The U.N. Security Council Ad Hoc Rwanda Tribunal: International Justice, or Juridically-Constructed 'Victor’s Impunity'?

DePaul Journal for Social Justice, Vol 4, Issue 1

William Mitchell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2011-03

85 Pages Posted: 21 Jun 2011

See all articles by Peter Erlinder

Peter Erlinder

Mitchell Hamline School of Law

Date Written: December 2010


Unlike the post WW- II Tribunals, the U.N. Security Council tribunals for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR) were ostensibly untarnished by “victor’s justice”. But, despite having been established by a presumably “neutral” U.N. body, the ICTR has become the only international tribunal in history mandated with prosecuting both sides in a war that has prosecuted only the vanquished. Human Rights Watch rightfully observes that the ICTR history of one-sided prosecution threatens the Tribunal’s historical legacy for a wide range of reasons.

Created for All Rwanda Crimes….Costs of ICTR Prosecuting Only the Vanquished

First, it falsifies Rwandan and African history; Second, it has created a completely unreliable jurisprudence that has been manipulated to fit a pre-determined outcome. Third, the ICTR’s one-sided prosecution threatens the legitimacy of the ICTR and calls into question all of its findings. Prosecuting only the vanquished military and government in the 4-year war the followed the Rwandan Patriotic Front invasion from Uganda must mean either: (a) the war that raged in Rwanda between 1990-94 is the only war in history in which only the vanquished committed crimes, or, (b) the ICTR has become a victors’ tribunal, like Nuremberg and Tokyo, without public acknowledgment that this is the case.

Fortunately, former ICTR Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte provides the historically comforting answer: the Rwanda War is not historically anomalous and is not the only war in history in which only the vanquished committed crimes. In her memoirs, Madame Prosecutor: Confrontations with Humanity’s Worst Criminals and the Culture of Impunity, (The Other Press, 2009) Del Ponte describes how she was fired from her UN-ICTR post by the U.S. War Crimes Ambassador Pierre Prosper in 2003 for refusing his orders to drop prosecutions against the RPF and its leader Paul Kagame for “Rwanda genocide” crimes, including the assassination of the former President which touched-off the mass violence.

Military-1 Trial: Original UN Documents and a New “Rwanda-genocide” Narrative

The article describes how, despite U.S. manipulation of the ICTR, the Defense in the Military-I Trial gained access to previously suppressed original U.N. and U.S. Government documents from 1990-95 that explain what actually happened during the “Rwandan genocide,” rather than what the RPF victors say happened after they control of the country, and all information coming out of the country in July 1994.

As a result, in Feb. 2009 the military officers Del Ponte considered the “architects of the Rwandan genocide” in here 2002 opening statement were acquitted of “planning or conspiracy to commit genocide.” The highest ranking officer, Gen. Kabiligi, was acquitted of all charges.After having the historic original documents explained, the Court to conclude that the “long-planned conspiracy to commit genocide” was unsupported by the evidence, despite the best efforts of the Rwanda and the U.N. Prosecutor, with assistance from the U.S. State and Justice Departments. A second court agreed there was no conspiracy to commit genocide in the Military-2 Judgment issued in May 2011. The head of the Gendarmes, Gen. Ndindiliyimama, was released for time-served.

On a broader level, the article is an object lesson in “Sole Superpower” influence over seemingly “neutral” international juridical bodies. By making use of recent public exposure of U.S. manipulation of the ICTR for its own policy interests, the article describes the devastating costs that have been inflicted upon the people of Central Africa. The influence of U.S. policy over every international tribunal in which the Security Council retains an important role (including the International Criminal Court, although the U.S. is not a member) is probably better understood by nations vulnerable to tribunal justice, or vengeance, than this overarching U.S. influence is understood, or admitted, within the U.S.

Keywords: impunity, victor's justice, Rwanda, genocide, conspiracy, ICTR, ICC

Suggested Citation

Erlinder, Peter, The U.N. Security Council Ad Hoc Rwanda Tribunal: International Justice, or Juridically-Constructed 'Victor’s Impunity'? (December 2010). DePaul Journal for Social Justice, Vol 4, Issue 1, William Mitchell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2011-03, Available at SSRN:

Peter Erlinder (Contact Author)

Mitchell Hamline School of Law ( email )

875 Summit Ave
St. Paul, MN 55105-3076
United States
651-290-6384 (Phone)

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