The Spanish Supreme Court has revoked arrest warrants against 40 current and former Rwandan officials issued by a Spanish judge in 2008 and ordered the case closed.
The revocation, announced yesterday, came after an NGO, Association Para la Defensa y Progresso de los Intereses Ciudadanos, lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court contesting a January 28 ruling by the Spanish High Court that revoked the warrants and ordered the case closed.
In its own ruling, the High Court had also dismissed charges against 11 accused and ordered that the case against the rest should close if no new evidence was adduced, observing that none looked likely.
The High Court had also ruled that the universal jurisdiction framework was not the right avenue given that neither the alleged offences were committed in Spain nor were the accused resident in the European country.
Now, like the earlier ruling by the High Court, the latest verdict, by the Supreme Court, does not only squash the arrest warrants but also orders that the case be closed.
The Minister for Justice, Johnston Busingye, confirmed the development last evening, adding that the latest ruling was taken on September 10, but took a while to write and sign off by the five justices that constituted the Supreme Court’s bench.
Busingye recalled that although Rwanda was not party to the case the government had always insisted that the case was politically motivated and not based on any proper or credible investigation.
The government’s confidence, he said, was anchored on the belief that the truth would eventually come out since the case was fictitious.
The indictment, he added, was in blatant abuse of the tenets of the principle of universal jurisdiction and any fair and independent court would reach a similar decision.
“We have always said that such a case requires proper and credible investigation. This particular investigation started by listing almost the entire leadership of the Rwanda Defence Forces on a charge sheet and then worked backwards to find offences with which to charge them,” Busingye, also the Attorney-General, said.
He explained that the ruling recognises Rwanda’s authority to handle sovereign matters.
“The 40 arrest warrants are revoked, case closed but, most importantly, the case signifies the recognition of the primacy of Rwanda’s jurisdiction to handle matters on its territory,” he said.
The ruling was delibered by Justices Candido Pumpido Touron, Miguel Colmenero Medendez de Luarca, Francisco Monterde Ferrer, Andres Palomo Del Arco and Ana Maria Ferrer Garcia.
Legal experts say the revocation of the warrants and the closure of the case was justice done to the indicted Rwandan nationals and the country in general as the case had no basis.
Athanase Rutabingwa, a prominent lawyer and former president of the Rwanda Bar Association, said the ruling vindicated the government’s long-held position about the case.
“This reaffirms what we have always known, that there was nothing substantial in the indictment, it was an ‘empty’ document,” he told The New Times yesterday.
Asked about the implications of the verdict, Rutabingwa said the government now had an option and a right to seek legal redress for the damage the case brought to the reputation of the nation and the accused individuals.
Both the Rwanda Bar Association and the East Africa Law Society have previously criticized the indictment, describing it as an illegal effort.
The Gen Karake incident
In June, Lt Gen Emmanuel Karenzi Karake, the secretary-general of the National Intelligence and Security Service, was prevented by UK immigration officials from boarding a flight from London back home following an official visit, over the indictment.
One-and-a-half months later, he would be declared a free man by a UK court after the Spanish prosecutors said they had lost interest in pursuing his extradition to Spain.
The controversial indictment had been issued by Spanish judge Fernando Andreu Merelles charging the then senior figures in the former Rwanda Patriotic Army of genocide, terrorism and war crimes.
The indictment was quickly dismissed in many circles, including the US, while a 2009 investigation by United Nations experts found evidence that Merelles had been sponsored by two faith-based Spanish non-governmental organisations that had funded the DR Congo-based FDLR, a militia linked to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.