Amnesty - Don't send genocide suspects to Rwanda

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NAIROBI, Nov 2 (Reuters) Amnesty International urged governments today not to send anyone suspected of crimes during Rwanda's 1994 genocide to be tried in the country, saying it had serious concerns over the justice system.

The central African country wants suspects in the 100-day slaughter of 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus to be transferred to its custody.

But Amnesty said that despite improvements in the Rwandan justice system, it had serious concerns about Kigali's ability to investigate and prosecute genocide-related crimes fairly, impartially and in line with international standards.

''We recognise the importance of Rwandan national courts taking responsibility for investigating and prosecuting persons accused of the heinous crimes,'' Erwin van der Borght, of Amnesty's Africa Programme, said in a statement.

''However, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that the rights of both the accused and the victims will be fully respected and protected by these courts.'' Van der Borght said countries where suspects were currently living should prosecute them themselves.

He urged the Tanzania-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which has been trying the main architects of the genocide, not to transfer any cases to Rwanda until authorities there had shown they would conduct trials fairly, and would protect all victims and witnesses.

Rwanda rejected Amnesty's objections.

''We have been handling many of these cases, more than the ICTR and any other foreign country,'' Prosecutor-General Martin Ngoga told Reuters.

''If it's about protecting victims and witnesses, that is a test we have already passed and need no more lessons.'' Amnesty said the tribunal should ask the UN Security Council for more time and funds to complete trials itself, rather than transferring a number of outstanding cases to Kigali when it winds up its work next year.

But Ngoga said the tribunal had already satisfied itself about Kigali's judicial competence. ''The ICTR has done its homework and proved that the Rwandan jurisdiction is competent and ready to handle those cases,'' he said.

Ngoga said it was unfortunate for Amnesty's accusations to surface just when the ICTR's time to complete its trials was about to end.

Since being set up in 1994 and holding its first trial in 1997, ICTR has completed 34 trials, convicted 28 people and acquitted five. The court has 29 trials under way with six pending and it has transferred one case to the Hague, Netherlands.

In June, the court said it wanted to send 17 of its cases to Rwanda.

Amnesty said this year that Rwanda had formally and informally asked Britain, the Netherlands, Canada, France and Finland for the extradition of several people accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in 1994, which the Rwandan prosecutor said they would continue to do.

''We will continue to mobilise different nations to apprehend and transfer fugitives still at large and request them not to pay attention to such misleading allegations,'' Ngoga said.

REUTERS SZ HS1247

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