Problems beset Rwandan war crimes tribunal But court is showing signs of progress in trying top suspects


ARUSHA, Tanzania -- The wheels of justice move at their own pace in this remote, dusty place, home to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, though better known as a tourist ++ layover for safaris to the Serengeti and treks up Kilimanjaro.

The tribunal has only one courtroom, so the three trials under way have proceeded intermittently. The phones work only marginally. The hallways in the Arusha International Conference Center, a crumbling concrete behemoth, are dark and, though mopped on occasion, dingy and full of potholes.

The court was created in 1994, a year after the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, to prosecute those accused of orchestrating the massacre of more than 500,000 people in Rwanda. It has always seemed a shadow of its sister in The Hague, beset from its inception by a host of problems.

First there was a lack of money, then mismanagement and cronyism and the shortcomings of being in a place chosen more for its political symbolic value than for its modern conveniences.

For all of that, though, the tribunal has started showing signs of progress, if not yet success.

A new team of administrators and prosecutors, installed this year after the old one was dismissed over mismanagement charges, has brought some order to the court's work. Construction has begun on a second courtroom, while a satellite dish is being assembled on the roof, so officials may actually be able to telephone their investigators in Rwanda's capital, Kigali.

More to the point, the tribunal has 21 suspects in custody, including seven arrested in Kenya in July. And unlike those held in The Hague, the suspects include some of the highest-ranking officials of the Hutu-dominated government whose soldiers and allied militia reportedly carried out the massacres, mainly of ethnic Tutsi, over three months in 1994. Among them are the prime minister, Jean Kambanda, and the minister of defense, Theoneste Bagosora.

Laity Kama of Senegal, the president, or chief judge, of the tribunal, said he abhorred comparisons between his organization and the one in The Hague. But although frustrated by bad publicity, he went on to note that the tribunal was prosecuting "the big fishes" from Rwanda, while those in the Balkans remain at large.

There were bound to be difficulties in establishing both tribunals, the first international courts to try war criminals since the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals after World War II. And each got off to a slow start, hampered by an inadequate budget and inexperienced workers venturing into what is really uncharted territory in international law.

The Rwanda tribunal's problems started with its location. When the United Nations Security Council created the tribunal in 1994, there was a feeling that it should be in Africa. Arusha which has been a site for East African regional conferences and peace talks, emerged. But what worked for those proved inadequate for a criminal court whose budget this year totaled $46 million.

Arusha is not convenient to get to, a fact that has more than once caused delays in trials. Phone service, especially overseas, is spotty at best. The conference center, built in 1976 to house an association of East African nations that never got off the ground, was not equipped to handle the technical needs of a staff that has now grown to 400 here and in Kigali.

Pub Date: 9/14/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.