A year after fences were mended between Rwanda and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), a storm seems to be brewing between the two once again.
The short-lived honeymoon came to an end this week when the Prosecutor of the ICTR decided to drop charges of rape from the indictment of a former Rwandan senior army officer, Colonel Tharcisse Muvunyi.
Muvunyi, the army commander of Butare and Gikongoro (southern Rwanda ) during the 1994 genocide, had earlier been charged with five counts (genocide, complicity in genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide and crimes against humanity (rape and other inhuman acts).
But the Prosecutor dropped the bombshell early this week when he decided to withdraw the rape charges, citing insufficient evidence.
This caused a furore, from both a coalition of women's rights organisations and Rwanda 's representative to the ICTR, Aloys Mutabingwa, who sharply criticised the prosecutor's decision
"It is our founded view that removing rape from your Prosecutorial focus creates a serious barrier to effective dispensation of justice and indeed it occasions failure of justice", said the Rwandan envoy who opposed the relegation of rape crimes to the bottom rung.
But the prosecution was quick to defend itself.
"The rape charges against Tharcisse Muvunyi were dropped because some of the prosecution witnesses cannot be traced, while other prosecution witnesses have refused or declined to testify," replied Alex Obote-Odora, special assistant to the Prosecutor.
He claimed that some of the potential witnesses had either died or changed their residences without leaving a forwarding address.
This was dismissed by Mutabingwa, who said that witnesses were willing to come and testify despite the many problems they encounter before the tribunal.
"It actually adds an insult to injury to claim that the same [people] have become reluctant now!" he said.
Relations between Rwandaand the ICTR had been on the mend ever since the departure of former Prosecutor Carla del Ponte.
Among the criticisms that led to her replacement was that she did not give sexual violence enough weight. But Obote-Odora refutes that charge for his boss, Hassan Bubacar Jallow.
He denied claims that investigations into sexual violence were not given enough attention pointing out that they were being "vigorously pursued".
"The Office of the Prosecutor has established a Rape Data base of the result of intensive investigations of sexual crimes all over Rwandaduring the period of the genocide. This database is continually updated and has been and continues to be a source of information for the use of the various Prosecution Teams in the preparation of indictments as well as in the prosecution of the trials in the Tribunal."
Meanwhile as the coded verbal missiles sail across the sky between Rwandaand women's lobby groups on one side, and the ICTR on the other, Colonel Tharcisse Muvunyi patiently awaits his trial with the possibility of one less charge to worry about.His trial opens February 28, 2005.
International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
http://www.ictr.org (Official Website)