ARUSHA 27 May 2002 (Internews) The Arusha-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) contributes greatly to the social and political evolution of the African continent, Kingsley Moghalu of Nigeria, ICTR Spokesman, said yesterday.
Presenting a paper titled ‘Promoting Justice and Reconciliation in Africa’ during a human rights conference dubbed African Dialogue II, Moghalu told participants that the ICTR is spearheading a shift from “a culture of impunity to a culture of accountability” in Africa.
The UN Security Council established the ICTR in 1995 after more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsi and politically moderate ethnic Hutu were killed during the April-June 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The tribunal is charged with trying the alleged perpetrators of the genocide.
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), in collaboration with the ICTR, organized the three-day Africa Dialogue II, which was attended by more than 100 human rights specialists, parliamentarians and policy makers. The conference ended yesterday.
“This [the process of trying genocide suspects] is the first time that African political and military leaders have been held to account by an international court for mass crimes that have fuelled wars, instability and poverty in the continent,” Moghalu told the conference, adding that the achievements of the ICTR have influenced the establishment of a special UN court in Sierra Leone.
The Rwandan genocide, Moghalu noted, was a destabilizing event in the region. “It created massive refugee flows and is a major contributing factor to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).”
The ICTR spokesman alleged that a number of extremists who participated in the genocide have found safe havens in countries in Africa, adding: “apprehending and bringing these individuals to trial is of critical importance, both for Rwanda and for stability in the region as a whole.”
Moghalu decried the fact that despite the increased importance of the ICTR, “lack of active engagement in its work” by African states is still the norm. “Although these states have largely co- operated in the arrests and in handing over to the ICTR suspects within their territories, there is still a certain reticence in being publicly and politically engaged with the tribunal,” Moghalu lamented.
With the exception of Egypt, which has donated $1000 to the ICTR, no African state has contributed to the tribunal’s voluntary contributions trust fund, Moghalu said. The trust fund complements the tribunal’s regular budget. Since the ICTR’s inception, approximately $8 million has been contributed to the trust fund.
“The troubling question is: ‘one of the worst crimes of the 20th century, committed in an African country, against Africans, and mostly by Africans, is more important to non-Africans than it is to Africans. Is it an indication that justice and struggle against impunity are not yet a political priority in Africa’?” Moghalu asked.
The spokesman urged African countries to support the ICTR more actively.
Moghalu also called on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the African Union (formerly the Organization of the African Unity) to “launch a sustained campaign” to ensure that the protocol on the African Court for Human Rights and Peoples Rights is ratified by African states for the court to become operational.