ARUSHA, TANZANIA — More than two years after the Rwandan genocide, the first three suspects have been charged by the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda.
The three men, all of them former officials in the mainly Hutu government that fled Rwanda in July 1994, pleaded not guilty last week to more than 40 counts of genocide and crimes against humanity at the Tribunal's headquarters in Arusha, a city in northern Tanzania. Their trials will take place later this year.
More suspects are expected to be brought before the Tribunal later this month. But survivors of the Rwandan genocide say the UN has failed to ensure that justice is brought quickly and efficiently to those responsible for the massacres of more than half-a-million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994.
The Tribunal was established in November 1994 under the same mandate as the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal.
With its headquarters in Tanzania and an office in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, the Tribunal has a $46-million-a-year budget with a mandate until 1998.
By that time it will be expected to have put on trial up to 400 people suspected of having masterminded the genocide. Critics say the slow process of collecting evidence and arresting suspects means that the tribunal will only end up trying a fraction of this number.
The Tribunal president, Judge Laity Kama of Senegal, dismisses such pessimism. He expresses hope that his officials will help the Rwandan people overcome the terrible events of 1994. "National reconciliation in Rwanda can never take place if justice is not seen to be done," Judge Kama says.
The UN chose Arusha as the location for its tribunal because Tanzania was neutral during the Rwandan conflict. There were concerns that fair trials would be impossible within Rwanda.
The current Rwandan government is angry about the decision to hold trials in Tanzania and disappointed that war criminals will not be given the death penalty.
Those found guilty will be given life sentences and will be imprisoned outside Rwanda because of fears about their safety if they are returned to their home country.
The tribunal faces greater difficulties than those encountered by the Yugoslavia tribunal. Many of the suspects have fled Rwanda. Most of the potential witnesses were killed during the genocide.
"A very big problem for us is to find witnesses for our defense," says Johan Scheers, a Belgian lawyer who plans to represent a number of the suspects. "Many of them are living in Zaire and other countries."