Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Comment: Why Did Del Ponte Lose Rwanda Post?

Carla Del Ponte's sacking as Rwanda prosecutor came amid rumours that she was investigating Kagame regime.
By Chris Stephen

Was Carla Del Ponte dumped as the Rwanda tribunal chief prosecutor because she was about to indict the country's president?


Del Ponte certainly thinks so, and it is hard to disagree.


The UN insists it simply wants to end the practice of having the same chief prosecutor for both Hague and Rwanda tribunals.


A few years ago, this decision would have made sense. After all, Del Ponte spends barely one week in four in Africa. That is no way to run a war crimes operation. It is much better for each court to have its own full-time chief prosecutor.


But the decision to do it now is highly suspicious.


It comes amid rumours she was investigating the current Rwandan regime for war crimes - and many think the UN has decided it wants to protect the guilty men.


Del Ponte told Italian newspaper La Republica that last year she had a blazing row with Rwanda's president Paul Kagame.


He told her to stop investigating his Tutsi regime, which took power in 1994 after the Hutus had massacred hundreds of thousands of Tutsis.


Kagame proposed a different solution: why not let his own government investigate itself for war crimes, instead of the UN tribunal? She refused. And that may have cost her her job.


"Probably, if I had given in - if I had accepted his orders - I would still be here," Del Ponte was quoted as saying.


Instead, the UN moved this month to push her out of Rwanda.


The new Rwanda prosecutor will have a hard job: the war crimes prosecutors for both Hague and Rwanda are supposed to stop issuing new indictments at the end of next year. That does not give the new prosecutor long to learn the ropes.


What happens next is the key. If the new prosecutor simply takes up where Del Ponte left off, and indicts war criminals on both sides, then justice will have been done.


But if the new prosecutor is less bold than Del Ponte, the UN will have questions to answer.


Chris Stephen is IWPR project manager.