The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda launched its victim-oriented restitutive justice programme today in Taba Commune, Rwanda. The programme was launched by the Tribunal's Registrar, Dr Agwu U. Okali.
The Support Programme for Witnesses and Potential Witnesses will assist victims of genocide by providing facilities such as legal guidance, psychological counselling, physical rehabilitation and reintegration assistance.
At the ceremony, the Registrar, the Minister of Justice of Rwanda, Mr. Jean de Dieu Mucyo, and representatives of women's organizations laid the foundation stone of a "Peace Village" in Taba.
The ICTR Support Programme will be implemented by five Rwandan NGOs which were selected because of their presence at the community level and their capability to extend the programme to various prefectures where the Tribunal has identified witnesses or potential witnesses.
In his address at the inauguration ceremony, the Registrar emphasized his belief that restitutive justice will facilitate national reconciliation and peace in Rwanda, since a victim who has received the requisite assistance towards recovery will be better disposed to reconciliation than one who has not.
He noted that, when he first advanced the idea of a victim's oriented restitutive justice programme (in addition to retributive justice against perpetrators), it was not universally accepted. However, the idea was welcomed by several non-governmental organizations and Governments, and has now been incorporated in the Statute of the proposed International Criminal Court. "The idea of restitutive justice is thus the future direction of international criminal justice", he concluded.
It is not a coincidence that the ICTR launched the first victim support programme in Taba Commune: Jean-Paul Akayesu, a former Bourgmestre of Taba, was the first individual convicted by the ICTR for crimes against humanity including rape, which the Tribunal ruled was an act of genocide in that case. This support programme will also assist victims of sexual violence.
In his speech at the ceremony, Rwanda's Minister of Justice congratulated the Tribunal for the initiative of the Support Programme for Witnesses and Potential Witnesses, and noted that it was bound to have a positive impact on the Rwandan people's perception of the relevance and reality of the Tribunal's justice for the genocide. The Bourgmestre (Mayor) of Taba, Mr. Ephraim Karangwa, on behalf of Taba Community, thanked the Registrar and said that in addition to sentencing Jean-Paul Akayesu to life in prison for crimes committed against the people of Taba, the ICTR, by inaugurating this programme, had demonstrated that it was also dedicated to justice for the victims.