Letter to Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations
Concerning the reappointment of Carla Del Ponte as prosecutor to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
Secretary-General Kofi Annan
Executive Office of the Secretary-General
U.N. Headquarters #S-3800
New York, NY 10017
MONTREAL, July 24, 2003
Dear Mr. Annan;
As you turn your attention to the renewal of the mandate of Carla Del Ponte as prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), we write to express our grave concern that sexual violence investigations and prosecutions at the ICTR are faltering under the stewardship of Prosecutor Del Ponte.
The issue of violence against women continues to be treated as a lesser crime by Prosecutor Del Ponte-despite the longstanding and overwhelming proof of sexual violence during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. International justice for the women who endured the sexual assaults that characterized the genocide in Rwanda remains unattainable largely because Prosecutor Del Ponte continues to fail to competently investigate and indict gender crimes.
While we are heartened that over half the existing indictments charge rape, we note a number of disturbing developments during the tenure of Del Ponte that are likely to exclude or jeopardize rape indictments, and which will ultimately result in a denial of justice to Rwandan rape victims. These include:
A decline in the number of new indictments that contain sexual violence charges.Since 2001, there has been a notable reduction in the number of indictments for sexual violence crimes. Given the widespread sexual violence, we believe that the absence of sexual violence indictments is due not to an absence of the occurrence of sexual violence, but rather to a lack of political will to competently investigate and bring the charges.
The absence of sexual violence charges in several key cases. It is important that sexual violence charges are pursued comprehensively and included particularly at the highest levels of responsibility. We are therefore concerned by a number of cases moving forward without sexual violence charges, even where the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) has mentioned sexual violence in the indictment or where national nongovernmental organizations have documented responsibility for sexual assault.
We remain particularly concerned about the Cyangugu case where the OTP possesses strong evidence of sexual violence and has publicly promised to bring rape charges, yet has still not done so. See Prosecutor's Response to Application for Leave to File an Amicus Curae brief, May 8, 2001: "The Prosecutor advises that as soon as possible, she intends to file new indictments against accused Emmanuel Bagambiki and Samuel Imanishimwe containing rape charges." Almost two years later, these public promises have not been fulfilled by Del Ponte and the case is poised to close. Rape victims whom we interviewed in Cyangugu in January 2003 feel betrayed by her disregard of them. After making them come forward to speak about their rapes and promising them that justice would be done, her inaction amounts to a blatant denial of justice.
A lack of commitment to adequately developing the evidence in cases where rape charges were previously brought, making it likely that the OTP will have to either drop some of the existing rape charges where additional evidence is required, or move forward without the requisite standard of proof and risk acquittals of rape charges. Unless steps are taken to invigorate the investigations division, it is likely that some of the cases will not prevail in court.
The absence of an effective and long-term prosecution strategy that seeks to ensure that not only the scale of the sexual violence is represented in the OTP cases, but also a broad characterization of sexual violence crimes that acknowledges the range of sexual violence suffered by Rwandan women, for example, prosecution of sexual slavery (collective and individual) or rape as a form of torture.
Diminishing the capacity of the investigations unit to seek sexual violence evidence. One of the major stumbling blocks to effective prosecution of sexual violence at the OTP has been the lack of attention to this issue by the Investigations division. The disbanding of the Sexual Assault Team in the Investigations division of OTP in 2000 corresponded to a significant decrease in attention to the collection of sexual violence evidence. And while we are encouraged by the reestablishment of this team in May 2003 following public pressure, much remains to be done to define the team's mandate and to ensure that their work is fully incorporated into the prosecutions. We are also concerned that investigators continue to receive no training on interviewing methodology for rape victims, and the majority of the investigators are male.
Lack of informed consent by witnesses. Our conversations with rape victims who have testified on behalf of the OTP indicate that that they are being misinformed by the OTP Witness Management Team when they are promised anonymity and confidentiality when they testify. Rape victims are not notified by the OTP that the defense counsel is provided with their names in accordance with the rules. In several cases, the identity of rape victims has been compromised with serious consequences for these women. In several cases, women witnesses have been threatened following defence disclosure of their names, and in one case, a woman's fiancée left her after her ICTR testimony was publicized in Rwanda due to the stigma of rape. Women witnesses are very angry and bitter at the betrayal of these false promises made to them by OTP. It is incumbent on OTP to ensure that women witnesses make an informed decision on whether to testify knowing the potential risks, especially due to the stigma attached to rape.
Denial of access to trauma counselling. Although the OTP includes a trauma counsellor for potential witnesses, it is virtually impossible for rape victims to access the counsellor. Access to the trauma counsellor can only occur at the request of an investigator, and at this time the trauma counsellor appears to be utilized only to convince undecided witnesses to testify on behalf of OTP. Many of these rape victims have lived through unspeakable horrors and are being asked to relive them when they testify. They are also facing extenuating problems that have exacerbated the suffering they encountered, including contraction of the AIDS virus. Providing unrestricted access to a trauma counsellor could greatly benefit these women.
We are gravely concerned that unless immediate and effective steps to rectify this situation that Rwandan women will be denied justice by this international tribunal. Not only will Rwandan women not receive the justice they deserve, but if there are a string of acquittals for rape, the record of this tribunal in history will not only ignore the crimes against women, but will actually deny that these crimes occurred. That would indeed be a serious miscarriage of justice.
We urge you to consider this issue as you make your decision on whether to renew Carla Del Ponte as prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
Coordinator, Women's Rights
Rights & Democracy
On behalf of the Coalition