French Court Frees Rwandans Sought by ICTR

by Julian Ku

Another little news item that I forgot to post about this week: A court of appeals in Paris on Wednesday released two Rwandans from custody despite acknowledging both were the subject of arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Not surprisingly, the Rwandan government (already barely on speaking terms with the French government) is not happy about this. I don’t have a copy of the opinion (which is in French anyway, I suppose), but the sketchy news reports I have seen suggest the French court released the two accused because detaining and trying the two Rwandans in these circumstances would violate France’s law requiring the presumption of innocence. I don’t quite see how that issue is raised, unless it is the fact that Rwanda has already tried and convicted one of the accused in absentia, but I would need to know more about the circumstances surrounding their detention. (Some background can be found here).

Either way, it is somewhat surprising that France is refusing to carry out its obligations to assist the ICTR under Article 28 of the ICTR Statute. This provision requires France to “cooperate with the International Tribunal for Rwanda in the investigation and prosecution of persons accused of committing serious violations of international humanitarian law.” Such cooperation must occur “without undue delay” and includes “the arrest or detention of persons;” and “the surrender or the transfer of the accused to the International Tribunal for Rwanda.”

The procedure here is a bit trickier because France was supposed to take over the prosecutions of the individuals in order to relieve the ICTR of the case. Indeed, various French courts have been investigating the two accused for many years. So maybe there is a domestic French law wrinkle I don’t know about here. Or maybe, as Rwanda’s government has thundered, this is just a “political” decision. Neither the ICTR nor the Rwandan government is all that credible on these matters, but France has got some explaining to do.

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