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Updated on 11 January 2016


Section 5(d):   Subsidiary bodies concerned with the enforcement of international criminal law


Closure of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda on 31 December 2015


On 31 December 2015, the Security Council President (United States) issued a statement to the press marking the closure that day of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).  In the press statement, the members of the Security Council acknowledged “the substantial contribution of the ICTR to the process of national reconciliation and the restoration of peace and security, and to the fight against impunity and the development of international criminal justice, especially in relation to the crime of genocide.”  At the same time, the Council members emphasized that the establishment of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals pursuant to resolution 1966 (2010) “was essential to ensure that the closure of the ICTR does not leave the door open to impunity for the remaining fugitives” (UN press release SC/12188).


Some two weeks before, on 14 December 2015, the ICTR Appeals Chamber handed down its judgement on appeal in the case of Nyiramasuhuko et al., resulting in a reduction in the sentences of all six appellants.  This last judgement of the Appeals Chamber marked the end of the Rwanda Tribunal’s judicial activity.


Prior to that, on 9 December 2015, the Council held its yearly review of the annual reports of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and of the ICTR.  During that debate, the ICTR President noted that as of 31 December, the Tribunal would become the first ad hoc international criminal tribunal to complete its mandate and hand its remaining functions over to its residual mechanism.  During its 16-year existence, the ICTR brought indictments against 93 individuals, and issued 55 first-instance judgements and 46 appeal judgements.  Moreover, in the words of the Tribunal President, the ICTR had heard “the powerful accounts of more than 3,000 witnesses who bravely recounted some of the most traumatic events imaginable during the ICTR trials”.  At the time of the ICTR’s closing, eight indicted fugitives remained at large.


The ICTR played an important role in developing international legal concepts and codifying facets of international criminal law and international humanitarian law.  According to the ICTR President, among its “key jurisprudential contributions”, the Tribunal


  • issued the first judgement by an international court on the crime of genocide (in the Akayesu case);


  • became the first international court to interpret the definition of genocide set out in the Genocide Convention of 1948;


  • provided the first acknowledgement by an international court that genocide against the Tutsi had occurred in Rwanda in 1994;


  • issued the first conviction for rape and sexual violence as a form of genocide;


  • strengthened the jurisprudence on sexual violence crimes through the extended form of joint criminal enterprise; and


  • issued the first judgement against a Head of Government since the Nuremburg and Tokyo Tribunals.


In addition, the ICTR has shared its expertise on criminal justice with countries and judiciaries, including through best practices and lessons-learned manuals developed by the Prosecutor on the prosecution of sexual and gender-based violence, referral of international criminal cases to national jurisdictions, and the tracking and arrest of fugitives from international justice.  The ICTR also broke new ground in the development of its referral programme, under which eight cases were transferred from the ICTR to Rwandan jurisdiction. 


While paying tribute to the contributions of the ICTR, some Council members noted that the expenditures and deadlines originally set by the Security Council had been surpassed.  But in this connection, the representative of New Zealand spoke out against “an unfortunate trend that had developed in the Council in recent years”, that is, a “budget-driven mentality” which seemed to have “distorted the conversation about the role and performance of the Tribunals”. 


The representative of France summed up the overall contribution of the ICTR when he affirmed that the Tribunal “has placed justice at the heart of national reconciliation and reconstruction” (S/PV.7574).  (This update supplements pages 515 to 517 of the book.)



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