The year 2014 will be remembered in history as a time the international community, particularly some of the European countries acted actively in pursuing those accused of taking part or masterminding the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Although much has been done in the justice sector in this ending year, judicial practitioners say 2015 will be a more defining year in judicial dynamism.
It is highly anticipated that most European countries are likely to extradite, deport, charge and sentence people who took part in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and fled to those these countries, which have been their safe haven for two decades.
“Currently, there is dynamism and we are doing our best to improve the quality of work that we do, improve our response, to make sure we comply and engage domestically or internationally,” Justice minister Johnston Busingye told The New Times.
Unlike previous years, 2014 was considered to be exceptional since much of the success recorded mainly in pursuing Genocide suspects is attributed to Rwanda’s change of approach in particularly drafting indictments and empowering the Genocide fugitive tracking unit.
“There is a lot of dynamism that we are trying to infuse in the way we deliver on our mission. In 2015, we will continue to improve, serve better, raise the quality of legal knowledge and application of the law,” Busingye said.
“This will be a year of taking our achievements to another level. We want Rwanda to be an active partner in all these legal engagements that we get involved in once in a while.”
Although hopes are high for 2015, an insight into 2014 proves that there has been a lot achieved in terms of judicial standards, quality of judgments and particularly pursuit of Genocide fugitives.
The Netherlands was the first to show cause in the early days of the year announcing the extradition of Jean Baptiste Mugimba to Rwanda to stand trial on genocide related charges.
Rwanda had filed an extradition request to which the Netherlands first instance court found fitting for the suspect to stand trial from where the alleged crime was committed. But Mugimba has maintained a not-guilty plea which has delayed his extradition as his case has continuously dragged on in different Dutch courts.
Mugimba was formerly the secretary general of the Coalition for the Defence of the Republic (CDR), a Hutu extremist party. He is accused of arming militia and planning and carrying out attacks on Tutsi in Nyakabanda, in the current Nyarugenge District.
The Dutch National Prosecutor’s Office conducted a Dutch criminal investigation in relation to the allegations against Mugimba before putting him up for extradition, arguing that prosecution of international crimes should take place in the state where the crimes were committed, which in this case is Rwanda.
Jean-Claude Iyamuremye, another Genocide suspect in Dutch custody, could be extradited this coming year following a decision by The Hague-based Supreme Court okaying his extradition. It is now up to the Dutch political authorities to process his extradition.
In one of the rare and less expected move in 2014, France, a country accused of harbouring many genocidaires, for the first time conducted a Genocide trial that saw former intelligence chief Capt. Pascal Simbikangwa, getting a 25 years jail time.
Although the move was welcomed by Genocide survivors, many said this was a mere drop in the ocean, as dozens of Genocide fugitives continued to roam freely in the country, including some of the most powerful individuals during the Genocide.
The trial is expected to enter an appeal level this coming year.
Although it would be of great disappointment to the survivors if France overturned the previous ruling, it would still not be a surprise since many French courts have overturned similar decisions before.
A case in point, earlier this year, the ‘Cour de Cassation’ overturned a decision to extradite three Genocide suspects, Claude Muhayimana, Innocent Musabyimana and Laurent Serubuga, to Rwanda, claiming that genocide was not punishable in the Rwandan Penal Code by the time it took place.
This may be one of the reasons survivors are sceptical of the kind of justice that maybe delivered in Simbikangwa’s appeal.
Norway shows EU how it’s done
Elsewhere in Europe, the Norwegians this year topped the table of countries that will stop at nothing in pursuing those responsible for the Genocide in Rwanda. Just recently, the Norwegian Supreme Court upheld a 21-year jail sentence for Sadi Bugingo who orchestrated killings in the former Kibungo prefecture.
This came after a district court in southwest Norway, in April, ordered the extradition of Eugene Nkuranyabahizi to be tried in Rwanda for his role in the Genocide.
A former teacher in Southern Province, Nkuranyabahizi, 41, is linked to the massacre of more than 7,500 Tutsi in Nkakwa, Kibangu, Cyahinda and Kanyaru river area in the former Nyakizu commune, current Huye District.
He has since appealed but, unlike France where decisions are mainly overturned at the appeals level, Norway has a record of upholding previous rulings.
Germany was this year not any different from those that delivered justice to Rwanda.
This year, Onesphore Rwabukombe, a former mayor of Muvumba commune, was served with a 14-year sentence for his lead role in the genocide while three other men, only identified as Bernard T, Felicien B and Jean-Bosco U, were also charged and convicted over their links to FDLR, a terrorist group mainly composed of elements that masterminded the Genocide.
Other countries that featured in news included the UK that resumed the extradition trial of five Genocide suspects, including three former bourgmestres (mayors); Charles Munyaneza (Kinyamakara commune), Emmanuel Nteziryayo (Mudasomwa commune), and Celestin Ugirashebuja (Kigoma commune).
The two others are the former head of the National Population Office, Dr Vincent Bajinya–who now goes by the name Dr Vincent Brown–and Celestin Mutabaruka, who headed Crete Zaire Nil project.
If nothing changes, as those following the trial say, UK may extradite the men to Rwanda to stand trial although their case has dragged for years.
The year 2014 also saw the extradition of Emmanuel Mbarushimana from Denmark to stand trial over his alleged involvement in the Genocide.
Besides the trials in foreign jurisdictions, the US Ambassador – at- Large for War Crimes, Stephen J. Rapp, announced a new initiative of working closely with Rwanda, Interpol and the UN to bring to book nine key Genocide suspects indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
Top on the lists of the fugitives is Felicien Kabuga, the alleged chief financier of the Genocide; Protais Mpiranya, the former commandant of the notorious Presidential Guards, and former defense minister Augustin Bizimana.
The three, dubbed 'the big fish’, are, however, supposed to be tried by the ICTR or the Residual Mechanism International Criminal Tribunals once arrested but it remains unclear should they be arrested after the Mechanism also closes shop in 2016.
For the remaining six, their indictments have since been transferred to Rwanda and are supposed to be brought here, should they be arrested.
Archiving Gacaca records
Locally, the preservation of Gacaca archives has been one of the major concerns in the judicial sector this year. Minister Busingye is optimistic that the archiving of 60 million pages of Gacaca proceedings will most definitely take shape in 2015.
“Definitely the preservation will start in 2015. We may not be able to finish in the same year but once we kick off, we won’t stop until we have all the Gacaca archives well preserved,” he said.
Meanwhile, as 2014 came to an end, the Rwanda Bar Association saw an increase in the number of its members and this time round with an increased number of foreign lawyers registering to practice in Rwanda.
“Many foreigners want to come and join our Bar. We recently admitted lawyers from US, France, Belgium, Kenya and Uganda. We also have many others from different jurisdictions that have expressed interest in joining the Bar and may be admitted in the coming year,” said the president of the Rwandan Bar Association, Athanase Rutabingwa.
Rutabingwa pointed out that today the Bar boasts highly skilled and competent members.
“In this coming year, we expect more of foreign lawyers admitted to the Bar. We have always wanted to have practitioners from across the world, that bring forth a lot of experience,” he said.
With several developments in progress, hopes are indeed high that 2015 will be a defining year for the judiciary.