successfully without the assistance of the Government of the Republic of Rwanda.

In this regard, I would like to inform this esteemed Council of a recent delegation, which included myself as President, the Prosecutor and the Registrar, who last month travelled to Rwanda to thank its Government for the tremendous support and cooperation it has provided to the Tribunal over the years.  Without the support from the Rwandan government, it would have been impossible to conduct investigations and obtain evidence to the atrocities committed during the genocide and bring to trial those indicted by the Tribunal.  

Further, the evolution of the Tribunal’s referral programme, which culminated in the transfer of 8 cases from the ICTR to Rwanda, represents a significant part of the Tribunal’s legacy as it has not only strengthened the relationship between the ICTR and Rwanda, but has led to substantive and procedural reforms to the Rwandan judiciary, including the abolition of the death penalty, which were all aimed at meeting international fair trial standards. The Tribunal’s referral programme as a whole has provided the international community with a model on how an international criminal court can cooperate with national authorities to rebuild justice sectors in conflict and post-conflict environments.

The Tribunal also owes a true debt of gratitude to its gracious host for the past 21 years, the United Republic of Tanzania. Since the Security Council determined that the Tribunal would have its seat in Arusha, Tanzania, the ICTR has enjoyed unwavering support from the Government of Tanzania, which has provided assistance in countless areas, including assistance related to security, the travel of witnesses, the Tribunal’s detention facility and, more generally, the Tribunal’s capacity building and outreach programmes. With the addition of the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights, the East African Court of Justice and the Mechanism, Tanzania continues to act as a hub for international law and a beacon for the continued development of international justice throughout Africa.


As I have done in the past, I would now like to briefly update the Council on the progress being made with respect to the issue of reparations for victims of the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda. As I explained during my previous report to the Security Council, the International Organization for Migration has completed and submitted a draft Assessment Study to the Government of Rwanda. The Assessment Study identifies options for reparations for victims and survivors and describes in concrete and operational terms how these options can be developed and implemented in Rwanda as well as how these programmes may be funded. The final report of the Study will be issued in due course and, thereafter, transmitted to the relevant stakeholders and follow-up activities will be planned.             


Turning to another important issue, the issue of relocating the acquitted and convicted released persons still residing in Arusha, I wish to inform this Council that my Office and the Office of the Registrar will continue to provide the Mechanism, which has already assumed responsibility for this function, with all support possible until the end of the year.  I believe that this issue remains a serious challenge to the credibility of international criminal justice and I shall call, once again, for the urgent assistance from the Security Council to find a sustainable solution to a problem that continues to see these acquitted and convicted released persons, some of whom have remained in a safe house in Arusha for over a decade, without a place to call home.


I turn next to the transition to the Mechanism. I am proud to report that the Mechanism’s reliance on the ICTR for administrative and other services continues to be significantly reduced. The Tribunal has, to date, already transferred the human resources, travel, procurement and about 80% of its finance function to the Mechanism. All remaining administrative functions will be transferred by the end of the year.

With respect to the Tribunal’s archives, the ICTR continues to ensure that records are prepared in a manner that will facilitate their effective management after being transferred to the Mechanism and I am happy to report that the Tribunal has transferred 80% of its records to the Mechanism. Judicial records relating to the Butare case have been separated for transfer following the upcoming appeal judgement, and the Tribunal remains hopeful that the remaining transfer of its records will be completed upon closure.


As I stand before you today, less than one month before the formal closure of the ICTR, it is hard not to reflect on the legacy of the Tribunal and what it will leave behind for posterity. In that regard, events marking the closure of the Tribunal were held last week, which included the inauguration of a new Peace Park in Arusha, Tanzania, in memory of the victims and survivors of the Rwandan genocide and to the work of the ICTR as well as a main closing ceremony. During these events, representatives from Members States along with representatives from other international and domestic courts, government officials and scholars from across the world came together to discuss the ICTR’s contribution to peace and reconciliation in the Great Lakes region not only through justice, but also through the capacity building and outreach programmes it created over the years. 

By complementing the Tribunal’s core judicial work with other programmes, especially those conducted in Rwanda, such as the implementation of genocide awareness raising campaigns, workshops and trainings focused on strengthening the capacity of the Rwandan judiciary as well as the creation of the Umusanzu Wi Bwiyunge Information Centre, meaning “contribution to reconciliation”, in Kigali as well as ten additional provincial centres across Rwanda, the Tribunal was able to bridge the gap between the Tribunal and the Rwandan population and ensure that justice was not only done, but also, and perhaps equally important, was seen to be done by those directly affected by the genocide.

In our final month of operation, the Tribunal continues to ensure that the knowledge gained and lessons learned throughout its existence are not only passed on to its successor, the Mechanism, but are also shared with other national and international jurisdictions. Through the Prosecutor’s creation of best practices and lessons learned manuals, including manuals on the prosecution of sexual and gender-based violence, on the referral of international criminal cases to national jurisdictions and on the tracking and arrest of fugitives from international justice and by the Tribunal’s sharing of expertise on criminal justice with countries and judiciaries throughout Africa and beyond, the Tribunal has directly strengthened the capacity of national criminal justice systems to prosecute effectively international crimes and ensured that the Tribunal’s work will continue to help future triers of international crimes long after the ICTR’s closure.

As this marks my final appearance before the Security Council as President of the ICTR, I would like to thank, once more, all those who supported the work of the Tribunal and express my sincere hope that as the ICTR closes its doors, part of its legacy, will be the tremendous potential to dispense justice held by this very Council. The success of the Tribunal is a success for this Council as it highlights the possibilities, through justice, to address conflicts and fight impunity, and to provide at least some comfort to the victims of heinous crimes. The ICTR has proved that this is possible and it has been my honour and privilege to serve in that endeavour.

Thank you.

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