International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals - Security Council Open VTC

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08-Jun-2020 02:29:46
Briefing Security Council on Residual Mechanism, senior officials highlight recent arrest of high-profile fugitive, note Court’s work to continue into 2021.

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The International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals — the successor to two dedicated courts for war crimes committed in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia — saw major strides forward in recent months, including capturing a high-profile fugitive sought for more than 20 years, its senior officials told the Security Council during an 8 June videoconference meeting*.

Carmel Agius, President of the Mechanism, joined Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz in briefing the 15-member Council and introducing their latest report (document S/2020/309). Both underscored the significance of the 16 May arrest of the fugitive Félicien Kabuga — alleged to have been a leading figure in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda — as a signal to war criminals still at large that they will not evade accountability. They also drew attention to the recent confirmation of the death of the fugitive Augustin Bizimana, describing both developments as a result of the Mechanism’s shift towards a more proactive, data-driven approach. Both men also outlined efforts to keep pressing forward with the court’s work despite the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Sadly, no corner of the globe has been spared from this terrible pandemic,” said Mr. Agius, recalling that the world was in a very different place when he last addressed the Council in December 2019. At that time, the Mechanism was poised to finish its judicial caseload by the end of 2020, leaving only potential appellate work pending. However, those projections “did not factor in a global pandemic that would effectively bring the world to a standstill”. Despite the many challenges posed by the pandemic, the Mechanism has managed to keep disruptions to a minimum and seen its work yield results, with written case work progressing apace even as COVID-19 stalled in-court proceedings.

However, he said, cases that were expected to conclude by the end of 2020 — such as that of Stanišić and Simatović — are now expected to continue into early 2021, with a trial judgment expected by April of that year. The case against Ratko Mladić, which was originally scheduled for March but postponed to June as the defendant underwent surgery, has been stayed until further notice as a result of the pandemic. “The Appeals Chamber stands ready to hear the appeals in the Mladić case as soon as it is safe and feasible to do so,” he said. Turning to ongoing work at the court’s branch in Arusha, United Republic of Tanzania, he said the single judge there has postponed the start of the multi-accused contempt case Turinabo et al as pandemic-related restrictions impeded the travel of accused persons and witnesses living across three continents.

Turning to the major breakthrough of the reporting period — the high-profile arrest in France of Mr. Kabuga — he thanked the many national authorities that contributed to that accomplishment. He also praised their assistance in confirming the death of Mr. Bizimana, who also stood accused of taking part in the 1994 genocide. “I cannot help but wonder how many more fugitives could be brought to justice, if the cooperation and trust so evident from these achievements were to continue,” he said, urging States to help keep the Mechanism’s momentum alive.

Despite those positive developments, he noted that the situation of nine acquitted people — who were released but now languish in a safehouse in Arusha — paints a dimmer picture. Every moment drags on for those men, one of whom has been stranded in uncertainty since 2004. “Our joint failure to find a solution can only erode confidence in our system and undermine other successes,” he warned.

He went on to outline other elements of the court’s work, including the recent publication of a practice direction on the procedure for applications of pardon, commutation of sentences or early release. Voicing his hope that the guidance will help clarify and streamline that process, he described two substantive refinements reflecting the existing eligibility threshold for early release and the President’s discretion to grant early release subject to conditions. He also detailed proactive steps to keep convicted persons safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic, describing the safety of convicted persons as paramount.

Concluding his virtual remarks, he emphasized that COVID-19 is not the only virus the world currently faces, with endemic hatred, division and denial also spreading broadly. “Though we know that not every pathogen causes a pandemic, we see every day that these destructive forces are becoming more virulent and that the purveyors of hate feel emboldened,” he cautioned.

Mr. Brammertz echoed those sentiments and elaborated further on the work that led to the capture of Mr. Kabuga. His office has intensified efforts and employed a revised tracking since 2016, focusing less on reacting to leads from human sources and more towards a proactive, analysis-driven approach tailored to each fugitive. In the case of Mr. Kabuga, that strategy focused on a family network in Western Europe, especially France and Belgium, with a major breakthrough occurring as data revealed a pattern in those family members’ movements near Paris. A joint operation carried out with French authorities led to a successful arrest on 16 May.

Turning to the other major development, he said that his office on 22 May was able to confirm the death of Mr. Bizimana — former Minister for Defence in the Interim Government and alleged to have been a senior leader of the 1994 genocide. Describing intensified efforts to verify the hypothesis that Mr. Bizimana was deceased, he spotlighted support from the United States Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory and the Netherlands Forensic Institute, which led to the definitive identification of human remains. The Mechanism now plans to file a motion to officially terminate the proceedings against Mr. Bizimana.

“These successes were the result of our collective efforts,” he said, thanking the Council for its support. Many Member States assisted with intelligence gathering, searches and arrests. Calling for redoubled efforts to arrest the Mechanism’s six remaining fugitives, he said his office already has several credible leads. Outreach has already begun with national authorities, including those of South Africa, he said, recalling that the African Union has encouraged its members to cooperate with the Mechanism. “The victims and survivors of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda deserve nothing less than our collective best efforts.”

In light of the Kabuga arrest, he underlined the importance of remembering that the arrest of fugitives is not the end of the process. Victims should also have crimes recognized. Regrettably, the denial of war crimes and glorification of war criminals is widespread, with efforts to deny the 1994 genocide still prevalent among Rwandan diaspora communities. Such trends are also present in the former Yugoslavia, including among politicians, with one example seen in Bosnia and Herzegovina as recently as last week. Warning that such a climate has a chilling effect and undermines the rule of law, he urged leaders to make the upcoming twenty-fifth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre a moment of reflection, to act responsibly and to publicly condemn the perpetrators of genocide.

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