Intolerable Delays in Rwanda

The United Nations war crimes tribunal created to try Rwandan leaders accused of responsibility for the genocidal massacre of more than a half million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994 is barely functioning two years later. The lack of progress is unacceptable and presents a major challenge for Kofi Annan, the new U.N. secretary-general.

Annan has summoned three officials of the tribunal to U.N. headquarters this Friday and has promised to lay down the law expeditiously. Anything less will give more credence to Western perceptions of the U.N. bureaucracy as notoriously swollen and plodding.

The mismanagement of the tribunal has been documented by Karl Paschke, a German diplomat who heads the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services and is the equivalent of an inspector general. Paschke spent two months investigating the court and reported that he found chaos, waste, bureaucratic infighting and an unacceptably slow pace of justice. The court is just now conducting its first trial, more than two years after its creation by the U.N. Security Council. Justice delayed is often justice denied.

Reconciliation cannot proceed in Rwanda until the murderers are held responsible and brought before the bar of justice. Last week, an independent court in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, sentenced a prominent Tutsi politician to death for his role in the mayhem, including radio broadcasts that incited the violence. But on the same day, a Rwandan Supreme Court Justice was assassinated in front of his home. Where will it end?


The Rwandan army has launched major military operations against antigovernment Hutu militants. Foreign aid workers have increasingly become targets despite their help in trying to rebuild the country. A Catholic priest was killed as he was saying Mass earlier this month. Five members of a U.N. human rights team were ambushed and killed; one was beheaded.

The U.N. must not tolerate this. Annan will pass a major test if he can quickly empower the tribunal and finally staunch this stain in Africa.