Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda: A Report from the Field

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda: A Report from the Field

Article excerpt

On 6 April 1994 a plane carrying the president of Rwanda was shot down on its approach into his country s capital, Kigali. The president, Juvenal Habyarimana, was a member of the Hutu ethnic group, one of three principal ethnic groups residing in Rwanda. At that time, approximately 85 percent of the Rwandan population were Hutu, 10 to 15 percent were Tutsi, while less than 1 percent were members of the Twa ethnicity. When his plane was shot down, President Habyarimana was returning from an international conference designed to ensure the implementation of a power-sharing agreement among various political parties, some of which were primarily divided along ethnic lines. Immediately following the plane crash an interim government that was predominantly Hutu took control and massacres commenced throughout the country. Thousands of men, women and children were violently killed in these massacres, which were designed to exterminate the Tutsis and eliminate moderate Hutus who supported power sharing among the political parties. The victims were killed primarily by state-sponsored militia and Hutu civilians, incited by local and national authorities who publicly blamed the minority Tutsis for the death of the president and labeled them as the enemy. Many of the Tutsi victims were killed in places such as schools, stadiums and churches where they had gathered en masse for protection. Their killers used traditional weapons such as machetes to murder them.

To the dismay of many the international community did not adequately respond to the crisis while the massacres ensued. Once the massacres had stopped, however, the United Nations Security Council created the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).(1) The objective of the ICTR, centered in Arusha, Tanzania, is to prosecute individuals responsible for the crimes that occurred in Rwanda in 1994. Under the tribunal's statute, the Office of the Prosecutor has jurisdiction to prosecute the following crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity and serious violations of Common Article 3 and Additional Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions. Functionally, the statute of the ICTR creates three organs enabling it to carry out its task: the Registry, the Trial Chambers and the Office of the Prosecutor (hereinafter Prosecutor).

As of this writing, five trials have commenced before the ICTR, and two are scheduled to begin in early 1999. This report provides a brief summary of the tribunal's first five cases.


The tribunal issued its first indictment on 28 November 1995. The Prosecutor indicted eight individuals due to their alleged criminal responsibility for crimes committed at four massacre sites in Kibuye Prefecture. The individuals included the prefect of Kibuye, three bourgmestres, two councillors and two prominent businessmen.(2)

The Republic of Zambia arrested Dr. Clement Kayishema, the prefect of Kibuye from April to June 1994, and transferred him to the Detention Unit of the tribunal in May 1996. Kayishema was initially charged with 25 counts due to his alleged criminal responsibility for various crimes committed at all four of the massacre sites. The Prosecutor alleged that he was responsible for the crimes due to his personal participation in the crimes and due to his responsibility for crimes committed by subordinates over which he had control. The Kenyan government arrested another one of the accused, Obed Ruzindana, and transferred him to the Detention Unit of the tribunal in September 1996. Ruzindana was a prominent businessman in Rwanda. He was charged with seven counts due to his alleged criminal responsibility for crimes he committed at one of the massacre sites.

The joint trial of these two individuals commenced on 11 April 1997 and due to scheduling the Prosecutor presented her case in three segments. Fifty-one witnesses testified for the Prosecutor, including Rwandese survivors of the massacres, investigators of the ICTR, two journalists, three non-Rwandans who were in Kibuye during 1994 and six expert witnesses. …

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