Paul Skolnik, a high-flying defence attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and McGill alum, articulated his dissatisfaction with court proceedings to a small but captivated audience of about 30 at Chancellor Day Hall Monday.
Skolnik discussed the malpractice he witnessed at the ICTR while he represented Colonel Théoneste Bagosora, former Cabinet Director to the Rwandan Defence Minister and mastermind of the genocide, as well as Gratien Kabiligi, the Chief of Military Operations in the Rwandan Armed Forces.
He described the trials as “scandalous,” and recounted numerous breaches of what he called the fair trial concept: one judge was found to be living with a woman on the prosecution; thousands of arrest warrants were issued without evidence; and the right to a trial without undue delay was not respected.
Erfrat Shemesh, a McGill Law student specializing in human rights who attended the event, called for universal recognition of human rights for all those present in a court of law.
“[As future lawyers], we must do our best to ensure that human rights are respected globally, and granted not just to the victims, but also to the perpetrators,” Shemesh said.
Skolinik was also appalled that Kabiligi was held for 11 and a half years before he was acquitted of his charges of crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes.
“The only people who worked under [Gratien Kabiligi’s] command worked in offices making war plans, like for every nation,” he said, explaining Kabligi’s direct role in the genocide. “He did not have any subordinate combat troops.”
When asked about the purpose of genocide trials, Skolnik said that it should “promote national reconciliation,” adding that proceedings must be conducted in the name of humanity.
However, he felt, that national reconciliation had not yet been achieved in Rwanda.
“The only thing preventing the conflict from exploding again is the country’s extremely oppressive dictatorship,” he said.
The Rwanda genocide started on April 6, 1994. The Hutu militia conducted mass killings of the country’s Tutsi population for over 100 days, by which time over 800,000 individuals had been murdered.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, held in Arusha, Tanzania, is the third in history, after the Nuremberg trials post-World War II, and the ICT for Yugoslavia, at The Hague in 1993.
Skolnik was invited to speak at the Faculty of Law by McGill’s Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism (HRLP). The event was co-sponsored by the student-run Human Rights Working Group.