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UN Tribunal Welcomes Rwanda's Discussion of Abolishing Death Penalty

Rwanda is considering abolishing the death penalty, a move welcomed by the U.N. tribunal trying suspects of Rwanda's 1994 genocide.

The chief prosecutor of the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Hassan Bubacar Jallow, tells VOA the work of his tribunal would become much easier if Rwanda were to scrap the death penalty.

"It would then clear the way for us to be able to transfer cases of actual indictees to Rwanda," he said. "Our rules do not allow us to transfer a person to any country where they could face the death penalty. And that has been the major stumbling block so far with referrals to Rwanda."

Courts in Europe are also prevented from transferring genocide suspects to Rwanda for trial. But Jallow says if the death penalty is lifted, suspects in outside courts could be sent back to Rwanda to face trial.

Last week, the Rwandan government approved of nationwide consultations to ask Rwandans whether or not the death penalty should be abolished.

Rwandan presidential advisor Richard Sezibera tells VOA it is too early to say what the majority of people want, but he thinks those in decision-making circles are leaning towards scrapping capital punishment.

"It is unclear that the death penalty actually is a penalty," he said. "It might be a penalty to the families left behind - it is not quite clear that it is a punishment to whoever received the penalty."

Sezibera says the death penalty discussions are part of a larger overhaul of Rwanda's justice system.

In 1994, Hutu extremists killed up to 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

The U.N. tribunal was set up shortly after that to hear and try the cases of government ministers, journalists, military officials and other high-profile people accused of masterminding the genocide.

The cases of those accused of participating in the slaughter are being heard in traditional community courts in Rwanda to ease the backlog in Rwandan courts.

The Tanzanian-based U.N. Tribunal for Rwanda has tried 31 suspects, 26 of who were convicted and five acquitted. Another 25 trials are now in progress, with 18 indictees remaining at large.

Many of the 26 suspects convicted of genocide and other charges were sent to the West African nation of Mali to serve their sentences, with some possibly serving their terms in European countries.

The tribunal is set to conclude its remaining trials by the end of 2008. One media report indicates that there may be about 20 cases that the tribunal wants to transfer to Rwanda and other jurisdictions.