Sir Dennis Byron
Basseterre, St. Kitts – Nevis
August 16, 2011 (CUOPM)
The outgoing President of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Sir Dennis Byron from St. Kitts and Nevis, has completed his tour of duty at the Tribunal and will be taking up the position of President of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
“I feel very proud to have been associated with the ICTR because it has created precedence in so many important areas of law,” Judge Byron told the East African News Agency (EANA), in Arusha, Tanzania, where the ICTR is based. “It has addressed rape as genocide and crime against humanity, use of speech in the media case to commit genocide”¦having the first woman [Pauline Nyiramashuko] convicted of rape in the international tribunal.”
Byron has served as an ICTR judge since June 2004. He became the tribunal’s president in May 2007 and was re-elected for a second term in May 2009.
“I became a missionary in East Africa with my friends and family and many of them have visited this region,” he said.
He takes up his new position in the Caribbean in September. “The Caribbean Court of Justice, which I am going back to join as president, is a dispute resolution body under the Single Market Economy Treaty,” he said, adding that the region he will be serving under has similarities with the East African Community (EAC), which is in the process of regional integration.
“I wish the East African Community all the best as it forges forward in its very important mandate which I am sure will benefit the citizens of this region,”’ Judge Byron said. ICTR is a ground-breaking institution.
Regarding the ICTR’s work, Byron said: “It’s really a landmark in the fact that we have been pioneers of prosecution and conviction for the crimes of genocide. I have really enjoyed working with exceptional judges and staff as well as the opportunity provided to me to interact with representatives of UN member states who constantly impress me with their interest with the work of the tribunal and the way in which they engaged the problems that we had to overcome during this period.”
Describing the ICTR as a ground-breaking institution, Byron added: “The issues of investigating international crimes by investigators who do not have police powers require new investigative strategies and techniques”¦Almost every aspects of the tribunal’s work require some groundbreaking innovative approaches.”
Even now as we are in the [tribunal’s] completion strategy, we are actually addressing that problem again because the court would not really mean to shut down. We have very little experience on how to close the court.” Some of the challenges involved in winding up the tribunal, Byron said, include how to cope with the staff retention. He said most staff were looking for more secure jobs in other organizations.
Responding to some criticism that ICTR prosecuted only ethnic Hutus and left out Tutsis who have been part of the 1994 conflict, Byron said: “Well to some extent that is right.”
According to the information made available to Judge Byron, the ICTR prosecutor also conducted investigation into crimes committed by Tutsis, which he says were different in nature as they were war crimes by the invading army.
The judge said when the UN issued a completion strategy for the closure of the tribunal in 2003; the move prohibited the prosecutor from issuing more indictments.
“It is my understanding that what the Prosecutor has done is that the files involving investigations of crimes committed by RPF [then Rwandan Patriotic Front Rebels now Rwandan rulers] has been handed over to Rwandan government for prosecution in Rwanda,” Byron said. “Although it may not be the same thing as having them being prosecuted by the International tribunal, the benefit of the investigative work which has been done by the tribunal has been given to the judicial authority there for action.
Judge Byron said justice has been served to Rwandan genocide victims. “The judgments of ICTR have created already judiciary verified statements of the historical occurrences of the genocide which outlines not only what actually occurred but addresses the course for it.
I think that the judgments therefore have played very important role in establishing factual basis for understanding and moving up.”
He added: “The establishment of the international court, I think, has been an expression of goodwill and an expression of support for the reconciliation process.”
Moreover, Judge Byron said, the tribunal has been supporting Rwandan press and had established 10 information centers in Rwanda where records of the tribunal were available to be accessed by members of the public in English, French and Kinyarwanda.
Commenting on whether ICTR judgments contributed in the reconciliation process among Rwandans Judge Byron says: “We have addressed the crime of genocide and reached a level where the courts have decided that genocide is a fact of common knowledge.
It is now an accepted historical fact which in my view is also an important fact to come to terms both as victims and perpetrators and will contribute to reconciliation process.”
Regarding his social life while in Arusha, Judge Byron said the past seven years saw him actively participate in sports, music, traveling and reading. He was also a member of different social clubs, including Gymkhana Club and the Golden Rose Club.
“I have a special message for the Golden Rose Club because it provided me with an opportunity to meet some of the very extinguished and cordial members of Arusha community,” he said. “I treasure the memories of my association with it very much.”