The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda Closes its Doors

News. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda closed its doors, after it delivered its final judgement on appeal on December 14th 2015, in the case against Former Minister of Family and Women’s Development Pauline Nyiramasuhuko as well as five co-accused. The ICTR was due to close its doors at the end of 2014, but the UN Security eventually decided to extend the mandate of the judges handling this case. The closing of the International Tribunal this month, is a great opportunity to look back at its evolution throughout the years since its establishment in 1994, and see how far it has come, and what this institution is leaving behind. 


The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was created by the UN Security Council in 1994, as a response to the genocide against the Tutsis happening in the country at the time. Its main mission was to prosecute criminals responsible for the genocide as well as serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Rwanda, between January 1st and December 31st, 1994. The Tribunal was expected to try those who played a leading and crucial role in the genocide. On the closing day, the court found Pauline Nyiramasuhuko guilty of rape and the Appeals Chamber upheld convictions for most of her charges, as well as for her son Arsène Ntahobali, and four local government officials, but it lowered the prison sentence for all six defendants. Nyiramasuhuko was accused of entering into an agreement with members of the interim government on April 9, 1994, to kill the Tutsi in the then Butare prefecture. Nyiramasuhuko was the first woman convicted of genocide by an international court. The Appeals Court judgement has lasted 14 years and Nyiramasuhuko has spent 16 years in preventive detention.

The ICTR has convicted many prominent figures

Over the years, the Court has tried and convicted many prominent figures, such as former Prime Minister Jean Kambalda, the former army chief of staff, General Augustin Bizimungu; and the former Defense Ministry chief of staff, Colonel Théoneste Bagosora.The court also made a significant development with the arrest of Ladislas Ntaganzwa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Court indicted the former mayor of Nyakizu for genocide, incitement to commit genocide, and crimes against humanity, and transferred his case in 2012 to Rwanda for trial. He is currently detained in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa.

The Court indicted 93 people, sentenced 61 and acquitted 14. It has contributed in an unprecedented way to revealing the truth on the organization of the genocide as well as providing justice to the victims. Moreover it has established crucial jurisprudence in international criminal law and used as a precedent for the creation of the ICC. The creation of the ICTR marked an important step in the international response to serious human rights violations. Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, international justice advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, emphasized the importance of the ICTR by saying that “ It signaled that all serious crimes, whoever commits them and wherever they are committed, should be prosecuted and tried.”

Unwillingness to prosecute RPF

Although the Tribunal has been praised for its step forward in the evolution of international criminal law and its jurisprudence, it has also been intensely criticized over the years, particularly on the small number of cases that the tribunal has handled as well as its high operating cost. Furthermore, the bureaucratic processes and the length of time taken by trials were vividly criticized as well.

According to Human Rights Watch, its biggest failure remains its unwillingness to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in 1994 by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). The rebel group took over the country and its troops killed thousands of mainly Hutu civilians. The genocide crimes committed against the Tutsi population have been highlighted as the only crimes, but the RPF also committed an important amount of crimes that the tribunal failed to properly investigate or try to prosecute. Even though the scale of these killings were not comparable to the genocide itself, the victims of these crimes committed by the RPF still deserve the right to justice. Unfortunately, not a single RPF case has been brought before the court for prosecution. The ICTR prosecutors did attempt to investigate alleged RPF crimes in 2002, but this led to the dismissal of the Prosecutor at the time, Carla del Ponte. After that, RPF crimes were put aside, and “swept under the rug”.

Justice does not end here

The work of the ICTR is not entirely done, since eight men still remain on the run. They were indicted by the court as senior figures in masterminding and carrying out the genocide. If there are arrested, five of them will be tried in Rwanda, while the three others will be dealt by the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals. The residual mechanism will now take over the main functions of the ICTR as well as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). It includes appeals, retrials, and review proceedings, protection of victims and witnesses, supervision of enforcement of sentences, and finally, assistance to local jurisdictions. Regarding the remaining men on the run, Rwandan Justice Minister Johnston Busingye called“upon states where indicted genocide suspects are sheltering to understand that they owe a duty to humanity, and to the Rwanda victims, to ensure that those suspects are brought to justice”. According to Human Rights Watch, it is now crucial for countries to do everything in their capacity to bring the remaining suspects to justice as well as provide the necessary assistance and cooperation. Mattioli-Zeltner emphasized that “The UN Security Council should make clear that they will be held to account, wherever they may be, and that justice for the Rwandan genocide does not end with the closure of the ICTR.”

Tamara Kloos 

Research Assistant at CIPADH 

Sources :

AllAfrica (2015). Rwanda : ICTR Closes Judgement. December 16th 2015. IN: All Africa (online). Accessed on December 28th 2015.

HRW(2015). Rwanda : International Tribunal Closing Its Doors. December 23th 2015. IN: HRW (Online). Accessed on December 28 2015.

Mark Kersten (2015). The Rwanda Tribunal Closes - But Controversy is Brewing over its Archives. December 17th 2015. IN: JusticeHub (Online). Accessed on 28th December 2015.

Rugiririza Ephrem (2015). Les Décisions Historiques du TPIR. December 1st 2015. IN: JusticeInfo (Online). Accessed on December 28th 2015.