The Supreme Court, on Friday, rejected an appeal filed by Genocide suspect Jean Uwinkindi in which he sought to retain his legal team at the expense of new lawyers assigned to him by the Rwanda Bar Association.
Uwikindi was assigned new lawyers after his old team consisting Gatera Gashabana and Jean Baptiste Niyibizi was reprimanded by the High Court for deliberately delaying the trial.
Uwinkindi is considered indigent and, hence, his defence is paid for by the government through the Ministry of Justice.
However, the accused rejected the new lawyers assigned to him – Joseph Ngabonziza and Isaac Hishamunda – saying they would not understand the complexities of his case. He was appealing to the highest decison making court to allow him retain his old team.
While reading the court ruling, Supreme Court judge Alphonse Hitiyaremye said: “The law clearly states that it’s the Bar that designates lawyers to indigents in which case Uwinkindi is an indigent.”
“Uwinkindi doesn’t prove that Ngabonziza and Hishamunda are incompetent, it’s just word of mouth, with no substantial evidence to attest to this; and this is why this court rejects his plea and orders him to retain the team assigned to him.”
With regards to Gashabana and Niyibizi, Uwinkindi had earlier accused the government of failing to pay his lawyers as required by the international agreement for referred cases – a claim the Justice ministry refuted, saying there was a deliberate ploy to drag the trial that has been ongoing for close to two years now.
Uwinkindi was referred to Rwanda by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
Previously, Justice minister Johnston Busingye had retaliated that the two defence lawyers were playing “delaying tactics” aimed at extorting more money from the taxpayer since the longer the case drags, the more the lawyers earn.”
The government had by then paid Rwf82.6 million to the lawyers.
However, because of the trend the case was taking, the ministry decided to put a cap on how much would be spent on a particular suspect and Rwf15 million was agreed upon.
At the beginning of the trial in 2012, the two defence lawyers were each being paid Rfw30,000 per hour but the arrangement was later reviewed and the duo was put on a monthly pay of Rwf1 million each.
The payment procedure was reviewed because it was hard for the government to ascertain the exact hours the lawyers were working since they also reportedly billed hours they spent doing private work.
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.
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.