Association Hosts Judge Vagn Joensen – 2013

President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

On the evening of June 12, 2013, President Vagn Joensen of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal (ICTR) for Rwanda returned to the Association to engage audience members of Association and their guests in an interactive discussion about the court and the current state of its residual mechanism. The event was organized by the African Affairs Committee and co-sponsored by the Council on International Affairs, International Human Rights Committee, United Nations Committee, and Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice.

The presentation took the form of President Joensen answering a series of questions about the court. One of the first issues discussed by President Joensen was the considerable amount of time involved in prosecuting the court’s cases. To address this issue, President Joensen noted a number of reasons for the delays in the cases, including the novel, unique, and independent nature of the ICTR, and the considerable number of administrative staff and translators needed to support the apparatus.

President Joensen was next asked about what effects he felt the ICTR had upon other international tribunals. In response, President Joensen discussed the role that ICTR officials had taken on in training staff from the African Court of Human Rights, the Caribbean Court of Justice, and the Community Court of ECOWAS.

In response to the remaining questions on the court’s current status, President Joensen discussed the continued downsizing of the tribunal, the much-debated legal issue of joint criminal enterprise, and the referral process of transferring certain cases back to Rwandan Courts. In discussing these latter cases, President Joensen noted that Rwandan authorities still needed to address the role that defendants should be allowed to take in conducting their own defense investigations.

Following this presentation, President Joensen accepted questions from a diverse audience that included a first year law student, a State Supreme Court Judge, a law professor, and a community activist. In response to a question on whether there is a tendency to convict defendants at tribunals like the ICTR, President Joensen explained that twelve out of seventy-five of the defendants tried at ICTR were acquitted, a comparable average to domestic criminal tribunals. President Joensen further noted that many of the convicted defendants were acquitted of some of their charged crimes.

President Joensen’s remarks at the New York City Bar left the audience with a renewed appreciation for the court’s mechanisms after his initial presentation was well received back in June of 2012. His remarks provided optimism and perspective to those in attendance as the court continues to wind down its residual mechanism.