Last week, both the UK and France extradited Rwandans suspected of participating in the 1994 genocide. The extraditions from the two countries differ, however, in the destinations of the suspects. France’s courts approved transferring a sought-after alleged genocidaire to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania, while the UK has given the green light to put four suspects directly under Rwanda’s jurisdiction.
This difference is significant. European countries have only begun sending suspects to Rwanda after its government recently abandoned the death penalty, which most European countries oppose and which the ICTR, administered by the United Nations, does not incorporate. Human rights organizations, however, still warn that Rwanda’s justice system cannot guarantee a fair trial, for some of the reasons that Kevin Jon Heller at Opinio Juris outlines here.
With a backlog of cases, an increasing budget, and an expectation to wrap up its work soon, the ICTR too has started trying to transfer suspects to Rwanda’s court. Eventually, Rwanda will have to assume responsibility for some of these cases, but it will first have to reform its judicial apparatus so that every suspect can be confident of receiving a fair trial. Miscarriages of justice in these cases will not help Rwanda overcome the heavy legacy of its genocide and could in fact only exacerbate tensions in the country. Extraditions represent a positive development, signaling that genocidaires living safely abroad will still face justice for their crimes, but at the moment, trying suspects through the ICTR — and continuing to support that court’s work — seems like a better option than tasking Rwanda’s courts before they are adequately prepared.