Association Hosts Judge Vagn Joensen


President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

On the evening of June 4, 2012, President Vagn Joensen of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda engaged a full audience of Association members and their guests in an inspirational presentation about the court and its transition to a 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.

President Joensen began by providing a brief background of the court’s history, including its ad hoc nature, being set up after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, its evolving completion strategy, the groundbreaking jurisprudence developed on sexual assaults on women in the context of civil war, and its residual mechanism, the latter of which was the main topic for the discussion.

Beginning a detailed discussion of the residual mechanism, President Joensen described how this stage of the court was formed to address eight goals established by UN Security Council Resolution 1966, including the apprehension and trial of outstanding fugitives, contempt proceedings, protection of witnesses, review of judgments, referral of certain cases to national jurisdictions, and assistance to such jurisdictions. President Joensen noted various important rules, such as Rule 11-bis, which requires rigorous analysis of referrals to national jurisdictions, and broke down nine outstanding indictments and how they would be processed through this transitory time period in the court’s history.

President Joensen followed with an analysis of certain unique ICTR rules for sex crimes cases that expedite cases by synthesizing the evidence and protect the confidentiality and privacy of victims. For example, in many of such cases, victims are allowed to testify at the ICTR under a pseudonym or by providing written statements rather than appearing in court. While such concepts are far from commonplace in the American criminal justice system, President Joensen noted that they apply only in cases where the actual crime (often rape) is not an issue, and the only real issue for trial is whether or not the defendant can be held responsible for the acts of another whose guilt for the crime is not in dispute.

Following this presentation, President Joensen accepted questions from members of the audience. In response to a question on the ICTR’s failure to prosecute war crimes allegedly committed by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the former force that stopped the genocide and is now the dominant political party, President Joensen noted that no indictments had been brought by the prosecution; and that the current political situation created certain challenges with respect to investigations. Joensen, concluded with optimistic thoughts on the court, noting that Rwanda has modified its criminal laws to reflect international human rights standards in order to accept referrals from the ICTR into the Rwanda High Court, and that reconciliation is indeed occurring in the younger generation of Rwandan people.