Justice minister Johnston Busingye has said that Rwanda is committed to complying with the legal aid obligations the country signed in respect of all Genocide suspects referred to Rwanda for trial.
Busingye was reacting to recent developments where some defence lawyers in one of the cases referred to Rwanda claimed the government was not paying them for the legal services they were offering the accused.
“The Government will comply with the legal aid obligations the country agreed to in respect of all transfers of suspects for trial,” Busingye said.
Government committed to meet legal costs of all indigent suspects referred to Rwanda from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) or any other jurisdiction.
Earlier, Busingye had expressed disappointment with Jean Uwinkindi’s defence counsel for wrongfully accusing government of withholding their payment.
Busingye said the two lawyers had been receiving their payments accordingly with the latest payment processed on November 26, 2014.
The defence team withdrew their services early this month and failed to show up in court this week, leaving Uwinkindi without counsel.
Uwinkindi, who is an ICTR referral, had accused the government of failing to pay his lawyers as required by the international agreement for referred cases – a claim the Justice minister refuted during a news briefing on Thursday, saying there was a deliberate ploy to drag the trial that has been ongoing for 18 months now.
Busingye said the “delaying tactics” are aimed at extorting more money from the taxpayer since the longer the case takes, the more the lawyers earn.
“We paid Rwf82.6 million to the lawyers and in time,” Busingye said.
However, he said that because of the trend the case was taking, they decided to put a cap on how much should be spent on a particular suspect and Rwf15m was agreed upon.
At the beginning of the trial in 2012, the two defence lawyers, Gatera Gashabana and Jean Baptiste Niyibizi, were each being paid Rfw30,000 per hour but the arrangement was later reviewed and the duo were put on a monthly pay of Rwf1 million each.
“The payment procudure was reviewed because it was hard for the government to escertain the exact hours the lawyers were working since they also reportedly billed hours they spent doing private work,” Busingye said.
“We did not apply this policy on Uwinkindi’s trial because we assumed it would take less than 15 months but after the case dragged on, we had to re-call the lawyers and negotiate a new agreement,” Busingye said.
The minister went on to accuse the lawyers of intentionally delaying the trial saying that out of 38 hearings, the trial was adjourned 23 times mostly on the request of the defence.
“We have an obligation to ensure that Uwinkindi gets legal representation but we are using taxpayers’ money. If the two lawyers can’t keep with the Rwf15 million arrangement, then Rwanda Bar Association should provide the defendant with other lawyers since they have over 1,000 qualified practitioners,” Busingye said.
He added that lawyers can come and go but the case must continue to its logical conclusion.
When contacted for a comment, counsel Gashabana said: “The matter is a professional secret and we can’t make any declaration about what the Ministry of Justice is saying.”
Uwinkindi, a former pastor in the Kanzenze area, Bugesera District, is charged with genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, extermination and crimes against humanity. He was the first person to be transferred to Rwanda from the ICTR in April 2012.
His trial began in substance in June 2012. The next hearing is scheduled for February 5.
Other suspects whose counsel is being paid by government are Leon Mugesera (extradited from Canada), Charles Bandora (Norway), and Bernard Munyagishari, who was also transferred from the ICTR.