April 19, 2024

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UN Court Announces Closure of Kigali Field Office after 30 Years of Operations

By Iradukanda Isabella

In a press conference held in Kigali on Thursday, February 15, Aboubacar Tambadou, the registrar of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT), announced the closure of the Kigali Field Office as of August 31, 2024. This decision marks the end of nearly three decades of operations in Rwanda, which were initially mandated by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

Tambadou stated, “What this means is that after almost three decades of operations here in Rwanda, the work that has been carried out in this country… will no longer be carried out in its usual way.” He further explained that the closure of the field office is in line with the Security Council’s mandate for the IRMCT to reduce its size and activities in accordance with the closure of the ICTR branch based in Arusha and the ICTY branch based in The Hague.

The Kigali Field Office, along with its counterparts in other countries, was established to support the Office of the Prosecutor in investigating and prosecuting crimes committed in Rwanda. However, with the closure of the ICTR and the completion of trials, the need for a field office in Kigali has diminished. Tambadou highlighted that this decision was made following the conclusion of the Kabuga case last year, as Mr. Felician Kabuga was the only remaining fugitive to be tried at the mechanism.

Last year, it was determined by both the appeals chamber and the trial chamber that Mr. Felician Kabuga was unfit to stand trial, leading to an indefinite stay of proceedings against him. With no other trials anticipated at the mechanism, the decision to close the Kigali field office was made.

Tambadou emphasized that while the field office in Kigali will no longer exist, the closure does not mark the end of engagement between the IRMCT and Rwanda. The mechanism will continue to engage with Rwanda through its branch in Arusha, particularly in activities mandated by its statute. Services such as the protection of witnesses will still be delivered from the Arusha branch in Tanzania. However, other responsibilities will be transferred either to the Rwandan government or a non-governmental entity.

Consultations have already begun with the Rwandan authorities to ensure a smooth transition and handover of these responsibilities from the mechanism. Tambadou concluded the press conference by stating, “The closure of the field office in Kigali is indeed a significant moment, but it is not an end. It is a transition to a new phase of our engagement with Rwanda.”

The closure of the Kigali Field Office signifies the end of an era for the IRMCT in Rwanda, where it has played a crucial role in seeking justice for the genocide committed in 1994. While its physical presence may no longer be visible, the commitment to accountability and justice remains unwavering.

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