Arusha. The Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT), which recently succeeded the disbanded International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) will soon start hearing cases in Arusha.
"February next year is expected to mark the first judicial proceedings to be heard in the courtroom at the Mechanism's new premises in Arusha, representing another important milestone for the mechanism," said President Theodore Meron in New York on Monday.
Briefing the senior United Nations officials on the activities of the facility, he said one of the cases involving one of the suspects of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda is scheduled for hearing on February 8 to 16.
He said one of the residual functions of MICT was supervision of sentences imposed by ICTR, the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the Mechanism, adding that four prisoners are expected to be transferred from the UN Detention Facility in Arusha to the custody of the authorities in Senegal this week.
"Moreover, negotiations with several member states concerning the enforcement of sentences of the remaining six prisoners awaiting transfer in Arusha are currently at an advanced stage", he explained.
He further added that within the coming year, all ICTR prisoners will be transferred to enforcement states and would represent a major step towards completion of our mandate in this area.
Meron stressed during his briefing at the UN headquarters that the Mechanism's mandate depended upon the ongoing support it is given by the Security Council, its members and the international community "and on the commitment of all concerned to preserving the legacy of both the ICTY and the ICTR".
Recently, MICT Registrar Olufemi Elias affirmed that the hunt for indicted perpetrators of the Rwanda genocide continues with the same drive even after the closing shop of ICTR in December 2015.
Since it started trials in 1997 until its closure, the Tribunal, formed by the United Nations in December 1994 to track down the fugitives of the human slaughter in the tiny country that took place the same year, had convicted 61 people and acquitted 14 others.
Eight individuals indicted by the ICTR for genocide, crime against humanity and war crimes are still at large, he said, adding; " Locating and arresting the remaining fugitives is a top priority for the Mechanism's Office of the Prosecutor".
Besides facilitating the tracking down and prosecution of the remaining fugitives, the Mechanism is also mandated to protect the victims and witnesses of the massacre in Rwanda in which over 800,000 people were hacked to death in a period of 100 days between April and July 1994.
According to Mr. Elias, over 100,000 witnesses, many of whom are also victims, gave evidence before the ICTR and the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY), which prosecuted the fugitives indicated for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia.
"In total 46 per cent of those witnesses were granted protective measures by the Tribunals", he said.
The Mechanism has two branches being the one in Arusha which covers functions inherited from the Rwanda Tribunal and the other in The Hague, Netherlands which covers functions inherited from ICTY. The Arusha branch additionally has a satellite field office in Kigali, Rwanda.
During his visit to Rwanda early this year, MICT Prosecutor Serge Brammertz said the search for the Rwanda genocide suspects would continue in close collaboration with the Kigali government.
"The international arrest warrants issued by ICTR are still valid", he said, adding that the Mechanism was in possession of all the necessary information that would facilitate the tracking down of the fugitives behind the massacre during the 1994 madness.
"We will provide all the information available from our data base in this regard. We will proceed with those cases the way we proceeded with others", he said, pledging to continue supporting the Rwanda government to pursue the suspects and hand them over for trials.
According to him, MICT has already handed over eight files of the most sought fugitives to the Rwanda government and that so far three of the suspects are on trial while five are still at large.