n Africa Nazarene University Law Journal - International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in the spotlight : analysing the limitations, shortcomings and legacy

Volume 6 Number 2
  • ISSN : 2308-1325


Following the assassination of Hutu Rwandese President Juvenal Habyarimana on 6 April 1994, the Great Lakes country of Rwanda descended into civil war and genocide. Hutu extremists in the National Republican Movement for Development and Democracy (MRND) and the Rwandan Armed forces (RAF) launched an extermination campaign against moderate Hutu and the entire Tutsi ethnic minority. By the time the civil war and genocide ended on 19 July 1994, more than 800 000 Rwandans had been murdered. In an effort to punish those responsible for the genocide, the United Nations established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) for the sole purpose of prosecuting persons responsible for the genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of Rwanda and other such violations committed in neighbouring states between 1 January 1994 and 31 December 1994. Four years after the massacres took place, Jean-Paul Akayesu, a formal mayor, was convicted on nine counts of genocide and crimes against humanity. Dozens more were to follow – among them the former Rwandan Prime Minister Jean Kambanda, who became the first head of a government ever to be convicted of genocide by an international court. By the time of the Tribunal’s formal closure in December 2015, it had delivered 45 judgments, 93 indictments, 61 convictions, 14 acquittals and heard more than 3 000 witness accounts. The ICTR became the first international court to pass a judgment on genocide. This article focuses on the Tribunal’s work, analysing the limitations during the course of its operations and the legacy it has left behind. The article suggests that the legacy of the ICTR lay in the way it dealt with the challenges it faced while still operational. The prospects of the ICTR during its operations certainly lay in the effective redress of these challenges, while on the other hand, the future of mankind lies in a strong and effective international legal system.

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