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War Crimes Tribunal's Work for Rwanda Praised - 2003-03-18

Leading international judges say, despite a late start and lack of resources, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has been successful in bringing justice to victims of Rwanda's genocide. The judges came to the United Nations in Geneva to attend a special ceremony held to honor the tribunal's accomplishments.

The justices say it is not unusual for murderers and other criminals to go unpunished in Africa, but they say the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has succeeded in making people accountable for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. It is estimated that 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.

Since the Rwandan Tribunal began functioning in 1998, many people who were responsible for the genocide have been prosecuted and sentenced.

The chief prosecutor of the Tribunal, Carla del Ponte, says the tribunal has apprehended and detained 65 of the 80 people indicted. They include the man who was prime minister during the genocide, as well as 11 ministers and senior officials of the military and the clergy.

Ms. Del Ponte said the Tribunal is now trying to track down 16 fugitives, most of whom are believed to be hiding in African countries. "One of the main difficulties we have is to locate in time the fugitives. As you know, we have a special tracking team who is doing its job. But they are moving a lot with different passports that they receive from different countries," she said.

Ms. Del Ponte said the Tribunal has successfully apprehended several fugitives thanks to a special reward program set up by the United States.

The president of the Tribunal, South African Judge Navanethem Pillay said currently eight trials, involving 20 accused people are underway. She said she expects four or five judgments this year.

Despite these successes, she said there are also disappointments. "Every hour of every day, we judges have been listening to the voices of the victims and the witnesses. And, I feel that that issue has not been addressed. Eighteen months ago on behalf of the judges, I wrote to the Security Council and General Assembly asking that compensation be provided for victims of Rwanda. It is such a sore point among Rwandans that they find it difficult to accept that the work of the Tribunal has any meaning for them," he said.

The tribunal will complete its investigations at the end of 2004. No new indictments will be issued after that date. But the tribunal will continue to track and arrest suspects and bring them to trial.