afrol News, 17 May - An official of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has refuted media reports that racism had allegedly played a part in the Tribunal's decision not to renew contracts for seven members of its prosecution teams, stressing that concerns for efficiency were the only consideration.
- There is no basis to attack the Tribunal for racism. It is absolutely ridiculous, spokeswoman Florence Hartmann told reporters in The Hague. "The Prosecutor did not renew some contracts and we were accused of racism, but the decision was only on the basis of efficiency."
A leaked letter had revealed why the seven prosecutors had controversially not been reappointed. The letter obtained by journalists, written by chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, was a response to a complaint made by the seven lawyers to the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The six African and one Indian lawyer attributed Del Ponte's decision not to renew their contracts to racism.
According to Ms. Hartmann however, the first person who did not have his contract renewed was an American of European descent. "These people were given a chance to start to work to change their attitudes and did not, and are now gone," she said, adding that other staff were changed to different positions because "they were good lawyers but not proactive enough in court."
Carla del Ponte herself maintains the lawyers were not suited as prosecutors. She sees the lawyers' complaint to the UN Secretary-General as a reinforcement of her decision about their professionalism.
Ms. Hartmann said that ICTR Prosecutor Carla del Ponte would continue to hire new people, including Africans, on the basis of competence.
- Many Africans work at the Tribunal, she said. "This is important because they know the environment and want to take part in international justice [...] to make sure that genocide such as that which occurred in Rwanda in 1994 does not occur again in the continent of Africa or anywhere else."
The non-renewal of the staff's contracts falls within a general reorganisation of the ICTR - a process that began last year with the investigation teams in Kigali, Rwanda, and is now continuing with the trial teams based in Arusha, Tanzania, the spokeswoman said.
The Rwandan government has criticised the ICTR for its slow work rate. Very few genocide suspects have been successfully prosecuted. Carla del Ponte, appointed in 1999, has responded to these critics by initiating a reorganisation of the Rwanda tribunal.
Based on UN sources, press reports and afrol archives