Justice still eludes survivors of 1994 genocide in Rwanda Financially strapped U.N. tribunal struggles to gain some headway


WASHINGTON -- Two years after more than a half-million people died in Rwanda's genocide, justice is still just a promise, prolonging the agony of witnesses and survivors in the tiny African country.

In the wake of the worst ethnic slaughter of the post-Cold War period, an international panel of judges set out to identify those responsible. But so far, none of the leaders has been brought to trial. In fact, only 10 of the scores of key suspects have been indicted and only two of them are in custody.

Moreover, as the international spotlight has shifted to other crises, investigators for the United Nations panel have encountered just about every obstacle that a cumbersome U.N. bureaucracy could erect.

"It's the forgotten tribunal," says Jennie Green of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, which has been monitoring the progress of the investigation.

A major break in the case occurred recently in Cameroon, where authorities arrested a dozen suspects, including a former Rwandan Defense Ministry official, Col. Theoneste Bagosora, believed by a number of experts to be a chief architect of the genocide.

But prosecutors are only now scrambling to put together an indictment against him, and the tribunal is embroiled in a dispute with Belgium, which lost 10 of its military peacekeepers in the early days of the massacres, over who should try him first.

Many additional suspects are believed to be living in freedom in Kenya and Zaire, whose governments have shown little interest in cooperating with investigators.

After long delays getting organized and hiring employees, the tribunal remains understaffed and under- equipped, according to number of diplomats and human rights workers. Many investigators are employed on a short-term basis, hampering continuity in the probe. Detention cells and courtrooms are still being renovated.

Although mass killings occurred throughout the country, the tribunal has so far concentrated on collecting evidence in just two regions: Kibuye in the west and Butare in the south.

In a region where massacres by one ethnic group against another have gone unpunished over decades, reconciliation ,X between Rwanda's minority Tutsis and majority Hutus will be impossible unless those responsible for the latest genocide are brought to justice, a number of experts say.

"The only way for there to be any hope for the future is for hate to dissipate and for some form of forgiveness to begin, so that there can be true reconciliation," said Richard Goldstone, the South African jurist who is the chief prosecutor for both the Rwanda tribunal and a separate probe into Yugoslavian war crimes.

Worse -- charges the London-based group African Rights -- murder, attempted murder and intimidation are continuing against survivors and witnesses, most commonly in the countryside. And as the process drags on, human rights workers fear that key suspects might escape and crucial evidence might be lost.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the investigating panel's official name, was created by the U.N. Security Council in November 1994, in what Alison DesForges, a leading American expert on Rwanda, calls an "excess of guilt" after the world body failed to intervene to prevent or to stop the slaughter the previous spring.

With an investigative staff in the Rwandan capital of Kigali and judges in Arusha, Tanzania, the tribunal's mission is to bring to justice the main perpetrators of the Rwandan holocaust.

Between April and July 1994, Hutu extremists, enlisting allies in Rwanda's military, government and civilian militias, directed the systematic extermination of 500,000 to 800,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis but including some Hutu moderates.

Using machetes, semiautomatic rifles and grenades, the killers wiped out whole families, sometimes hurling infants against walls in view of their parents.

A special torment was reserved for female victims. Many of them, ranging in age from 13 to 65, were systematically raped. "Rape was the rule and its absence the exception," a recent U.N. report states.

The genocide sent tens of thousands of Tutsis fleeing in terror to neighboring Burundi.

An invasion from the north by the Uganda-based Rwandan Patriotic Front, led by Tutsi exiles, sent the majority Hutus fleeing to Zaire and Tanzania. In semi-permanent refugee camps, Hutu militiamen remain a menacing presence under the control of the exiled Rwandan military.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and African Rights have pieced together the basic story behind the 1994 massacres. Investigators generally agree that the genocide was planned and carried out by militant Hutus who feared that their clout would shrink under the new power-sharing arrangements worked out by President Juvenal Habyarimana, a fellow Hutu, and several opposition parties.

Many suspect that these forces were behind the April 6, 1994, plane crash that killed the president and triggered the genocide.

Evidence against some of the key perpetrators is being amassed in Europe and the United States. A federal judge in New York ruled last month that a prominent Rwandan politician, Jean Bosco Barayagwiza, "played an instrumental role in the torture and massacre of thousands of Rwanda's Tutsi minority."

Assessing millions of dollars in damages, U.S. District Court Judge John S. Marman Jr. declared: "This judge has seen no other case in which monetary damages were so inadequate to compensate the plaintiffs for the injuries caused by a defendant."

In Rwanda, however, the pace of justice has been slower. Mass graves must be exhumed, depositions taken from witnesses and survivors, and their accounts corroborated.

There have been money and staffing problems as well. The tribunal's budget is a seemingly hefty $31 million a year -- about the same as that allotted the similarly empowered Yugoslavian tribunal -- but investigators complain that the perpetually strapped U.N. secretariat has dribbled out the funds in small amounts.

The tribunal has 24 investigators, though it needs 100, a spokesman said, and many staffers have been lent on a short-term basis by supportive governments, particularly the Netherlands.

Although the tribunal's rules call for counselors for victims and witnesses, none has been hired, according to Green.

Some observers, meanwhile, have questioned the competence of the investigation. Kathi Austin, Africa project director at the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington think tank, complains: "There's a real lack of focus on the ground." As an example, she said it apparently didn't occur to investigators to interview the witnesses who led them to a mass grave site.

The tribunal and its investigators also have come into conflict with the Rwandan government, which still holds a grudge against the United Nations for not stepping in to halt the genocide. Rwandans also wanted the key perpetrators to get the death penalty -- barred by U.N. rules -- and have complained that convicted mass murderers will fare better in U.N. prisons than many survivors living in economically strapped Rwanda.

The tribunal has assumed responsibility for trying the major figures in the genocide -- if it can capture them.

The Rwandan government, for its part, is struggling to set up a justice system for the tens of thousands of lesser accomplices in the genocide -- those who may have participated in killings but weren't responsible for large numbers of deaths.

Such is the crush of prisoners awaiting trial that some are bound to get reduced sentences or to be freed altogether, observers say.

"The Rwanda population needs a sense that if they're granting amnesty, they're dealing with the hard core, too," says Dick McCall, chief of staff at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Crystal Nix, a lawyer in the State Department's human rights bureau who pressed for the creation of the tribunal and has been closely involved since, says: "Until there are trials, there will be skepticism about the process."

But when the proceedings open this summer, she predicts, prosecutors will present strong cases.

"I think people will realize we're serious," she says. "And to the extent that prosecutors are able to apprehend the masterminds, that will increase confidence and create a sense that justice is being done."

Pub Date: 5/06/96

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