THE SURRENDER OF ELIZAPHAN NTAKIRUTIMANA
case of Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, a Rwandan charged with
genocide in connection with the killings of thousands of
members of the Tutsi ethnic minority in the spring of
1994, will set an important domestic precedent regarding
the prosecution of international war criminals. Mr.
Ntakirutimana is the first person that the United States
has been requested to surrender to either of the
international criminal tribunals: the International
Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR)and the International
Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
Mr. Ntakirutimana, a Hutu and former chief Pastor of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Rwanda, was taken into custody in Laredo, Texas in 1996. Two ICTR indictments charge him with genocide and crimes against humanity for his part in the killings of thousands of Tutsis in Mugonero and Bisesero, Rwanda, in the spring of 1994. He has been fighting surrender in the U.S. court system since his arrest.
On January 24, 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for U.S. officials to hand over Elizaphan Ntakirutimana to the ICTR. The Court, without comment, refused a request to review a 5th U.S. Circuit Courts ruling that ordered the surrender of Ntakirutimana. The Circuit Court's ruling in August 1999 upheld a District Courts decision in August 1998, which overturned the Texas District Courts decision in December 1987. The Texas District Court argued that surrender would be unconstitutional in the absence of a treaty and that the evidence of genocide was insufficient to establish "probable cause." The U.S. Government then re-filed its request.
In an amicus brief, filed by Debevoise & Plimpton, the Lawyers Committee argued that surrender was not unconstitutional since Congress can properly authorize extradition by statute, and that the judge magistrate had not applied proper standards in concluding there was no "probable cause." Judge Rainey accepted these arguments when he ruled that Ntakirutimana's surrender is constitutional and that the indictments show probable cause to sustain the genocide charges.
The U.S. Supreme Court decision clears the way for U.S. officials to hand Ntakirutimana over to the ICTRs detention facilities in Arusha, Tanzania.