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International Crisis Group Accuses Rwanda of Interference in War Crimes Tribunal - 2002-08-02


Rwanda's government is being accused by a private research group of blocking witnesses from testifying before a war crimes tribunal. The International Crisis Group (ICG) claims the Rwandan government fears its own soldiers might face prosecution by that U.N. tribunal.

The International Crisis Group says Rwanda's government is threatening the credibility and independence of the war crimes tribunal.

The court is investigating human rights violations carried out in Rwanda in 1994 when about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed. For the last few months, Rwanda's government has complained that genocide witnesses are not being treated fairly at the tribunal's headquarters in the Tanzanian town of Arusha.

Tribunal spokesman Kingsley Moghalu said these accusations are untrue. He says the problem is one of cultural misunderstanding. "They have made some allegations complaining about mistreatment of witnesses, but these complaints are not truly accurate," he said. "The witnesses are well looked after. Logistically, they are taken care of. But what they are complaining about is what you might call a clash of traditional cultures. These witnesses, who are mostly witnesses for the prosecution, they are not used to being robustly cross-examined in a court of law. And they don't like that and sometimes they interpret that as mistreatment."

Fabienne Hara of ICG charged that the Rwandan government is trying to intimidate the tribunal into dropping investigations into Rwandan military forces.

The current Rwandan government came to power in 1994, bringing the genocide to an end. Some observers charge the military forces that overthrew the old government also committed human rights violations.

Ms. Hara said the international community should put pressure on Rwanda to cooperate with the tribunal. "It is just at the moment where some cases against the members of the RPA [Rwandan army] are going to become public that the Rwandan government is blocking access to these trials. This coincidence is a bit strange and there's probably an attempt to intimidate the tribunal and prevent them from carrying out these investigations," she said. "There has to be international support for these trials to open, and the tribunal should not be left alone facing the government of Rwanda's attempts to prevent this from happening."

The tribunal spokesman said the court has appealed to the United Nations Security Council to get Rwanda to stop restricting the court's access to witnesses living in Rwanda. The Rwandan government has denied it is obstructing the court's work.

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