The Registrar of the ICTR, Dr. Agwu Ukiwe Okali today gave a press briefing for Rwandan journalists, attended by other media, at the Tribunal's Headquarters in Arusha. The Registrar clarified to Rwandan and other media representatives the implications of the recent decision of Trial Chamber 1 on the Prosecutor's motion to withdraw the indictment against Bernard Ntuyahaga. (The Chamber granted the Prosecutor's request to withdraw the indictment, ordered Ntuyahaga's immediate release, but denied the Prosecutor's additional request that he be handed over to the Tanzania authorities). Dr. Okali gave the briefing in response to various media reports and requests for clarifications of the decision.
In welcoming the journalists, the Registrar emphasized the value of an encounter such as the present one. The general public relied on the media for their information and understanding of events such as the Ntuyahaga case. He noted that misconceptions about such an event could have negative impact on the perception of the Tribunal in Rwanda. He therefore appealed to them to inform and educate their audience accurately.
The Registrar informed the media representatives that the judicial decision in the Ntuyahaga matter was "a purely technical affair," and was not a comment or inquiry into whether Ntuyahaga was guilty or not guilty. Thus, he emphasised, the Chamber's decision was not an acquittal of Ntuyahaga. This being the case, the individual could possibly be re-arrested in the future even by the ICTR on the basis of other charges or by any Government or authority with a legitimate interest. "The Tribunal's decision to release him as a consequence of the Prosecutor dropping charges has not made him any better off than before he was arrested", Okali said, emphasising that this type of situation (withdrawal of charges by the Prosecutor for whatever reason) was not uncommon in national jurisdictions. In this case, the indictment was not withdrawn for lack of evidence as had been erroneously reported in the Rwandan media.
The Registrar agreed with a Rwandan journalist that the Tribunal's mandate to try persons accused of genocide made it a unique judicial institution. He noted, however, that this did not make the Tribunal so unique that it should not follow legal rules and procedures. Otherwise, he said, it would not be a court of justice.
Responding to another question, the Registrar stated that the issue of extradition requests to Tanzania by Belgium and Rwanda was not a question for the Tribunal, but one between the States concerened. The Tribunal had no preference for any country's interests, and indeed, had denied Belgium's request for Ntuyahaga to be handed over to that country or any other country. In response to a question on the apparent unhappiness of the Rwandan Government regarding the Trial Chamber's decision, the Registrar said that he thought that it was in the interest of Rwanda that the Tribunal be seen as an independent judicial body and not in any way aligned to any particular Government.
To a question as to whether the Prosecutor's request had not created a dangerous precedent by encouraging States to make regular requests for Tribunal suspects to be transferred for trial in national courts, the Registrar replied that any such danger had been forestalled by the Tribunal's clear position that it did not have have jurisdiction to do so, and therefore could not do so.
Regarding the status of Mr. Ntuyahaga, the Registrar informed the journalists that he had filed a motion to Trial Chamber 1 through his counsel, seeking a stay of execution of the decision to release him, pending the determination of an appeal he had filed simultaneously against the Chamber's decision. In his appeal, Ntuyahaga requested the Appeals Chamber, among other things, to enter a judgement of acquittal in his favour. Ntuyahaga had been a free person since the Chambers decision, but had remained in the Tribunal's detention facilities at his own request. A journalist asked if Mr. Ntuyahaga could have freely walked out of the Tribunal's detention facilities after the decision. "Ntuyahaga would have gone free on Friday night had he so wished", the Registrar responded.
In conclusion, and to a question on whether it was possible for the Tribunal to merge the judicial nature of its work with "political realities", the Registrar emphasised that the Tribunal's judicial process and political factors were two distinct things. Rwandans should take a wide and longer term view of the work of the Tribunal which had recorded important achievements in terms of arrests of high-ranking accused persons and judgments, he said. The interest of relations between the Government of Rwanda and the ICTR was better served if the Tribunal continued performing its primary task - adjudicating violations of international humanitarian law committed inRwanda in 1994 on the basis of the evidence presented before it. The Rwandan Government understood the essence of judicial body, and its request for the creation of the ICTR showed that it was confident that there was a judicial case against the 1994 genocide perpetrators.