Episode 75 – Failures of Justice with Kate Gibson and Barbora Hola

Barbora Hola (top-left) and Kate Gibson (top-right) talk to Janet and Stephanie

It’s one of the stranger stories of international justice; why eight Rwandan men have been stuck in a house in Niger for more than a year.

These are former detainees of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The ICTR was based in Arusha, Tanzania and is now closed. It was set up to deal with Rwanda’s genocide during the 1990s in which more than 800,000 mainly Tutsis were killed in a few short weeks and months. The top perpetrators were tracked down – check out the podcast we did with Serge Brammertz on the most recent indicted – and dealt with during big trials. 

We discuss the context with Barbora Hola, researcher and Associate Professor at the Vrije University Amsterdam, and we asked Kate Gibson, the recently-elected President of the Association of Defence Counsel before the International Courts and the lawyer of one of these Rwandan men, how it could all go so wrong. She explains how they were either acquitted by that court or released after serving their sentences. They didn’t want to go back to Rwanda. But couldn’t find a state to accept them. After a long time in Arusha, the seat of the now defunct ICTR, the follow-up institution – the United Nations International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) – did a deal with Niamey. And the men agreed to go there, expecting to get passports and an opportunity to work.

But that deal has come unstuck at the expense of the health and well-being of these men. They’ve been stuck in a house in Niger for more than a year, with armed guards and no way to get out. And the UN’s IRMCT – which still has a president, prosecutor, registrar and roster of judges – doesn’t seem to be dealing with it. Meanwhile, there are also a load of people who are in jail in Mali and Benin serving their sentences for genocide and other crimes having been sentenced by the ICTR who may be due for release at some time. So where will they go?  

Staying on the topic of humanising defendants, Barbora suggests The Unforgiven: A War Criminal´s Remorse on the Yugoslav Tribunal and one of the perpetrators, Esad Landzo. Kate picks the movie Telling Truths in Arusha on one of the “most compassionate jurists” of the ICTR, Judges Erik Møse. To unwind Barbora reads Too Loud a Solitude with a glass of wine and Kate cheers the great comradeship within the defence corridors.

This podcast has been produced as part of a partnership with JusticeInfo.net, an independent website in French and English covering justice initiatives in countries dealing with serious violence. It is a media outlet of Fondation Hirondelle, based in Lausanne, Switzerland.